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MolsonExport Sep 24, 2004 9:08 PM

The Walled City of Kowloon
The most dense human habitation in world history.


Kowloon Walled City

Hak Nam, City of Darkness, the old Walled City of Kowloon was finally demolished ten years ago, in 1993, and to the end it retained its seedy magnificence. Rearing up abruptly in the heart of urban Hong Kong, 10, 12 and in some places as many as 14 storeys high, there was no mistaking it: an area 200 metres by 100 metres of solid building, home to some 35,000 people, not the largest, perhaps, but certainly one of the densest urban slums in the world. It was also, arguably, the closest thing to a truly self-regulating, self-sufficient, self-determining modern city that has ever been built.

The City in its final form went back barely 20 years. In origin, however, Kowloon City was much the oldest part of Hong Kong, and one of the few areas in the vicinity populated when the British first arrived in 1841 to claim Hong Kong Island and the southern-most tip of the Kowloon Peninsula for their own. It was a proper Chinese town, laid out with painstaking attention to eternal principles. The Chinese believed that a town should face south and overlook water with hills and mountains protecting its rear, and in these terms the City was very happily placed, with the great Lion Rock just to the north of it and Kowloon Bay immediately to the south.

What the geomantic sages could not control were the infringements of the barbarians. When the British sought to expand their hold on Hong Kong in 1898, with a 99-year lease covering the whole of Kowloon Peninsula and all the nearby islands, most of Kowloon City was subsumed under the new jurisdiction. Under the terms of the lease, however, it was agreed that the small, walled magistrates? fort to the north of the town would remain Chinese territory until the new colonial administration had been properly established and all the details of land ownership, held within the fort, had been transferred.

The situation was never resolved, and for the next 90 years of British rule the City remained an anomaly: within British domain, yet outside British control. The Chinese officials left for good in 1899, but whenever the colonial authorities tried to impose their will, the remaining residents threatened to turn the attempt into a diplomatic incident. And so it remained until the Second World War, when the invading Japanese delivered the first body blow, tearing down the huge granite walls and using them to build Kai Tak Airport in the shallows of nearby Kowloon Bay. The former harmony was destroyed: the creation of the airport drove away the Yin spirit provided by the water and the City was abandoned.

The City may have effectively ceased to exist, but the area?s status as a diplomatic black hole was not forgotten, and in the chaos of the War?s aftermath it proved the perfect place of asylum for many of the hundred thousands of refugees pouring south to escape famine, civil war and political persecution as the Communists gained control in China. Surrounded now only by walls of political inhibition, the City became the place where they could get their breath back; where they could live as Chinese among other Chinese, untaxed, uncounted and untormented by governments of any kind.

And so, the Walled City became that rarest of things, a working model of an anarchist society. Inevitably, it bred all the vices. Crime flourished and the Triads made the place their stronghold, operating brothels and opium ?divans? and gambling dens. Undoubtedly, these few (and it always was a small proportion) kept the majority of residents in a state of fear and subjection, which is why for many years outsiders trying to penetrate were given the coldest of shoulders.

But for most, the main priority was survival and their needs were little different from anyone else?s: a life without interference with water, light, food and space. Of these water was the most indispensable and in the early years the only way to get it was to go down. And so that?s what they did, sinking some 70 wells in and around the City, to a depth of some 300 feet. Electric pumps shot the water up to tanks on the rooftops from where it descended via an ad hoc forest of narrow pipes and connections to the homes of subscribers. Only in the last 20 years were Government stand-pipes installed around the City to provide safe drinking water.

To run the pumps and to light up the City?s many alleys required electricity and initially this challenge was tackled in a similarly robust fashion: it was stolen from the mains, often by Hongkong Electric employees who lived within the City boundaries. Only in the late 1970s, after a serious fire (much the most terrifying hazard in the City), were the authorities allowed in with their meters.

Thus was the substructure of urban life roughly but workably banged into shape. And out of all the chaos and apparent lack of real organisation, a sort of society began to flourish. Soon, there were factories of every description, small shops and even schools and kindergartens, some of them run by organisations such as the Salvation Army. Medical and dental care were no problem, as many of the residents were doctors and dentists with Chinese qualifications and years of experience, but lacking the expensive licences required to practice in the rest of the Colony. They set up their clinics on the edges of the City and charged their patients a fraction of what they would pay elsewhere.

For the moments of relief from toil, there were many restaurants on the City?s fringes and embedded deep in its heart were a temple and a ?yamen?, relics of the City?s distant past. And so life went on. Every afternoon the alleys were alive with the throb of hidden machinery and the clacking of mahjong tiles, while up on the roof, in cages not much smaller than some of the City?s homes, cooed hundreds of racing pigeons, joined there by children playing after school.

And here, in this richness and diversity, lies what was truly fascinating about the City. For all its physical shortcomings, and there were many, its residents had succeeded in creating a true community - and, ironically, one that was to flourish in the City?s final years, after the authorities had moved in to arrange the clearance and the Triads had been forced to move out. Photographed by Greg Girard and Ian Lambot during the City?s last years, this exhibition offers a glimpse of that unique community and of the extraordinary architecture that had evolved over the years to support it.

For more information about Kowloon Walled City, look out for Greg and Ian?s book, City of Darkness, available from specialist architectural bookshops or via our website at watermarkpublications. com.

Aerial photo (c. 1973):

Demolition of the Walled City begins in 1993:

A "Street" inside the Walled City:

Family-run Noodle factory in the Walled City:

Cookin' Heroin in the Walled City:


The rooftop playground:

In the Peking Convention of 1898, which leased Hong Kong to Britain for 99 years, the Walled City was excluded, the Chinese governing the area on condition they would not interfere with troops stationed to defend Hong Kong. Britain quickly rescinded the unofficial agreement, announcing in December 1899 that KWC would become "part and parcel of Her Majesty's Colony of Hong Kong". After Britain attacked the Walled City the same year, only to find it deserted, they failed to demonstrate control over the city, leaving it pretty much alone, their inaction adding to confusion over the city's rule.

China, likewise, never recognized Britain's claim to the Walled City, though for the years between the turn of the century and World War II the city was more of a tourist attraction than a residential settlement. Two events led to a resurgence of people back into KWC: Japan surrendering in WWII (previously having demolished most of the city to lay airport runways during their brief occupation), and the formation of the Republic of China in 1949. The refugee influx, due mostly to the latter, was steady, reaching about 10,000 residents in 1970. In this time the British government attempted to evacuate the squatters after an unsuccessful proposal to turn the jurisdiction of KWC into a "Garden of Remembrance of Anglo-Chinese trusteeship" (which the Chinese flatly rejected). The evacuations lead to riots as the expelled tried to return to the city, causing the British to drop the evictions to prevent further deterioration of Anglo-Chinese relations. From this moment on (ca. 1949) the British Government adopted a "hands-off" policy towards the Walled City.

What happened in the following years gave KWC its reputation as "a cesspool of iniquity, with heroin divans, brothels and everything unsavory." The blossoming of the city under no apparent rule continued with occasional, unsuccessful raids and evacuations over the years. A murder trial in 1959 illustrates the confusion over governing the city: a British court ruled that since the murder had been committed within the Walled City it was out of their jurisdiction, but looking at the Peking Convention they realized the city under Chinese jurisdiction was temporary. Fifty years later and still nobody is certain who's rule KWC falls under!

In the "bad" years of the 1950s and '60s much of the power lay in the hands of the Triads: a republican secret society against Imperial Manchu rule, when formed in the late 19th century, turning to more "dubious activities as a way of raising funds" (drugs, prostitution and gambling). Much of their control dissipated when police made over 3,000 raids and 2,500 arrests in the 1973 and '74, another turning point.

The 1970s saw improved Anglo-Chinese relations and a continuation of the "high-rise" boom of the previous decade. This decade, and the following, also saw KWC at its peak: the population increasing up to 350,000 in 1983, with less crime than the rest of Hong Kong. With the improved relations between Britain and China the announcement, in 1987, of the Walled City's demise is not surprising. Neither government saw it as an asset or as something they wanted to take responsibility for, but both agreed that it had to come down. The city existed outside the realm of the understandable or the comprehendible; a grotesque, dense mass that exhibited a certain beauty at the same time. It depended on the political tension of two countries to exist, yet, ironically, was an un-political entity. By cleaning the slate both governments wanted to start afresh, but hopefully material, like this web page and the resources mentioned in the bibliography, will keep the city alive.

fangorangutang Sep 24, 2004 9:23 PM

Wow, that's just's mindboggling what a different level of urban living China is on.

MolsonExport Sep 24, 2004 9:38 PM

More stuff on the Walled City of Kowloon

Here it is. God, wish I could visit!

HistoryThe Walled City (known as Kowloon then) was originally a single fort built in the mid-1800s on the site of an earlier 17th century watchpost on the Kowloon Peninsula The Kowloon Peninsula, commonly referred to as Kowloon, is a peninsula, in the south of the mainland part of the Hong Kong territory.

Kowloon Bay is located at the north east of the peninsula.

See also:

List of buildings, sites and areas in Hong Kong

..... Click the link for more information. of Hong Kong. After the ceding of Hong Kong Island Hong Kong Island (香港島) is the island where the original settlement of the Hong Kong territory, Victoria, was located. It is the historical, political and economic center of Hong Kong.

AdministrationDistricts of Hong Kong located on the island:

Central and Western district
Eastern district
Southern District, Hong Kong
Wan Chai (including Causeway Bay)

..... Click the link for more information. to Britain in 1842
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..... Click the link for more information. (Treaty of Nanjing
The Treaty of Nanking is the agreement which ended the First Opium War between the United Kingdom and China.

It was signed in 1842 onboard the British warship HMS Cornwallis in Nanjing. It is the first Unequal Treaties signed by China and a foreign power.

Treaty Ports The treaty had China agree to cede Hong Kong to the British Empire. The following ports of China were opened for foreign trade:

Canton (Guangzhou)
Amoy (Xiamen)
Foochow (Fuzhou)
Ningpo (Ningbo)
(The first of the romanizations are in Postal System Pinyin; the second Hanyu Pinyin.)
..... Click the link for more information. ), Chinese authorities felt it necessary for them to establish a military-cum-administrative post to rule the area and to check further British influence in the area.
The 1898
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..... Click the link for more information. Peking Convention The Beijing Convention (October 18, 1860) was the result of the Second Anglo-Chinese War (Second Opium War).
The main result of the Convention was to cede the southern part of Kowloon Peninsula, south of Boundary Street and opposite (north) Hong Kong Island, in perpetuity from China to the United Kingdom.

See also: History of Hong Kong
..... Click the link for more information. (which handed additional parts of Hong Kong to Britain for 99 years) excluded the Walled City, with a population of roughly 700, and stated that China could continue to keep troops there, so long as they did not interfere with Britain's temporary rule. Britain quickly went back on this unofficial part of the agreement, attacking Kowloon Walled City in 1899
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..... Click the link for more information. , only to find it deserted. They did nothing with or to the outpost, and thus sent the question of Kowloon Walled City's ownership squarely into the air. The outpost consisted of a yamen A yamen (衙門, ymn) is any local bureaucrat's, or mandarin's, residence of the Chinese Empire from the Qing Dynasty (and possibly earlier Chinese dynasties). Within the yamen, the bureaucrat and his staff conducted government business of the town or region, settling disputes, maybe jailing a lawbreaker or two, issuing decrees and policies, and living daily life.
The institution of the
..... Click the link for more information. , as well as other buildings (which eventually grew into a low-lying, densely packed neighborhood within the walls), in the era between the 1890s and the 1940s.

The Walled City remained a curiosity - and a tourist attraction where British colonials and tourists could have a "taste of the old China" - until 1940
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..... Click the link for more information. , when during its WWII World War II was the most extensive and costly armed conflict in the history of the world, involving the great majority of the world's nations, being fought simultaneously in several major theatres, and costing approximately 55.5 million lives. The war was fought between two groups of powers - the alliance of the British Commonwealth, United States, Soviet Union, governments-in-exile of France and other European countries occupied by Germany and Italy, and China collectively known as the Allies; and the alliance of Germany, Italy, and Japancollectively known as the Axis, and minor countries.
..... Click the link for more information. occupation of Hong Kong, Japan
Japan (Nippon/Nihon 日本 (the characters mean sun, and root/origin), literally "the origin of the sun") is a country in East Asia situated between the Pacific Ocean and east of the Korean peninsula. Its name, often translated as "The Land of the Rising Sun," comes from China and refers to Japan's eastward position relative to the Asian continent. Before Japan had relations with China, it was known as Yamato (大和). Wa (倭) was a name early China used to refer to Japan, around the time of the Three Kingdoms Period.
..... Click the link for more information. evicted people from the city, and then demolished much of the city - including the wall - to provide building materials for the nearby Kai Tak Aerodrome Hong Kong International Airport, popularly known as Kai Tak International Airport (Chinese 啟德國際機場 Pinyin: Qǐd, WG: Ch'i-te) was the international airport of Hong Kong until July 6, 1998. Having the IATA airport code HKG as well as the ICAO airport code VHKT, the famous airport served as Cathay Pacific's hub.

The landing approach to the Kowloon location was spectacular. The aircraft was literally landing in the city, and people on the plane could see the flicker of televisions in apartment windows. The pilots used a checkerboard on a hillside to guide them to the ground.
..... Click the link for more information. .

After Japan's surrender, squatters (whether former residents or - more likely - newcomers) began to occupy the Walled City, resisting several attempts by Britain in 1948 1948 is a leap year starting on Thursday (link will take you to calendar).

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..... Click the link for more information. to drive them out. With no wall to protect it (initially), the Walled City became a haven for crooks and drug addicts, as the Hong Kong Police had no right to enter the City (and mainland China

Mainland China (中国大陆 or 中國大陸, pinyin: Zhōnggo Dl, lit. "The Chinese Massive Landmass" or "Continental China"), is an informal geographical term which is usually synonymous with the area currently administered by the People's Republic of China (PRC) which excludes the area controlled by the Republic of China (ROC), namely Taiwan, Penghu, Quemoy, and Matsu islands. It also usually excludes the two Special Administrative Regions administered by the People's Republic of China: Hong Kong and Macau. In contrast to the term China proper, the term usually also includes Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia.
..... Click the link for more information. refused to take care of it). The 1949
1946 1947 1948 - 1949 - 1950 1951 1952
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..... Click the link for more information. foundation of the People's Republic of China The People's Republic of China (PRC) comprises most of the cultural, historic, and geographic area known as China. Since its founding in 1949, it has been led by the Communist Party of China (CPC). It is the world's most populous country, with a population of over 1,300,000,000, most of whom are classified as the Han Chinese ethnicity. It is the largest country in area in East Asia and the fourth largest in the world, after Russia, Canada, and the United States. The PRC borders 14 countries: Afghanistan, Bhutan, Myanmar, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Mongolia, Nepal, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Vietnam.
..... Click the link for more information. added thousands of refugees to the population, many from Guangzhou Guangzhou (Traditional Chinese: 廣州, Simplified Chinese: 广州, pinyin: Guǎngzhōu, Wade-Giles: Kuang-chou) (23n06, 113e16 AWST) is the capital of the Guangdong Province in southern China. It was formerly known as Canton.
The Chinese abbreviation of Guangzhou is Sui (TC: 穗;; SC: 穗;; pinyin: su). Population (1999): city: 6.85 million; urban population: 4.05 million. This city has a nickname Wuyangcheng (city of five rams), Yangcheng(city of rams), Huacheng(city of flowers) or Suicheng.
..... Click the link for more information. , and by this time, Britain had had enough, and simply adopted a 'hands-off' policy. A murder that occurred in Kowloon in 1959
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..... Click the link for more information. set off a small diplomatic crisis, as the two nations each tried to get the other to claim responsibility for a vast tract of land now virtually ruled by anti-Manchurian
The Qing Dynasty (Manchu: daicing gurun; Chinese: 清朝; pinyin: qīng cho; Wade-Giles: ch'ing ch'ao), sometimes known as the Manchu Dynasty, was founded by the Manchu clan Aisin Gioro, in what is today northeast China expanded into China proper and the surrounding territories of Inner Asia, establishing the Empire of the Great Qing (Chinese: 大淸帝國, pinyin: dqīng dgu). The Qing was the last imperial dynasty of China, its emperors occupying their capital, Beijing, from 1644 until 1912, when, in the aftermath of the 1911 revolution, a new Republic of China was established and the the last emperor abdicated.
..... Click the link for more information. Triads

The Triad (三合會) is a collective term that describes many branches of the underground society based in Hong Kong.

It is engaged in all forms of organized crimes such as drug trafficking, money laundering, illegal gambling, prostitution, car theft and other forms of racketeering. A major source of Triad income today is from counterfeiting products of intellectual property, such as computer software, music CDs and movie VCDs/DVDs.
..... Click the link for more information. (the Hong Kong organized crime syndicate).

The Triads' rule lasted up until the mid-1970s, when a 1973
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..... Click the link for more information. -1974 1974 is a common year starting on Tuesday (click on link for calendar).
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..... Click the link for more information. series of over 3,000 police raids occurred in Kowloon. With the Triads' power diminished, a strange sort of synergy blossomed, and the Walled City began to grow almost organically, the square buildings folding up into one another as thousands of modifications were made, virtually none by architects, until hundreds of square metres were simply a kind of patchwork monolith. Labyrinthine See also labyrinth (inner ear). or Labyrinth (movie)


In Greek mythology, the Labyrinth was an elaborate maze constructed for King Minos of Crete and designed by the legendary artificer Daedalus to hold the Minotaur, a creature that was half human and half bull, eventually killed by Theseus. The 'Minoan' dynasty of King Minos was called "the house of the double axe";
..... Click the link for more information. corridors ran through the monolith, some of those being former streets (at the ground level, and often clogged up with trash), and some of those running through upper floors, practically between buildings. The only rules of construction were twofold: electricity had to be provided to avoid fire, and the buildings could be no more than about fourteen stories high (because of the nearby airport). A mere eight municipal pipes somehow provided water to the entire structure (although more could have come from wells). By the early 1980s, Kowloon had an estimated population of 35,000 - with a crime rate far below the Hong Kong average, despite the notable lack of any real law enforcement.

Over time, both the British and Chinese governments found this massive, anarchic city to be a bit much - despite the low crime, if the 'Black Market The black market is the sector of economic activity in a jurisdiction involving illegal activities. Depending on the sense in which the term is used, this can primarily refer to illegally avoiding tax payments, to the profits of narcotic trafficking, or profits made from theft. It is so called because "black economy" or "black market" affairs are conducted outside the law, and so are necessarily conducted "in the dark", out of sight of the law.
..... Click the link for more information. ' ever had a physical location, this would have been it, and needless to say, the sanitary conditions were, well, a bit wanting.

After the Joint Declaration in 1984 The Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong (The Joint Declaration), was signed by the Prime Ministers of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the United Kingdom (UK) governments on December 19, 1984 in Beijing.

The Declaration entered into force with the exchange of instruments of ratification on May 27, 1985 and was registered by the PRC and UK governments at the
..... Click the link for more information. , China allowed British authorities to demolish the City and resettle its inhabitants. The mutual decision to tear down the walled city was made in 1987.

At that time, it had 50,000 inhabitants on 0.026 km, and therefore a very high population density of 1,900,000 / km. It was allegedly the most densely populated spot on Earth.

DestructionThe 1993 movie Crime Story starring Jackie Chan was partly made in the deserted Walled City, and includes real scenes of building explosions. Kowloon Walled City was destroyed in the same year. Also, as the Walled City was beginning to be torn down, a group of Japanese explorers took about a week to tour the empty walled city, making a sort of map and a cross section of the city.

Kowloon Walled City ParkThe area is now located in today's Kowloon City district. It was built into Kowloon Walled City Park (九龍寨城公園), an elegant park preserving the heritage of the fabled Walled City, which is part of the Carpenter Road Park.

Kowloon Walled City was not and never had been a city. It covered not much more than 25,000 square yards and, although it had been surrounded by a crenellated wall, the defences had been demolished by British prisoners-of-war under Japanese command and used as hardcore for an airport runway extension.

It had originally been established in the 18th century as a far-flung outpost of the Chinese empire. After the British gained control of Hong Kong and, later, Kowloon at the end of the Opium and Arrow wars in the early 1840s, the Chinese imperial government insisted on maintaining a local presence so the British turned a blind eye towards Kowloon Walled City. When the New Territories were ceded to the British, Kowloon Walled City became, in effect, cut off and ruled and possessed by neither - or both - countries.

Few Hong Kong policemen patrolled it and no government official collected taxes. The power supply was illegally tapped from the main grid and the water supply from the mains. Kowloon Walled City was in effect a minute city state all on its own, arguably the smallest ever to have existed.

It was to Hong Kong what the Casbah was to Algiers, with one exception: it was more or less closed to outsiders. Trippers avoided it. It was said that any European who entered it was never seen again unless floating out of it down the nullah [gulley] that served as a sewer.

When we arrived in our new home in Boundary Street my mother took me aside.

"Martin," she started, signifying her seriousness, "I know you like to roam and explore, and round here that's all right. But," she continued, unfolding a map of Kowloon, "you do not go even near here."

She pointed to the map. Kowloon Walled City was left as a blank uneven-sided square.

To utter such a dictum to a street-wise eight-year-old was tantamount to buying him an entrance ticket.

The following afternoon, homework hurriedly completed, I glanced at the map and headed east down Boundary Street. In 10 minutes, I was on the outskirts of Kowloon Walled City.

Nothing indicated to me why this place should be forbidden. Several six-storey buildings were being erected, with several already occupied or nearing completion; and a lot of shanties and older two-storey buildings were leaning precariously. It looked like a squatter area but with permanent structures in the middle in ill repair. A hutong [lane] lay before me, winding into the buildings and shacks. There being, I reasoned, no way my mother was ever going to find out, I set off down the alleyway, easing my way past a man pushing a bicycle, the pannier laden with cardboard boxes. He paid me not the slightest attention.

Through the open doors I spied scenes of industrial domesticity. To one side would be a kang or metal-framed bed, piled with neatly folded bedding; to the other several people seated at a table sewing, assembling torches, placing coloured pencils in boxes or painting lacquer boxes. Behind other doors were businesses, pure and simple. In one a baker was placing trays of buns in a wood-fired oven; in another, two men were making noodles, swinging sheets of thin dough in the air around a wooden rolling-pin, the interior of their shack ghost-white under a layer of flour dust.

Wherever I went, the air was redolent with the smells of wood smoke, joss-sticks, boiling rice and human excrement. Arriving at one of the older stone buildings, I was about to peer in through an open door when a Chinese man rushed out and slammed it shut. Stripped to the waist, he bore a coloured tattoo of a dragon on his back. He glowered at me.

"W'at you wan'?" he asked.

"Nothing," I said, fighting to stop myself sounding guilty, although of what I did not know. Then, hoping it might soften him a bit, I added, "Ngo giu jo Mah Tin." I held my hand out. "Nei giu mut ye meng?"

He was taken aback by my introducing myself - especially in Cantonese - and it was at least 30 seconds before he took my hand and firmly shook it. During that time, he eyed me up and down, much as a butcher might a bull being led to slaughter.

"Mah Tin," he said at last. "Ngo giu jo Ho. Why you come?"

"Just looking," I answered, shrugging and adding in pidgin English, "Come look-see."

"You no look-see," he answered sternly. "No good look-see for gweilo [foreign devil] boy."

I smiled, nodded my understanding, said, "Choi kin," (goodbye) and turned to go.

"You look-see," he declared, changing his mind. He opened the door, indicating I follow him.

What until now had seemed a harmless saunter through just another warren of passageways immediately took on a sinister aspect. No-one knew I was here. What, I considered, if this old stone building with its substantial door was the headquarters of the evil Fu Manchu? I had recently read Sax Rohmer. If I stepped over the high lintel, I could vanish. For ever. On the other hand, not to accept Ho's invitation would result in a massive loss of face. And so, I followed him into the building.

The entire ground floor consisted of one vast room, heavy beams holding up the ceiling and second floor. It was furnished with upright rosewood chairs, the wood even darker with age, low tables and several ornately framed mirrors. Halfway down the room stood a wooden screen, the top half pierced by intricate fretwork, the rest a painting depicting sheer-sided hills and lakes. To the rear was a staircase beneath which a door opened and an old hunched woman entered, walking with the aid of a stick. She took one look at me and grinned toothlessly, hobbled to my side and, stroked my hair. This put me at ease. First, Fu Manchu was hardly likely to employ crones and second, my golden hair was a passport to my security. No-one would risk harming such a harbinger of good fortune.

"You come." Ho beckoned me up the stairs.

I followed him into a room, along three sides of which were placed wooden kangs. Upon one lay a supine man asleep upon a woven bamboo mat, his head on a hard Chinese headrest, his legs drawn up, his hands twitching like a dog's paws in a dream of chasing rabbits.

"Nga pin," Ho announced and beckoned me further towards the fourth wall, the whole length of which was shuttered. I refrained from asking him what nga pin was for fear of seeming ignorant. He unlatched one of the shutters and we stepped out on to the balcony, which sloped forwards towards a crumbling balustrade.

From here, I was afforded a panoramic view of the walled city. The shacks were so tightly packed, it was impossible to see where the hutongs ran between them. Yet the real surprise was the few larger buildings tucked between them. One stood in a wide rectangular courtyard with a number of outbuildings close by; from another rose a faint cloud of bluish smoke which meant it had to be a temple. In the distance was Kowloon Bay, a cargo ship riding at a quarantine buoy. Over to my left was the bulk of Fei Ngo Shan, the most easterly of the Kowloon hills, the slopes sharp and clear in the late sun.

Ho took me back inside. We passed the sleeping man, who was beginning to wake, and descended the stairs which creaked loudly. Once outside, Ho bade me farewell and went back into the house, closing the door. I set off along the way I had come, considering to myself that I had taken a terrible risk. Reaching the edge of the squatter shacks, and stepping out on to a road with traffic going by, I resolved not to be so foolhardy again. Yet I knew I had to return to investigate the temple and the building in the courtyard.

When I returned to our flat, I went into the kitchen where our cook Wong was preparing supper and asked him what nga pin meant. He stopped stirring a pan for a moment, looked quizzically at me and replied, "Opium."

This is an edited extract from Gweilo, Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood by Martin Booth, published by Doubleday at 16.99.

LoKKiTo Sep 24, 2004 11:44 PM

Didn't they film Super Mario Bros here. Reminds me it.

"Trust the Fungus"

ProudlyCanadian Sep 24, 2004 11:59 PM

That is a real URBAN Jungle! :)

MolsonExport Sep 25, 2004 9:31 PM

Kowloon Walled City (ף, originally known as ף):

In 1987, the Walled City of Kowloon had 50,000 inhabitants on 0.026 km, and therefore a very high population density of 1,900,000 / km.

Compare this with the rest of Kowloon (itself, one of the highest population densities on the planet):

In modern day, Kowloon (ף lit. nine dragons) when unqualified refers to the southern part of the Kowloon Peninsula in Hong Kong. Population (2000): 2,071,000. Population density: 44,000 people/km. Together with Hong Kong Island, it contains 47% of Hong Kong's total population.

AJphx Sep 26, 2004 8:40 AM

The most interesting part of this, I think, are the streets and alleys of the interior.

SHiRO Sep 26, 2004 8:53 AM

I have another image on my computer showing a map of Walled City showing it to be the size of a baseball stadium. Can't find it at the moment, but if I do, I will post it...

MolsonExport Sep 28, 2004 3:38 PM

Old Pix of Chinese cities
images removed as they are no longer available.

Hisma Sep 28, 2004 4:56 PM

has anyone seen the movie "Bloodsport"?
I am almost certain that the movie was filmed there. Apparently inside the city is where they held the Kumite.

SHiRO Sep 28, 2004 5:58 PM

Could be...

otto Sep 28, 2004 11:31 PM

Interesting. Very very urban. A nice testcase for urban living, it`s a petty they didn`t keep a part as outdoor museum or so. I`m sure people in future will want to see how it was.

And wow, 1,9 million / sq. km? How much space do we need for the total Chinese 1,3 billion population? Only 684 sq km..... About the size of Singapore. Or more exactly it`s equal to Kiribati.

It reminds me a little bit of the Southern Japanese coal mining island. That has been abandonned and was for Japanese standards extremely dense. With all people except the manager living in 30 10-floor concrete towers. There was a topic about that island 1,5 month ago.

marshall_mathers Oct 2, 2004 9:57 AM

those wall s city pics of kowloon reminds allot of the gmae I play shenmue II, in that game I've been in Aberdeen HK to Kowloon, and it actually located on te hill in a peninsula and actually have buildings serve as shop, housing and lots of stuff, adn yes, there's a wall around the city.

try it, it shenmue II for xbox.

CGII Oct 3, 2004 3:22 AM

reminds me of a tall and real version of my avatar.

also reminds me of Gunkajima. very creepy.
some pix courtesy of google ( circa 1989)

otto Oct 3, 2004 1:14 PM


Originally Posted by Chrysler Guy2

also reminds me of Gunkajima. very creepy.

THX! That`s the Japanese coal island I meant.

urbanflyer Oct 6, 2004 6:19 AM

astounding urban historical record.

SD Oct 6, 2004 7:20 AM


Originally Posted by marshall_mathers
those wall s city pics of kowloon reminds allot of the gmae I play shenmue II, in that game I've been in Aberdeen HK to Kowloon, and it actually located on te hill in a peninsula and actually have buildings serve as shop, housing and lots of stuff, adn yes, there's a wall around the city.

try it, it shenmue II for xbox.

That's a great game. I don't know if you played the first one on the Dreamcast, but you may still find this article interesting. The town/district of Dobuita was recreated quite well in the game. Here are some pics of the actual location:

MolsonExport Oct 6, 2004 6:51 PM

Great Walled City Pics

Check out the Swastika/Circle-of-life in the sign:

Show me the way to go home...

For Rent: 300 square inches, with a view:

My favorite shortcut:

MolsonExport Oct 6, 2004 7:03 PM

Gunkanjima (Japan): Island of Dreams

Bon Voyage: gunkanjima_reprise01.html

marshall_mathers Oct 7, 2004 12:32 AM


Originally Posted by SD

Originally Posted by marshall_mathers
those wall s city pics of kowloon reminds allot of the gmae I play shenmue II, in that game I've been in Aberdeen HK to Kowloon, and it actually located on te hill in a peninsula and actually have buildings serve as shop, housing and lots of stuff, adn yes, there's a wall around the city.

try it, it shenmue II for xbox.

That's a great game. I don't know if you played the first one on the Dreamcast, but you may still find this article interesting. The town/district of Dobuita was recreated quite well in the game. Here are some pics of the actual location:

I played both games on DC and xbox, and those pics are old, I saw them way back in 2001 on shenmuedojo, they got sakuraka, doubuita and

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