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City Of Darkness - Life In Kowloon Walled City (1993).pdfl

City of Darkness: Life in Kowloon Walled City (1993)

Kowloon Walled City was a remarkable phenomenon: a densely populated, self-governing enclave within Hong Kong that existed outside the law and the control of the authorities. For decades, it was a haven for refugees, migrants, criminals, and outcasts, who built a labyrinthine city of narrow alleys, high-rise buildings, and makeshift services. It was also a source of fascination and curiosity for outsiders, who often depicted it as a dystopian nightmare or a modern-day anarchy.

City Of Darkness - Life In Kowloon Walled City (1993).pdfl

In 1993, Greg Girard and Ian Lambot published City of Darkness: Life in Kowloon Walled City, a photographic record of the Walled City before its demolition in 1992. The book contains over 320 photographs, 32 extended interviews, and essays on the City's history and character. It is not only an informative glimpse of a now vanished landmark but a sensitive and penetrating portrait of a unique community.

In this article, we will explore some of the aspects of life in Kowloon Walled City that made it so remarkable and memorable. We will look at how the residents adapted to the challenging environment, how they organized themselves and their activities, and how they interacted with each other and the outside world. We will also examine some of the myths and misconceptions that surrounded the Walled City, and how it influenced popular culture and urban studies.

The Origins and Development of Kowloon Walled City

Kowloon Walled City was originally a Chinese military fort built in the 19th century to defend against British colonial expansion. After the Second Opium War (1856-1860), China ceded Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula to Britain, but retained sovereignty over a small area around the fort. This area became known as Kowloon Walled City, and was administered by a Chinese magistrate until 1899, when Britain leased the New Territories from China for 99 years.

During this period, the Walled City remained a quiet and isolated place, with only a few hundred residents living inside the stone walls. However, things changed dramatically after the Second World War (1939-1945), when thousands of refugees from mainland China fled to Hong Kong to escape civil war and communist rule. Many of them settled in the Walled City, which offered cheap rent and protection from deportation. The population soon increased to tens of thousands, and the residents began to build illegal structures on top of the old fort buildings, creating a dense urban jungle.

The British authorities tried to evict the squatters and demolish the Walled City several times, but faced strong resistance from the residents and the Chinese government, who claimed that it was still Chinese territory. In 1974, Britain and China reached an agreement to respect the status quo of the Walled City until the future of Hong Kong was settled. This effectively gave up any control or jurisdiction over the area, leaving it in a legal limbo.

Without any official regulation or intervention, the Walled City developed its own rules and norms, based on mutual cooperation and survival. The residents formed associations and committees to provide basic services such as water, electricity, sanitation, security, education, health care, and entertainment. They also engaged in various economic activities such as manufacturing, trading, recycling, gambling, prostitution, and drug dealing. The Walled City became a thriving but chaotic city within a city.

The Living Conditions and Culture of Kowloon Walled City

Life in Kowloon Walled City was not easy. The residents had to cope with overcrowding, noise, pollution, fire hazards, crime, and disease. The average living space per person was less than 4 square meters, and some apartments had no windows or ventilation. The buildings were connected by a network of dark and narrow corridors and staircases, often without railings or lighting. The rooftops were covered with water tanks, antennas, and laundry lines. The ground level was filled with shops, restaurants, workshops, temples, and clinics.

Despite the harsh environment, the residents of Kowloon Walled City developed a strong sense of community and identity. They shared a common history, language, and culture, mostly derived from the Cantonese-speaking regions of southern China. They also created their own traditions and rituals, such as festivals, weddings, funerals, and religious ceremonies. They valued hard work, resilience, and self-reliance. They were proud of their independence and autonomy from the government and the society.

The Walled City also had a rich and diverse cultural life. It was home to many artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers, who found inspiration and expression in the unique urban landscape. It also attracted many visitors and tourists, who were curious about the mysterious and exotic place. Some of them came to enjoy the cheap and authentic food, entertainment, and services. Others came to document and study the social and spatial phenomena of the Walled City.

The Demolition and Legacy of Kowloon Walled City

In 1984, Britain and China signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which agreed to return Hong Kong to China in 1997. As part of the deal, both sides also agreed to demolish Kowloon Walled City and redevelop the site into a park. The demolition began in 1991 and was completed in 1994. The residents were compensated and relocated to public housing estates or other areas. The site was cleared and transformed into Kowloon Walled City Park, which opened in 1995.

The demolition of Kowloon Walled City marked the end of an era and a way of life. Many former residents felt nostalgic and sad about losing their home and community. Some of them still visit the park regularly to reminisce and reconnect with their old neighbors. Others have moved on and adapted to the new society and environment.

Kowloon Walled City left a lasting legacy in Hong Kong and beyond. It became a symbol of urban resilience, creativity, and diversity. It also became a source of inspiration and influence for many fields of art, literature, film, music, architecture, design, sociology, anthropology, urbanism, and more. It challenged conventional notions of urban planning, governance, order, and aesthetics. It showed the potential and the problems of human adaptation to extreme urban conditions.

The Controversies and Debates about Kowloon Walled City

Kowloon Walled City was a controversial and debated place. It provoked different reactions and opinions from different perspectives and interests. Some people saw it as a nightmare, a slum, a crime den, a human rights violation, a waste of land, or a threat to public health and security. They supported its demolition and clearance. Others saw it as a wonder, a utopia, a cultural treasure, a social experiment, a historical relic, or a model of sustainability. They opposed its demolition and preservation.

The controversy and debate about Kowloon Walled City also reflected the larger political and social context of Hong Kong and China. The Walled City was a product of colonialism, war, migration, and nationalism. It was also a subject of diplomacy, sovereignty, and identity. It represented the tensions and contradictions between East and West, tradition and modernity, order and chaos, freedom and control.

The controversy and debate about Kowloon Walled City continue to this day. Some people question the accuracy and authenticity of the representations and interpretations of the Walled City by various media and scholars. They argue that some of them are biased, sensationalized, romanticized, or politicized. They also criticize the lack of participation and consultation of the residents in the decision-making and documentation process. They call for more respect and recognition of the voices and experiences of the people who lived in the Walled City.

The Future and Relevance of Kowloon Walled City

Kowloon Walled City may be gone, but it is not forgotten. It still lives in the memories and imaginations of many people around the world. It also lives in the physical and digital traces that remain, such as the park, the books, the photos, the videos, the websites, the games, and the artworks. It also lives in the legacy and influence that it has on various fields and disciplines.

Kowloon Walled City also has a future and relevance for the present and the future. It offers valuable lessons and insights for understanding and addressing some of the current and emerging challenges and opportunities of urbanization, globalization, migration, diversity, inequality, resilience, innovation, and sustainability. It also invites us to rethink and reimagine some of the fundamental questions and issues of urban life, such as what is a city, who is a citizen, how do we live together, and what kind of city do we want.

Kowloon Walled City was a unique and extraordinary place that captured the attention and imagination of many people. It was a city of darkness, but also a city of light. It was a city of contradictions, but also a city of possibilities. It was a city of the past, but also a city of the future.

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The Conclusion of the Article

In this article, we have explored some of the aspects of life in Kowloon Walled City, a remarkable phenomenon that existed in Hong Kong from the 1950s to the 1990s. We have looked at how the Walled City originated and developed, how the residents lived and worked, how they organized and governed themselves, how they interacted and communicated with each other and the outside world, and how they expressed and celebrated their culture and identity. We have also examined some of the controversies and debates that surrounded the Walled City, and how it influenced and was influenced by the larger political and social context of Hong Kong and China. Finally, we have discussed some of the legacy and relevance of the Walled City for the present and the future.

Kowloon Walled City was a city of darkness, but also a city of light. It was a city of contradictions, but also a city of possibilities. It was a city of the past, but also a city of the future. It was a city that challenged and inspired us to think differently and creatively about urban life. d282676c82


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