Kowloon: Hong Kong’s Notorious Walled City

Kowloon Walled CityPhoto: JidanniAn aerial view of Kowloon Walled City with Hong Kong serving as the background

In 1842, after the British gained control of Hong Kong, the Chinese government began to build a defense wall around a little community of the city in the hope of regulating British influence and keeping control of the area. With this what was called Kowloon Walled City was born, or at least its image was remodeled. The first part of the city was built in the early second millennium as an outpost for the trade of salt. Then in 1810 a coastal fort was put there to guard the cities of Kowloon and Hong Kong. However, once the British gained control everything for Kowloon’s small community changed.

Kowloon Walled CityPhoto: upyernozAn inside look at Kowloon Walled City

In 1854 the Walled City was captured by members of the Taiping Rebellion, but was taken back by the government. By 1898, when the government gave more of the area up to Britain, the city stayed untouched, with a small respectable population of 700. Over the next forty-five years the Walled City was passed around from Chinese rule, to British rule, to Japanese rule and finally back to Chinese rule. With this there was a spike in population. After a few attempts to keep the population under control the British and Chinese governments lessened their presences in the Walled City, leaving it free to become a den for criminal activity and near anarchy. At this point, the culture of the once respectable small community was changed forever.

Kowloon Walled CityPhoto: unknownA view of Hong Kong’s last urban village, Kowloon Walled City

The triads sprang up around the 1950s and took control of the Walled City. Many failed attempts to try to gain control of the city by surrounding governments proved to be futile. The Hong Kong government came back into power of the city in 1959; however it was more of a symbolic position, because at this point organized crime had a stranglehold on the city. Opium dens, brothels, casinos, as well as unlicensed doctors and dentists could all be found here. Everything went on in the dimly lit streets of Kowloon Walled City.

Building in KowloonPhoto: unknown

The city was then officially seized by the surrounding governments, so that the police had arrested over 2,500 people and seized over 4,000 lb. of drugs by 1974. The Walled City moved into its final chapter as a city. By 1984, plans had been announced to demolish this ever changing enclave, with official plans announced in 1987 that the government would spend 2.7 billion HK$ to move the 33,000 residents of the Kowloon Walled City out and demolish the place. Finally finished in 1994, and construction of its replacement, Kowloon Walled City Park, began in May of 1994.

Kowloon Walled City wasn’t very large, although it was known for having a high population density within its roughly 285,000 square feet. It was a small area and didn’t have high-rise buildings; to put it in layman’s terms, it was like fitting 33,000 people in five White Houses.

Kowloon Walled CityPhoto: Roger PriceA view of the Kowloon Walled City in 1991, only a few years before it was torn down

Kowloon Walled City Park, a 331,000 sq. ft and 76 million HK$ project, was completed in 1995. Although not much remains of the old Walled City, the new Walled City Park shows the lasting spirit of what had been there. It has cleaned up the image of the once good little community located just outside of metropolitan Hong Kong.