Kowloon Walled City, often called the “City of Darkness,” was one of the most densely populated areas on Earth. This maze-like enclave in Hong Kong was both chaotic and resilient, symbolizing urban chaos and human endurance until its demolition in the early 1990s.

Aerial View of Kowloon Walled City | 1989 | Source: Wikipedia

Historical Background

Kowloon Walled City originated in the Song Dynasty (960-1297) as a military outpost. Its role evolved significantly in the 19th century, becoming a Chinese military garrison amid growing British colonial influence in Hong Kong. The 1898 Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory allowed Britain to lease the New Territories but excluded the Walled City, creating a unique political situation.

20th Century Residents of Kowloon Walled City | Source: Wikipedia

Transformation Post-World War II

After World War II, the Walled City underwent dramatic changes. The Japanese occupation led to the dismantling of its walls, and an influx of refugees from mainland China followed. The unclear jurisdiction between Britain and China allowed the city to expand freely. By the 1950s, it became a self-governed, densely populated area, free from government control. It turned into a refuge for those escaping the law, with triads and illegal businesses flourishing.

Map of Victoria City & Kowloon | 1915 | Source: Wikipedia

Life in Kowloon Walled City was characterized by extreme conditions. At its peak in the 1980s, the city accommodated around 35,000 residents within a mere 6.4 acres (about 2.6 hectares), resulting in an astonishing population density of approximately 3.2 million people per square mile. Due to the absence of effective governance, there were no building codes for citizens and businesses to follow. The buildings were so closely packed that natural light rarely reached the lower levels.

Map of the Structure | Source: SCMP

Businesses involved in the trade of prohibited items flourished within the City. Despite its reputation for crime and poor living conditions, the Walled City had a strong sense of community. Residents created their own informal systems for law, healthcare, and education.

Inside View of the Alleys & Corridors | Source: Wikipedia

Demolition and Legacy

By the 1980s, concerns about the living conditions and lawlessness led to discussions about the future of the Walled City. In 1987, the British colonial government announced plans to demolish it and relocate the residents. Demolition began in March 1993, and by 1994, the site was cleared.

Round Gate at Kowloon Walled City Park | Source: AS

Kowloon Walled City Park, established in December 1995, spans the site of the former walled city. It has been meticulously designed to emulate a traditional Chinese garden, seamlessly integrating features reminiscent of the original Walled City. These include the iconic yamen building, historic cannons, and entrance plaques marked with the words “South Gate” and “Kowloon Walled City.”

Hong Kong – Government 1 Cent | 1971-1981 ND | Source: Banknote World
Hong Kong – Standard Chartered Bank 10 Dollars | 1981 | Source: Banknote World

***To shop for more banknotes from this era of Hong Kong click here.

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