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Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong

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Kowloon Walled City was a largely ungoverned, densely populated settlement in Kowloon City in Hong Kong. Originally a Chinese military fort, the Walled City became an enclave after the New Territories were leased to Britain by China in 1898. Its population increased dramatically following the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during World War II. By 1990, the Walled City contained 50,000 residents within its 2.6-hectare (6.4-acre) borders. From the 1950s to the 1970s, it was controlled by local triads and had high rates of prostitution, gambling and drug abuse.


In January 1987, the Hong Kong government announced plans to demolish the Walled City. After an arduous eviction process, demolition began in March 1993 and was completed in April 1994. Kowloon Walled City Park opened in December 1995 and occupies the area of the former Walled City. Some historical artefacts from the Walled City, including its yamen building and remnants of its South Gate, have been preserved there.


Culture

Contrary to what many outsiders believed, most residents of the Walled City behaved similarly to other Hong Kong natives. In response to difficult living conditions, the residents formed a tightly knit community, helping one another endure various hardships. Within families, wives often did housekeeping, while grandmothers cared for their grandchildren and other children from surrounding households. The City's rooftops were an important gathering place, especially for residents who lived on upper floors. Parents used them to relax, and children would play or do homework there after school.


The yamen in the heart of the City was also a major social centre, a place for residents to talk, have tea or watch television, and to take classes such as calligraphy. The Old People's Centre also held religious meetings for Christians and others. Other religious institutions included the Fuk Tak and Tin Hau temples, which were used for a combination of Buddhist, Taoist, and animist practices.

Appearance in Creative Works

Many authors, filmmakers, game designers, and visual artists have used the Walled City to convey a sense of oppressive urbanization or unfettered criminality. In literature, Robert Ludlum's novel The Bourne Supremacy uses the Walled City as one of its settings. The City appears as a virtual reality environment (described by Steven Poole as an "oasis of political and creative freedom") in William Gibson's Bridge trilogy, and as a contrast with Singapore in his Wired article "Disneyland with the Death Penalty". In the manga Crying Freeman, the titular character's wife travels to the Walled City to master her swordsmanship and control a cursed sword. The manga Blood+: Kowloon Nights uses the Walled City as the setting for a series of murders. The Walled City finds an extensive mention in Doctor Robin Cook's 1991 novel Vital Signs. The filth, squalor and the crime-oriented nature of the area is described vividly when the characters Marissa and Tristan Williams pass by the back-lanes. The later part of episode 3 and episode 4 of the anime Street Fighter II V are set in the Kowloon Walled City, depicted as a dark and lawless area where Ryu, Ken and Chun-Li have to fight for their lives at every turn, being rescued by the police once they reach the Walled City's limits.


The 1982 Shaw Brothers film Brothers from the Walled City is set in Kowloon Walled City.[63] The 1984 gangster film Long Arm of the Law features the Walled City as a refuge for gang members before they are gunned down by police. In the 1988 film Bloodsport, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, the Walled City is the setting for a martial arts tournament. The 1992 non-narrative film Baraka features several highly detailed shots of the Walled City shortly before its demolition. The 1993 film Crime Story starring Jackie Chan was partly filmed in the deserted Walled City, and includes real scenes of building explosions. A walled neighbourhood called the Narrows in the 2005 film Batman Begins was inspired by the Walled City. The 2006 Hong Kong horror film Re-cycle features a decrepit, nightmarish version of the Walled City, complete with tortured souls from which the protagonist must flee. The 2016 TVB martial arts drama A Fist Within Four Walls takes place in the Triad-ridden Walled City in the early 1960s.


Kowloon Walled City is depicted in several games, including Kowloon's Gate, Shenmue II and Call of Duty: Black Ops. The game Stranglehold, a sequel to the film Hard Boiled, features a version of the Walled City filled with hundreds of Triad members. In the games Fear Effect and Fear Effect 2, photographs of the Walled City were used as inspiration "for moods, camera angles and lighting." Concept art for the MMORPG Guild Wars: Factions depicts massive, densely packed structures inspired by the Walled City. The pen-and-paper RPG Shadowrun and CRPG Shadowrun: Hong Kong include a crime-ridden, rebuilt version of the Walled City set in 2056.


A partial recreation of the Kowloon Walled City exists in the Anata No Warehouse, an amusement arcade that opened in 2009 in the Japanese suburb of Kawasaki, Kanagawa. The designer's desire to accurately replicate the atmosphere of the Walled City is reflected in the arcade's narrow corridors, electrical wires, pipes, postboxes, sign boards, neon lights, frayed posters, and various other small touches that provide an air of authenticity.


Further Materials:

Readings


City of Darkness: Life in Kowloon Walled City by Ian Lambot (writer, photographer) and Greg Girard (photographer)

Daizukai Kyūryūjō (大図解九龍城, "Grand Kowloon Walled City Schematics") by the Kyūryūjō Tankentai (the "Kowloon Walled City Exploration Team")

Jiulong Cheng Zhai: Yige teshu shequ di dili toushi (九龍城寨:一個特殊社區的地理透視; "Kowloon Walled City: A Geographical Perspective of a Special Community") by Huang Junyao et al.


Film/Video:


The Walled City (城寨; Chéng Zhài; "Walled City") as part of Hong Kong Connection's (鏗鏘集; Kēngqiāng jí; "Resonant Collection") 70th segment, produced by Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), 1979

Hongkongs geheime Stadt – Ein Labyrinth für 50.000 Menschen ("Hong Kong's Secret City: A Labyrinth for 50,000 People") produced by Österreichischer Rundfunk (ORF), 1989

City of Imagination: Kowloon Walled City 20 Years Later (archive footage by ORF and Suenn Ho) produced by The Wall Street Journal, 2014


Other


Illustrative dissection

Unofficial historical, architectural, political overview