The walled enclosure of Kowloon, in the city of the same name, has gone down in history as the most densely populated built space . Where before there was an authentic colony in which up to 50,000 people gathered, now a green park in traditional Chinese style extends. It is a mere memory of what was an almost science fiction city. Today Kowloon is still the densest city in the world, although there is no trace of the human nightmare that stood there.
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The origin of Kowloon
Kowloon is a transliteration of Cantonese Chinese and literally means “nine dragons”. It is part of the Hong Kong metropolis and originally acted as a small lookout post against pirates. Then came the British Empire and its colonization, although the agreement for the annexation of new territories did not include an area of 2.6 hectares of the city. It was there that the troops of the Chinese authorities settled.
The walled city remained in legal limbo until World War II rocked China in 1940.. Japanese airmen bombed Hong Kong and destroyed much of Kowloon. When the end of the war came and Hirohito’s empire signed its surrender, the walled city became a haven for illegal citizens and refugees from the People’s Republic of China.
Detailed plan of the city of Kowloon, by Japanese architects. | Image from: Wikimedia Commons.
Soon, the city became a thorny issue for the great superpowers, including the British Empire, so they stood idly by and let prostitution, crime and opium trafficking take over Kowloon.. New buildings grew on top of old ones and the population increased exponentially. Trade was uncontrolled and the authorities did not dare set foot on its streets. In this way it became the densest city of all time, and also one of the most dangerous.
The Lawless City
On the streets of Kowloon it was practically impossible to walk a few meters without coming across a casino or a brothel. Substance labs, abortion clinics, or unlicensed dentists could also be found . The inhabitants established their own rules and built the basic infrastructure with their own hands. Each inhabitant had a small room to build his life, little bigger than a car park.
Despite the prevailing chaos, the city created schools, shops, small parks and even its own institutions, although illegality was the order of the day. While outside they debated whether the territory belonged to the state of Hong Kong or to China, the citizens of Kowloon survived as best they could in a hostile and decadent environment.
One of the streets of the city of Kowloon. | Image from: Wikimedia Commons.
Through the walls of my house, designed by a frustrated cigarette paper manufacturer, I hear the noise of my neighbors’ ablutions, the din of their bowel movements, the confused and exasperated echo of their conjugal arguments, also the scandal of their venereal brawls”, described Juan Manuel de Prada in his article Acoustic Paradise.
The two mafia groups that became more relevant in its streets were the Sun Yee On and the 14K, a criminal group founded in 1945 by former Kuomintang soldiers, a group persecuted by the troops of the People’s Republic.
In the 1980s, it was already impossible to find an available space between its streets, and the highest rooms collapsed on the adjoining buildings. Kowloon was not only the most dense city in the world, but also one of the most unsustainable.
Demolition and eviction
By then many came to call the territory “the cancer of Kowloon”, so they decided to take matters into their own hands. In 1984 Margaret Thatcher ceded sovereignty over Hong Kong to Communist China and with it full power over the walled city.In 1987, the Chinese authorities announced the imminent evacuation of its inhabitants and the demolition of the buildings, a veritable jug of cold water for the residents.
To compensate the 900 businesses and more than 10,000 homes that were located there, the government distributed 384 million dollars in compensation and forced the inhabitants of Kowloon to develop new economic activities. However, the eviction of the neighbors lasted for years, and many were reluctant to leave their small home. The houses were gradually emptied until 1992, when only the most obstinate remained, who were forcibly removed by the police.
For many, the financial compensation was not enough to leave the city lawless, and some committed suicide at the insistence of the authorities. It was the end of the most densely populated city in the world, of a great human hive.
The memory of Kowloon
In 1993 the city was demolished. However, before it was completely demolished, the stage was used for the filming of two films: Bloodsport, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Crime Story, by Jackie Chan.
In 1994, construction began, in the same place where thousands of houses were built, of a park with traditional Chinese aesthetics.. Despite what happened there, the architects dedicated the park to the fort that stood there a century ago. Half a dozen canons and two small remains of the wall remind him.
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