DAYS & PLACES
Behind the Walls.
Claimed by neither Britain nor Hong Kong, the Walled City – demolished 20 years ago now – was an extraordinary development. Home to up to 33,000 people, this shanty town of 6.4 acres sprouted as early as the Song Dynasty (around the turn of the first century), growing after World War II when the Japanese had left Hong Kong. It soon burgeoned with refugees who couldn’t afford to live in Kowloon, run by the Triad and with little government involvement until its demolition in 1993.
City of Darkness, published in 1993 by Greg Girard and Ian Lambot, depicts the Walled City and its residents in candid detail. A recent kick-starter campaign saw the book republished as City of Darkness Revisited, with more than 50% more photos. Supplemented with illustrations, diagrams, interviews and commentary, the book provides fascinating insight into a cultural and architectural phenomenon. Schools, restaurants, doctors, dentists, factories, salons – all types of businesses – operated without a license. Opium dens and triad-run were among them, though the Walled City’s grim reputation far outweighed the reality. Electricity and water were supplied by the government and committees fought to have it protected against demolition.
Today, the Kowloon City Park stands where the Walled City once did. Artefacts remain, but nothing quite as human or personal as Girard and Lambot’s gritty photographic tome.