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17 Shocking Photos of China’s Lawless Kowloon Walled City

Mich Escultura

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From the 1950s to 1994, the walled city of Kowloon has been a place of both mystery and chaos. With a population of 33,000 people in a tiny 6.4-acre plot of land (imagine a tiny city that’s denser than New York City), the hubbub of the place has always piqued the curiosity of both locals and foreigners alike.

Surprisingly enough, despite the dense population and the questionable sanitation and laws, the city was quite self-sustaining with their own establishments such as restaurants and even healthcare facilities.

Back in the 1980s Canadian photographer Greg Girard decided to travel to this windowless world and photograph life within the walled city. Here are some of the photos from his experience.

At the time, Hong Kong was under British rule, but according to a clause in an 1842 treaty, China still owned the property on which Kowloon was built. This was never formally settled, leading Kowloon to fend for itself.

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Source: Greg Girard
The teetering walls of Kowloon was a point of interest for Greg Girard, and so he spent four years in and out of the city while he captured daily life within the walls.

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Source: Greg Girard
Residents stacked rooms on top of one another for more living space, making the city rise up despite the safety concerns.

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Source: Greg Girard
Virtually no sunlight could pierce through the stacked blocks, making it look like nighttime all the time.

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Source: Greg Girard
To escape the stuffiness and darkness on the ground, roofs became a place to bask in the sunlight. However, it’s nowhere near safe.

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Source: Greg Girard
To save up on space, schools and salons were converted into strip clubs and gambling halls in the evening. Opium was also widely trafficked.

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Source: Greg Girard
This is Wong Cheung Mi, one of Kowloon’s resident dentists who couldn’t practice outside of Kowloon.

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Source: Greg Girard
Her prices were relatively cheap, leading to many working-class citizens to her clinic to receive affordable healthcare.

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Source: Greg Girard
There were numerous in-house manufacturers in the Walled City, such as dog-meat butchers, entrepreneurs, and noodle makers.

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Source: Greg Girard
Hui Tuy Choy has run his noodle factory since 1965, health, fire, and labor codes be damned.

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Source: Greg Girard
There were no laws governing health or safety in Kowloon.

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Source: Greg Girard
Hong Kong’s government preferred to turn a blind eye, so law enforcement only ever intervened when there was a serious crime.

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Source: Greg Girard
The only law that was strictly enforced was that the Walled City can’t be higher than 14 stories. This was to ensure that low-flying aircraft can pass through to the nearby runway.

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Source: Greg Girard
Despite the chaos and lack of strictly enforced laws, the residents of Kowloon were all bound by a sense of togetherness from having no other community.

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Source: Greg Girard
Despite the chaos and lack of strictly enforced laws, the residents of Kowloon were all bound by a sense of togetherness from having no other community.

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Source: Greg Girard
In 1990, the residents learned that the city was to be knocked down.

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Source: Greg Girard
The city was eventually torn down in 1994 and a park was built in its place.

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Source: Greg Girard
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