Kowloon Walled City: A Lawless Haven for Criminals

Kowloon Walled City stands out as one of the world’s most peculiar cities, characterized by its absence of governance, laws, or adequate infrastructure, earning it the moniker “City of the Criminals’ Paradise.” Despite these circumstances, the city hosted a unique social and economic life while bearing witness to diverse and fascinating historical and cultural developments. Here is an exploration of this intriguing place.

Origins of Kowloon Walled City

The history of Kowloon Walled City begins during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), when builders established a military outpost to oversee salt trade in the region. For centuries, these builders made minimal changes within its confines.

In 1842, following the Treaty of Nanking, which resulted in the handover of Hong Kong Island to the British, the Qing Dynasty deemed it necessary to fortify the city to curb British influence.

In 1898, Britain leased the New Territories from China for 99 years, thereby transforming Kowloon Walled City into a de jure Chinese enclave within British territory.

However, China lacked the capacity to administer the city, while Britain showed no interest in intervening. Consequently, the city became a lawless no-man’s-land.

In 1941, during World War II, Japan invaded Hong Kong and occupied the city. They demolished most of its buildings, repurposing the stones to construct runways near Kai Tak Airport.

Subsequently, the city served as a refuge for refugees fleeing the Chinese Civil War in 1949. Without permits or plans, these refugees began constructing makeshift homes atop the city’s ruins. These inhabitants neither paid taxes nor rent to any authorities. The population swelled as waves of immigrants arrived from mainland China.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, the Triads, criminal organizations originating from China, gained control of Kowloon Walled City. The Triads conducted various illegal activities within the city, including prostitution, gambling, and drug trade.

Kowloon Walled City: A Lawless Haven for Criminals

Kowloon Walled City Wants to Be Demolished

They were often involved in conflicts and violence with rival Triads or authorities. Hong Kong police rarely entered the city, fearing the dangers that lurked within. In 1987, the Hong Kong government announced plans to demolish Kowloon Walled City.

This plan had the support of the Chinese government, which recognized British sovereignty over the city as part of the 1997 handover agreement for Hong Kong. The design was also based on health, safety, and humanitarian concerns for the city’s residents.

Nevertheless, the plan sparked controversy and protests from some residents who felt attached to the city. Despite its notorious reputation, the city also possessed a unique social and economic life. Many worked as traders, barbers, doctors, or even criminals.

The city was also known as a hub for the development of martial arts, music, and religion.