Kowloon Walled City – Hong Kong’s Real Life Dystopia

November 04, 2014 by in Sightseeing, Sites/Blogs tags: , , , ,


Model of Kowloon Walled City

Scale model of Kowloon Walled City by Rory MacLeod, CC BY 2.0. Cropped from the original version.


The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Divergent. These days, my kids seem to be obsessed with all things dystopia. But those are fictional stories and unlikely to happen in real life, right? Little did they know that, up until about 20 years ago, there was a real-life dystopic settlement in Hong Kong called Kowloon Walled City.


Originally a Chinese military outpost, it was excluded in 1898 from Britain’s 99-year lease of the rest of Hong Kong, a fact which the British soon disputed. With both countries claiming ownership but neither actually enforcing any rule, the Walled City effectively became an isolated island of refugees and criminals. The Walled City grew over time into a dense urban settlement, with 33,000 residents crammed into a mere 6.9 acres. It became notorious as a lawless den of criminals and drug addicts and served as inspiration for novels and films like The Bourne Supremacy and Batman Rises.


The Wall Street Journal published a fantastic interactive feature on the Walled City, complete with photos, videos and audio clips that give you a vivid understanding of life in the enclave. My 10-year-old was particularly fascinated by the introductory video and Suenn Ho’s video clips documenting the dark alleyways in the Explore section.


WSJ Kowloon Walled City Project

Screenshot of the Wall Street Journal’s interactive feature on Kowloon Walled City


The Hong Kong government finally tore the tenements down in 1994. In its place, they built a Jiangnan garden-style park, featuring a scale model replica of the Walled City, the original yamen (bureaucratic office) and remnants of the South Gate.



It’s a nice park and definitely worth a visit, especially if you and your kids have first explored the WSJ interactive feature and can appreciate the contrast between the park’s current beauty and dark past.


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About the Author:
Mamie has three kids, ages 13, 12 and 10, and a cardboard Xmas tree that they assemble in hotel rooms in different countries every year. When she isn't busy researching new destinations for the tree, she loves impromptu family activities, from board games to art jams to kitchen experiments.

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