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HISTORY – A Brief Visual History of Kowloon Walled City 40.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal released a new 15-minute documentary about the notorious Kowloon Walled City, which was torn down by the colonial government in the 1990s. The collection below focuses more on the exterior with some early photographs and a few rare aerial shots…
During the Sung Dynasty, between 960 and 1279, East Kowloon’s coastline was a series of salt pans. The Walled City was originally an outpost set up to manage the trade, though little else took place in the area until 1668 when 30 guards were stationed there. The intention was to defend Lei Yue Mun, Kowloon Bay, Hung Hom and Tsim Sha Tsui against foreign invaders and pirates.
It was developed into a small coastal fort in 1810 and was improved in 1847 following the arrival of the British. The Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory of 1898 handed the New Territories over to Britain for 99 years, but excluded the Walled City which, by then, had a population of around 700…
1898 – the year Britain took control of the New Territories.
China was allowed to keep officials there as long as they did not interfere with the defence of British Hong Kong. The enclosed area measured 6.5 acres and included six watchtowers, four gates, several military offices, gunpowder stores, weapons stores and soldier’s quarters – all surrounded by canons.
via richardwonghk on Flickr.
Just a year after securing the New Territories, British forces attacked the Walled City after Governor Sir Henry Blake suspected troops were being gathered to aid a resistance. The attack on May 16th 1899 revealed that the Viceroy of Canton’s troops (around 500) had disappeared, leaving only the mandarin and 150 residents.
1910s – The Assistant Magistrate’s Yamen & Former Sam Shing Temple, via richardwonghk on Flickr.
The British claimed ownership of the Walled City but did little with it over the following decades. A sovereignty row with Beijing continued for decades. The area remained mostly a curiosity for British colonials and tourists to visit…
1910s – Richshaw drivers and tourists at the Walled City, via richardwonghk on Flickr.
The Protestant church established an old people’s home in the Yamen, as well as a school and almshouse in other former offices…
Early undated photo showing children playing, richardwonghk on Flickr.
By 1933, the Hong Kong authorities announced plans to demolish most of the decaying Walled City’s buildings, compensating the 436 squatters that lived there with new homes.
Early photo showing the inside of the Walled City, via richardwonghk on Flickr.
By 1940 only the Yamen, the school, and one house remained.
The hillside was flattened to make way for Kai Tak airport, via richardwonghk on Flickr.
During its World War II occupation of Hong Kong, Japan demolished the City’s wall and used the stone to extend the nearby Kai Tak Airport.
After Japan’s surrender, China announced its intent to reclaim its rights to the Walled City. Refugees poured in to take advantage of Chinese protection, and 2,000 squatters occupied the Walled City by 1947. After a failed attempt to drive them out in 1948, the British adopted a ‘hands-off’ policy in most matters concerning the Walled City…
1960s, via richardwonghk on Flickr.
With no government enforcement from the Chinese or the British save for a few police raids, the Walled City became a haven for crime and drugs. It was only during a 1959 trial for a murder that occurred within the Walled City that the HK government was ruled to have jurisdiction there. By this time, however, the Walled City was virtually ruled by the organised crime syndicates known as Triads. Groups such as the 14K and Sun Yee On gained a stranglehold on the Walled City’s countless brothels, gambling parlours, and opium dens…
1963, via richardwonghk on Flickr.
“Here, prostitutes installed themselves on one side of the street, while a priest preached and handed out powdered milk to the poor on the other; social workers gave guidance, while drug addicts squatted under the stairs getting high; what were children’s games centres by day became strip show venues by night. It was a very complex place, difficult to generalise about, a place that seemed frightening but where most people continued to lead normal lives. A place just like the rest of Hong Kong.” — Leung Ping Kwan, City of Darkness.
1970s, via richardwonghk on Flickr.
It was not until 1973–74, when a series of more than 3,500 police raids resulted in over 2,500 arrests and over 4,000 pounds (1,800 kg) of seized drugs, that the Triads’ power began to wane.
1973, via richardwonghk on Flickr.
Although the Walled City was notorious as a hotbed of criminal activity, most residents were not involved in any crime and lived peacefully within. Numerous small factories and businesses thrived and some residents formed groups to organise and improve daily life there.
Early 1970s, via richardwonghk on Flickr.

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