It’s hard to believe that what is now a beautiful park used to be one of the most densely populated places on the planet. Despite having been demolished 20 years ago, the Kowloon Walled City continues to captivate people today. While at first glance, it may look just like a pleasant garden in the middle of the busy city of Hong Kong, it felt surreal and disconcerting to visit a place with so much history behind it. This was one the most fascinating places I visited during my recent trip to Hong Kong.
Today, the site of the former Kowloon Walled City has been redeveloped as a historic park in its honor. The Jiangan-style garden of the early Qing Dynasty is now a green and peaceful space studded with Chinese pavilions and ponds. There weren’t a lot of people when I visited, just a few senior citizens practicing tai chi in the open spaces and chess gardens and reading newspapers along the corridors.
直到 1987 年，中英政府达成清拆寨城的协议，并于1994年建成今天的九龙寨城公园。公园在原址上改造，以清初江南园林为设计模式，保留了部分古建筑的同时，还展现了浓厚的中国历史文化。在修缮过程中，最大收穫是发掘出两块花岗岩石额，它们分别刻有“南门”及“九龙寨城”字样，如今被挂在公园南门门口。
Formerly a military stronghold during the 15th century, the Walled City became an enclave after the New Territories were leased to Britain by China in 1898. Following the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during World War II, its population increased dramatically evolving into a self-governed city.
In the late 1980s, the Kowloon Walled City packed more than 30,000 people in a maze of dark alleys and high-rise tenements. Because of the scarcity of space, there was nowhere to build but up. What resulted was a stunningly dense vertical slum that just grew organically, defying any type of master plan or architecture.
Since it stood on land that was legally a Chinese military fort, it couldn’t be touched by the British-run Hong Kong government, resulting in a semi-lawless squatter slum. Because of its ungoverned status and government neglect, it deteriorated attracting an influx of Chinese immigrants, unlicensed businesses, cheap food processing plants and factories crammed into the same space. The Walled City was known to be controlled by Chinese mafia called triads and became a hotbed of illegal activities like prostitution, gambling and drug abuse.
Documentary archives including aerial photos of the old city are displayed along some corridors so visitors can learn more about the place. The Almshouse (which once served as a home for the aged) is the only building that remains of the Walled City. It’s here where you can find the most interesting feature of the new park – an outdoor display area and six exhibition rooms, which recreate the old days of the Kowloon Walled City through models, images and sound effects. The exhibition rooms transport visitors momentarily back in time, giving a glimpse of the daily lives of the residents of the walled city before it was demolished.
While the Kowloon Walled City’s old presence and almost everything it once represented has been erased, there are a few features and exhibits that give you a sense of history, including a 3D bronze model of the buildings and elaborate cross-section line artwork depicting the living conditions before near the main entrance.
While walking around the park, I found it hard to imagine how life must have been like there before. While some artifacts from the city remain, such as remnants of the South Gate, much of it has been replaced with aesthetic features, floral paths, landscaped gardens and traditional Chinese architecture.
For many who visit the Kowloon Walled City Park, it may seem like just another serene garden where you can enjoy nature and take a break from the crowded city streets. But if you spend some time reading the materials on display and visit the exhibition rooms, you’ll just be astounded by the city’s remarkable past. While its transformation to a park is amazing, you get this sense of nostalgia for the lost city and for the generations of residents who lived there for decades. The closest MTR station to the Kowloon Walled City Park is a 10-min walk from Exit B of Lok Fu Station on the Kwun Tong Line.