History of Kowloon, the most populous city in the world

History of Kowloon, the most populous city in the world

Hard to imagine Kowloon, the most populous city in the world as, a place of 50,000 inhabitants and 100 x 200 square meters of surface, built from bottom to top and from the outside in, without a layout of plans and without architects

With a black heart because the sun's rays did not reach him. So it was Kowloon, the walled city of Hong Kong. And that's how implausible his story is.

Kowloon History

It all begins when this piece of land is chosen as a strategic place in the China Sea for the surveillance of the salt trade with other countries, which was threatened by numerous pirates.

He ruled at that time the dynasty Song, (between 960-1279) to which the dynasty succeeded Yuan, Kowloon continuing with its mission for several centuries.

Favored with technological advance that China experienced, mainly in terms of weapons, this enclave was fortified in the mid-nineteenth century.

Hong Kong passed into English hands and it was necessary to find a strategic point from which the Chinese could supervise the activities of their colonizers.

Kowloon turned out to be the ideal place, since the agreement signed between the two countries for the annexation of new territories in favor of Great Britain explicitly excluded the Walled city, that was of no interest to them.

They soon regretted this, and tried to seize their territory by means of arms.

From that moment on, this land ceased to belong to China, but neither did it become part of the British coloniesTherefore, it was left in a legal limbo that was the beginning of the development of a most peculiar city.

Kowloon's population rise

Very striking was the incredible increase in population density that it experienced. If in its beginnings it had only 700 inhabitants, quite reasonable figure for the space they had (since the perimeter could not expand, preventing it from the wall that surrounded it, which makes it seem incredible that it would become the most populated city in the world), at the end of its history it reached harbor 50.000, without altering in the least the meters of its surface.

Immersed in the pure center of British Hong Kong, its tenants were creating a own lifestyle, influenced by the Chinese tradition of those close to him, who initially posed no threat to anyone.

Their fortuitous isolation protected them from the disagreements between the British and the Chinese, being oblivious to the changes of government that were experienced at the beginning of the 20th century outside their little world: the fall of the dynasty Qing, the proclamation of the Chinese Republic (1911) and 38 years later, from the People's Republic of China.

When Japan invaded its giant neighbor in the framework of World War II, one of his attacks destroyed much of the Kowloon wall. What was left standing was dismantled for the construction of the International Airport Kai tak, located very close to there.

Even without fencing, the city already had its space delimited, which was marked by the absence of legislation. When the Japanese surrendered, this enclosure welcomed all kinds of illegal people who found refuge when not finding laws. The number of inhabitants multiplied, and so did commerce of all kinds: as there were no limits in any way, anyone who could not practice their trade elsewhere, came to this wonderful "tax haven”.

Began to bear fruit dishonorable activities, such as drug smuggling, alcohol sales, or prostitution.

Arose mafias that organized these tasks, and no one could stop this tremendous machine that had been set in motion, with no governing law or police to appease spirits, since no one dared to enter there to put order.

Kowloon uncontrolled growth

The city grew out of control where it could. New houses were created next to the existing ones. When there was no space left on the ground, and the widest streets in this conglomerate were a meter wide, the inhabitants began to build on top of the rooftops.

They supported some houses with others, so that they all maintained a dense balance, and although the materials were of poor quality, the city did not collapse.

It was not possible for them to build more than 14 heights, due to the risk that the planes taking off and landing at the aforementioned airport would collide with the rooftops. Approach lights were placed on top of these zigzag skyscrapers.

With no sunlight to penetrate through the tumult of buildings, people illuminated themselves with fluorescent. Strolling the streets would resemble go through a jungle at night full of lianas, represented by the abundant wiring that hung from window to window, as a preventive measure for fires, one of the greatest dangers that threatened them. If a fire started, it was very easy for the entire city to be burned in a short time.

Hygienic and sanitary conditions were deplorable. Many Honduran dentists took advantage of the situation to offer their jobs at a much more competitive price.

A curious cleaning system: the residents of the upper floors swept sending their garbage to those who had in the floor immediately before, and these to those below, until they reached the ground. The result was that the dust was concentrated in the streets where people crowded to move.

In 1980 the population had reached the scandalous figure of 35,000 inhabitants, and its reputation was unsuspected: its opium dens, the cocaine trade and the many casinos that emerged, were in charge of carving it.

The ‘City of Darkness’

International public opinion made the two countries that had neglected for so long The City of Darkness, trying to ignore the problem.

They decided to sign an agreement in 1991 for the eviction and demolition of the entire enclave (by then the population levels had exceeded the insurmountable, reaching 50,000 people in a territory of only 20,000 square meters, which gave it the title of the most populated city in the world, and of the history of humanity, with a population density of 1,900,000 inhabitants per square kilometer.

The also declared Most independent city in historyDue to its autonomy and self-management in all areas of community life, it was reduced to rubble in 1993. A human feat with the same characteristics has not happened, nor will it surely happen because it is not allowed. The city of Kowloon is an example of how capable human beings are to adapt to the environment.

Today, ironically, the grotesque mass of buildings has become a harmonious sunlit park, green and crystalline, in keeping with the atmosphere of peace and order that has always been breathed in Hong Kong.

Image:hyperspace328 on Flickr.

I study journalism and law, and for both subjects history is essential. It is the basic pillar of our life. As a mother I try to introduce my son to the roots of our origin. I love to tell you stories about how our ancestors lived and interesting anecdotes that pique your curiosity. An exciting world that we will learn together here in Redhistoria.


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