The Most Densely Populated Place on Earth

Welcome to what was the most densely populated place on Earth, Kowloon Walled City was home to over 33,000 people, all crammed into a measly six-acres. It sat right in the middle of Hong Kong. Manila, the capital city of the Philippines currently holds the title of the world’s most densely populated place, but that’s only because Kowloon Walled City was demolished in 1994. Prior to this it held the title for over 20 years. But this mish-mash of buildings, cobbled together from scrap materials was one of the most interesting communities on the planet. It was no ordinary slum. It’s thousands of residents lived toe-to-toe with crime and the weird and wonderful. It was a self-sustained city, like a world within a world. Let’s take a trip down the alleyways of this incredible shanty town and uncover its secrets. But first, how the hell did THIS happen? Kowloon Walled City has a long and intricate history and like any good tale from history, it all started with the British. Hong Kong island was ceded to the British in 1841 as part of the Treaty of Nanjing, that ended the Opium War. However, China wouldn’t give the British Kowloon Walled City and held onto it for military use and they built a wall around it, hence the “Walled” bit. Kowloon Walled City began life as a salt trading outpost during the Song Dynasty, all the way back in 960. And it remained a small, forgotten outpost for hundreds of years, until the British got their invasive hands on Hong Kong. As you can imagine, being a tiny Chinese owned settlement, entirely surrounded by a foreign country caused some issues. The British found the Walled City a curiosity. They affectionately called it “Chinese Town” – seriously, they named it this on maps of Hong Kong. It became somewhat of a tourist attraction for British Colonials. So how did it turn into this… and what happened to the wall? Well during World War II, amidst the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, the Japanese demolished the stone walls of the settlement. As to its extremely dense population, well that happened because of a political peculiarity – because Kowloon was a Chinese nation surrounded by a British overseas territory it was impossible for China to police the area. And because it didn’t belong to the British, they couldn’t care less what went on within its perimeter. This made Kowloon Walled City essentially lawless. Thousands of refugees from the Chinese Civic War of the 1940s came to live in Kowloon Walled City – it was perfect, since it was essentially Chinese, but it’s residents were surrounded and protected by the British. Since there were no rules or laws, people self-built rooms to live in, wherever they could find a space. There was absolutely no order – if there was a space free, then somebody was bound to build their own Kowloon penthouse there, no matter how cramped it would be. And when all the floor space was filled, they simply built upwards. All the way up to 14 stories high. They would have kept going if not for the nearby airport that said they needed the airspace above Kowloon to be kept empty due to airplane traffic. The whole structure is quite an impressive piece of engineering, considering it was built by ordinary citizens. They even assembled a gigantic maze of water pipes to bring running water into everyone’s homes. In a world with no police to keep watch, crime and business flourished, often as the same entity. Within no time at all the city became ruled by organized crime syndicates, the Triads. The slum became littered with endless brothels, gambling parlours and opium dens. Even more disturbing is that due to a lack of space, during the day these same rooms were used as schools and hair salons; during the night, they were strip clubs and brothels. But it wasn’t just outlets of criminality that lined this endless warren of hidden alleyways and courtyards. Genuine businesses thrived here too. It became a self-sustained, tightly knit community with hundreds of shops selling anything you could imagine. Hundreds of products were manufactured within the walls, dog-meat, fish balls, noodle makers, you name it, all free to produce and sell to the rest of Hong Kong without any fire, health or labour safety laws. But above all else, it was known for two things, unlicensed dentists and doctors. Due to the virtually non-existent laws within Kowloon, you didn’t need a license to setup shop as a “professional” dentist or doctor, which made for some rather dubious places to get your fillings done. Hong Kong residents who couldn’t afford the high healthcare costs in the actual city, went to Kowloon Walled City to get it done on the cheap. Which is probably not a very smart idea, considering absolutely zero qualifications were needed to practice here. Conditions within the slum weren’t comfortable at the best of times, because the accommodation had been built so high, and so unevenly, there was absolutely zero natural light at the bottom levels, and most residents lived without sunlight 24/7. Children would play on the roof, which was incredibly dangerous, with gaps between buildings that had been shoved together, and endless dangerous items protruding from the ground. Eventually the filthy, cramped urban maze that thousands called home was demolished. In 1993 both Britain and China mutually agreed to demolish Kowloon Walled City. Residents were given a small amount of monetary compensation. In its place now, a public garden called Kowloon Walled City Park – there’s even a small memorial of the goliath structure that was once the most inhabited six-acres on Earth.

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