Friday, 3 February 2012

Someone could take a lesson here

As a person who is apparently libertarian leaning (I took a quiz), it isn't surprising that the politics, culture and society of Kowloon Walled City fascinates me.

This city of 30,000 people - encased in a vertical area roughly the size of your local park - came about thanks to a British-Chinese diplomatic failing.

Originally the land was a Chinese military fort. The British never took possession of it, as they did with the surrounding land in the nineteenth century.

After the Japanese occupation and surrender, the Chinese reasserted their rights over this space.

For what point, I'm not sure. The place had lost its walls (pulled down by the Japanese to make the airport), and the politicians in Peking were far too busy brutalising the population with the Cultural Revolution to bother with what must have been a minor problem of local politics, far away down south, on colonised soil.

But, thanks to this Chinese reassertion of rights, the Brits could implement nothing of control in this growing city. No taxes, no business legislation, no building regulations, no registrations, no licensing, no insurances, no police, no services, no bleedin'health'n'safety, no legal requirements, no administration, no inspections, no sanitation, no monitoring of civilians, no clipboards, no bin collections, no formalities, and don't complain to the council.

Maybe it was the perfect libertarian state.

The drug pushers, pimps, criminals and ne'er-do-wells probably thought so too. The stories go how Kowloon Walled City was a sanctuary for the Triads, a centre for gang culture, a place of general lawlessness, and a street of dentists who didn't need professional certificates but you could guarantee they were cheap.

Not surprisingly, the churches and charitable groups moved in.

In the exhibition we visit today, in Kowloon Walled City Park - the city was demolished in 1993 and landscaped into Qing Dynasty gardens - personal narratives come through loud and clear.

Stories of communities helping each other. Neighbours sharing food, belongings, miseries and triumph. Successful businesses flourishing. Employment, family successes, mutual support. People making lives for themselves; setting up resident groups, internal patrols and community associations to govern their own affairs.

Some residents were so reluctant indeed to give up this autonomous, self-regulating status that they clung on, defying all eviction orders, waiting to be carried out by the demolition team.

I'm sorry that I only know it by the diplomatic anomaly, and that I never got to see it as a working, heaving city.

But the park is pretty.

So that is Kowloon Walled City (Park). I thought home educators would like to know about it.

Especially the very loud and awkward ones who are further gone than me, and who keep Rottweilers to sniff out any form of control or regulation in any guise.

Secretly, they sometimes make me feel a tiny pang of sympathy for local council staff - particularly the thin, sad, weedy types, called Maureen and Denis, who would rather work in accounts than extract a bit of educational information over the head of a butcher's dog.

But let's think positive. I'm sure there is a ring road in Hemel Hempstead that could be up for a land grab.

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