information file : Denim project

by Chris Kwong
Tags: research

Information file : Denim Project


A walk inside Chung King Mansion


Eyesore, ghetto, jungle, goldmine, little United Nations. These are all words that have been used to describe Chungking Mansions, a building complex that is seen as both a foreign island in Hong Kong and an important part of the Chinese city's identity.

From the outside, Chungking Mansions looks like a single, imposing concrete block - 15 identical residential floors on top of a neon-lit, two-storey mall.

Past the front, it is like a maze - there are in fact five separate blocks, 10 lifts and multiple old, twisting stairwells filled with swathes of electrical cable, crumbling concrete and graffiti in multiple languages.

The complex began life as an upmarket residential estate in the 1960s, but has since become a hub for traders from developing countries, backpackers and asylum seekers in Hong Kong.

More than 10,000 people are estimated to enter or exit the building every day, and African and South Asian faces often outnumber Chinese faces - something remarkable in a city where 94% of residents are ethnic Chinese.

The building complex has a somewhat notorious reputation among locals and, until recently, many in Hong Kong were wary of stepping inside.

However, the building has a buzz that most Hong Kong Chinese would also recognise - nearly everyone is there to make money.

'Low-end globalisation'

Entering the building, touts try to lure the visitor to their restaurant, or offer a hotel room.


Across the first and second floors are shops selling clothes, computers and boxes of cheap electronics such as mobile phones. As well as selling to the public, the stalls cater to wholesalers who ship goods to Africa and South Asia.

Gordon Mathews, an anthropology professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who spent four years researching and staying in Chungking Mansions, describes the complex as "a world hub of low-end globalisation".



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