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Rare Maps Show Life in Hong Kong's Vice-Filled 'Walled City'

The infamous, secret city was a hotbed of temptation and violence that most refused to enter—even after the walls came down.
A team of researchers illustrated the insides of Hong Kong's hub of vice.
A team of researchers illustrated the insides of Hong Kong's hub of vice. Kowloon large illustrated

The Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong looks like a beehive, with cramped quarters stacked haphazardly on top of one another. It grew up organically, clearly constructed without the input of a single architect. Before its demolition in 1993, the city buzzed with life. It harbored drug kingpins, prostitutes, and gangsters, along with fish ball makers, mailmen, and hawkers.

But apart from these residents, only a few others had been privy to life in "the brothel of the East." Cameraman Hamdani Milas was one of them. He helped make a 1989 documentary about the city and spoke to the Wall Street Journal for this brilliant interactive feature tracing how a diplomatic glitch in the 1800s turned a former military fort into a "donut hole of Chinese sovereignty" in Hong Kong, then a British colony. Being tossed between the Chinese and the British forced the city into legal limbo.