National Geographic : 2012 Jun
• Manchu empire ordered a halt to the trading of "foreign mud" by the "outer barbarians," con- scating over 20,000 chests of opium and de- stroying them in public; the British retaliated, bringing their naval forces within a hundred miles of Beijing before a cessation of hostilities. e superintendent of trade, a man named Charles Elliot, negotiated for the seemingly worthless Hong Kong, believing its deep- water harbor might prove a boon but leaving the imperialists back home in a swivet---Why not farther up the coast?---and prompting Queen Victoria to admit ba ement at "the unaccount- ably strange conduct of Charles Elliot," while joking that her daughter should bear the title of princess of Hong Kong. Under British rule shanties gave way to granite buildings, a colo- nial infrastructure grew, and a city began to take shape on the shores of a booming harbor, one that acted as a transit point for trade with China. It was the reaction to China's communist revolution of 1949, however, that transformed Hong Kong into a center of industrialized capi- talism. Faced with Mao Zedong's nationalization drive, Chinese industrialists pulled up roots and reestablished themselves in Hong Kong, and a wave of refugees poured in, looking for work. A robust capitalism emerged, turning the city into a prodigious exporter of goods and a place of such unregulated ease that it invited money from all comers. In time Hong Kong built its glowing sky- scrapers---some by world-class architects like I. M. Pei and Norman Foster---as well as its more problematic housing estates, while behind its modern facade, social ills like prostitution, drug dealing, smuggling, and gambling continued to proliferate. Chungking Mansions is a measure of how much has changed. " ere's not much illegal except the illegals working here, many of them seeking asylum," says Mathews, who believes that the Mansions is where Hong Kong partly ful lls its promise, echoing back to an older ver- sion of itself from the 19th and 20th centuries: the melting pot, the open port, the unfettered global bazaar. "It is the truest encapsulation of what Hong Kong was, is, and could be." In a Chungking Mansions curry shop, I meet a man who says he is Pakistani and asks to be called "Jack Dawson," a er Leonardo DiCaprio's character in Titanic. He says he was threatened in his former country and came to Hong Kong without proper papers. He raised a bit of capital and began selling phones, and now he moves disposable "14-day phones," pulling down $60,000 a year. Gesturing to the stu y hallway thronged with people coming and going, Jack Dawson says, " is is my land of dreams." ON LOCKHART ROAD, in the Wan Chai district, the scene in a cramped lobby of a dilapidated building feels tense to say the least: male teen- agers playing video games on their phones and suited men anxiously shi ing from foot to foot, avoiding eye contact, all waiting to ride upstairs. When the elevator door draws open, one tribe of men glides out, while this tribe shu es in---and up they go. Each oor of the 20-story building includes half a dozen thin-walled apartments o ering one-woman brothels, barely masking the racket of the min- istrations within. During the 1980s human trafficking was facilitated by triads---criminal gangs who de ne themselves by dialect, profession, and po- litical a liation---who imported sex workers to Hong Kong in speedboats. e triads began as Under British rule a city took shape on the shores of a booming harbor, a transit point for trade with China.