For nearly a century, Kowloon Walled City stood out as a rare modern example of an ungoverned territory. When Great Britain took Hong Kong from the Chinese, they left a Chinese enclave in Kowloon, near Hong Kong island. As the 20th century unfolded, consecutive Chinese governments neglected the governance of the enclave, the British refused to get involved, and it took on a life of its own.
By the 1980s, nearly 50,000 people lived in 300 illegally built structures connected together by an interconnecting maze of passageways and staircases. Drugs and prostitution were common in the walled city, and people from nearby neighborhoods would come to visit cheap unlicensed doctors and dentists. Residents cooked and baked goods that they sold to vendors outside the enclave.