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Chungking Mansions (Hong Kong)

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  • June 21, 2021
  • Location: Tsim Sha Tsui - Hong Kong

When I first arrived at Chungking Mansions I had no idea what to expect. Like many people, I was looking for the cheapest room I could find for a couple nights stay in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a city that is famous for its wealth inequality and record-high cost of living that outpaces any American city. I found much more than affordable accommodations at Chungking Mansions.

As I would return over time I began to discover that Chungking Mansions was more than a building. Chungking Mansions has a rich cultural history that features prominently in the city’s collective memory. The building is often described by local Hong Kongers as dangerous, or a place one should remain on their guard. These descriptions I’ve found stem from portrayals in TV and cinema and are propagated by people who often have never set foot inside the building. In reality this building houses a variety of cultures, people from all across the world, and is safer than many of the places I have lived in the US.

If you read stories and articles about Chungking Mansions it often runs towards the sensational. The focus is often on the dilapidated condition of the building, the perceived danger of its inhabitants and the frenetic nature of the place.

When I decided to make these photos I envisioned a series of portraits that would speak to the diverse and rich community that I value in Chungking Mansions. The portraits focus on the individuals who make up the community: those who own businesses, those who work in those businesses, and finally those who live and gather there. This includes shop owners, guest house workers, restaurant staff, money changers, building management, asylum seekers, refugees and stateless people. There are millionaires who live or work in Chungking Mansions and there are people who subsist on meager government allowances due to their immigration status, as well as many others whose status falls between those societal extremes.

Without all of these voices, there would be no Chungking Mansions.

-Jonathan Michael Castillo

 

Further reading and background info:

South China Morning Post:

A Fortunate Place: The Secrets and Truth inside Chungking Mansions

Movie Trailer:

Chungking Express by Wong Kar-Wai

University of Chicago Press Book Review:

Ghetto at the Center of the World by Gordan Mathews

 

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