Organized Panel Session
Chungking Mansions has long been known in Hong Kong as a building hosting backpackers in the 1970s and 1980s and developing-world traders in the 1990s and 2000s. In this paper, I discuss the building’s shifting social meanings as read into its architecture over the decades. It was designed in the early 1960s for luxury, a period which lasted for a few years; but the building quickly deteriorated, and became divided into guesthouse cubicles for backpackers, renowned for cheap prices and an attitude that “you can do anything you want here.” Later, the building emerged as a haven for overstayers and asylum seekers because it is so easy to evade police, given its architecture. Today, the building’s meanings have shifted again: it has become a source of attraction for young Hongkongers who dislike Hong Kong’s new ruler, China, and who seek out Hong Kong’s developing-world non-Chineseness as a symbol of Hong Kong’s separateness from China. “The infamous Chungking Mansions” has long been a source of fear in Hong Kong, but for some young people today, it has become a place for exploration and celebration. In this paper, based on twelve years of research in Chungking Mansions and my teaching of a weekly class of asylum seekers in the building, I explore how the architecture of Chungking Mansions has shaped different foci of social meaning over the past fifty years of colonial and postcolonial Hong Kong.