Given the increasing importance of China as the economic engine of the world, Hong Kong has become an attraction for people from different parts of the world. People from the so called developing countries often choose Chungking mansions as their destination, partly due to the building’s cheapness and partly due to the businesses that flourish in this ghetto area. Matthews in his book Ghetto at the Center of the World gave a very detailed description of this place and the importance that it has for south China and the home countries of people who stay here. The paper will therefore provide a summary of several chapters from the book, explain the main arguments expressed in these chapters, and place questions developed in relation to the new information.
Matthews in his book tries to explain the reader the importance of Chungking Mansions and the diversity of its inhabitants. Visually, Chungking Mansion is a seventeen story building cut-rate businesses and cheap guesthouses in the middle of the tourist area of Hong Kong. The author defines three reasons why the building exists and why it attracts so many people, including the cheap price of guesthouses, relatively easy access that individuals from developing countries have to Hong Kong, and the growing importance of south China as a powerhouse (Matthews 16). Chungking Mansion is an example of how globalization works in terms of bringing people with different cultural and ethnic backgrounds together. The author calls the place the center of ‘low-end globalization’ and argues that its main goal is to ‘enable trading and transferring of goods from China to the developing world of Africa and South Asia and elsewhere’ (Matthews 105). The building has a big variety of stores, where the price and quality of goods are often misrepresented. The businesses made in Chungking Mansion are mostly illegal and the police interference in the most areas of business here is minimal. According to Matthews, the power of the legal system here is very weak and the law often discriminates against the poorer and favors the richer individuals. He argues that in Chungking, ‘when the law is actually invoked, it may be ineffective towards those who seek help’ (Matthews 155). Something that serves as the social glue for people staying in Chungking Mansions is visas and residence rights. Asylum seekers make a significant proportion of Chungking Mansions’ population and usually make their living by engaging in trade or other low-risk work.
Although the author of the book gives a profound analysis of the place, there are some questions and comments that evoke as a result of working with the text. Chungking Mansions presents an example of a place where people with different cultural and ethnic backgrounds live, at least seemingly, without massive acts of xenophobia. It might be helpful to examine the reasons behind this as they might serve as a practical ground for policy-making. In addition to this, it might be interesting to examine differences in socio-economic characteristics of people who stay in Chungking Mansions and whether inequality here reflects inequality of society at large.
In conclusion, Ghetto at the Center of the World helps to enter a separate society within the Hong Kong society and understand the rules, characteristics, and flow of life here. Its importance is further reinforced by the fact that it can be used as a case study of the process of globalization and its effects in terms of bridging different countries economically. Chungking Mansions indeed is a ghetto building in the economic center of the world and is likely to have an even stronger role in shaping international and local economic relationship.
- Matthews, Gordon. “Goods.” Ghetto at the Center of the World. N.p.: Hong Kong U Press, 2011. 105-150. Print.
- Matthews, Gordon. “Laws.” Ghetto at the Center of the World. N.p.: Hong Kong U Press, 2011. 151-194. Print.
- Matthews, Gordon. “Place.” Ghetto at the Center of the World. N.p.: Hong Kong U Press, 2011. 9-55. Print.