Ghetto at the Center of the World

Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong


Gordon Mathews

ISBN : 978-988-8083-36-7

Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology

August 2011

256 pages, 6″ x 9″, 32 b&w illustrations

For sale in the Greater China area (Hong Kong, the Mainland, Macao, Taiwan), Australia, and New Zealand only

  • HK$170.00

Chungking Mansions, a dilapidated seventeen-story commercial and residential structure in the heart of Hong Kong’s tourist district, is home to a remarkably motley group of people. Traders, laborers, and asylum seekers from all over Asia and Africa live and work there, and even backpacking tourists rent rooms in what is possibly the most globalized spot on the plan­et. But as Ghetto at the Center of the World shows us, the Mansions is a world away from the gleaming headquarters of mul­tinational corporations—instead it epitomizes the way globaliza­tion actually works for most of the world’s people. Through candid sto­ries that both instruct and enthrall, Gordon Mathews lays bare the building’s residents’ intricate con­nections to the international circu­lation of goods, money, and ideas.

Gordon Mathews is professor of anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He is the author of Global Culture/Individual Identity: Searching for Home in the Cultural Supermarket and What Makes Life Worth Living? How Japanese and Americans Make Sense of Their Worlds, coauthor of Hong Kong, China: Learning to Belong to a Nation, and coeditor of several books.

“In this wonderful book Gordon Mathews takes on an intriguing project: daily life as it is lived, articulated, dreamed, denied, re­gretted, and defended in a rather rundown but very public building in Hong Kong. The residents of Chungking Mansions are eco­nomically blocked from the rest of the city and often racially discriminated against, so how do such marginalized people survive, much less prosper? This is the conundrum at the heart of Ghetto at the Center of the World. Mathews tackles it by providing a vivid description of the people who live their lives in the building’s dimly lit hall­ways, restaurants, and shops, and by analyzing the larger ma­terial and political forces at work. The resulting account is as informative and revealing as it is entertaining.” —William Jankowiak, author of Sex, Death, and Hierarchy in a Chinese City

“Chungking Mansions is a microcosm of glo­balization but with a special twist: it shel­ters and nurtures the small-time players who inhabit the lower tiers of transnational capitalism. Postcolonial Hong Kong remains a platform for suitcase entrepreneurs who travel the world in pursuit of profit and business connec­tions. The Mansions may seem seedy and dangerous to the titans who run Hong Kong, but, as Mathews’ account makes clear, it is a paradise for business travelers on a minimal budget. Anyone who seeks insights into the soft underbelly of global capitalism should read this book.” —James l. Watson, coauthor of Village Life in Hong Kong