Kowloon Walled City
Inseparable from the history of Hong Kong was a former Chinese military fort turned densely populated settlement known as Kowloon Walled City.
Britain was given possession of Hong Kong Island in 1842 in the aftermath of First Opium War. In 1898, after the Second Opium War, Hong Kong signed a 99-year lease of the area surrounding Hong Kong Island (known as the New Territories). Yet, there was a provision in the lease for China to remain in control of the old fort, which was home to about 700 Chinese. Kowloon Walled City was a small Chinese territory surrounded by British land.
In the 1940s/1950s, thousands of refugees from the Chinese Civil War fled the Mainland and ended up in Kowloon Walled City. The walled city, surrounded by British territory, protected them from the Communists. Yet, this “no man’s land” was a place of utter lawlessness. No services were provided by either the British or the Chinese. By the 1960s, the Chinese triad gangs filled the void and began to run drugs, gambling, prostitution, and other criminal activities. Until its destruction in the 1990s, things which were illegal in Hong Kong (like child prostitution or serving dog meat at the local diner) could be found easily inside the walled city. It was the original “Sin City.”
In 1966, a 20-year-old, single English woman first set foot inside Kowloon Walled City. To say that her new home was unsafe would be an understatement. Yet, she believed with all of her heart that God had called her to leave Britain in order to share the life-changing message of Jesus with those in Hong Kong who were suffering due to poverty, drug addiction, and spiritual darkness.
An account of her many years engaged in ministry in Kowloon Walled City are told in her book Chasing the Dragon. In this book, the reader is given a front row seat to the many miraculous acts of God which Pullinger experienced.
Yet, in the midst of stories of healing, deliverance, and radical salvation, was one interaction which stuck with me. It was a conversation the Pullinger had with a Chinese prisoner.
“When I asked him, ‘What is sin?’ I thought he would say ‘Stealing, hitting old people or pushing dope.” Instead, he replied ‘That’s simple. Sin is walking your own road.’” (p. 214)
This one insight from a Chinese inmate speaks a valuable word to Christians in 21st Century America.
First of all, as you read the Old Testament and the New Testament, sin is a really big deal. God’s Law as presented in the Old Testament was detailed and contained no loopholes. In the New Testament, we see a clear declaration by John the Baptist that Jesus’ purpose was to “…to take away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29). Jesus took sin seriously, too. In Matthew 5:28 he redefined adultery to include lustful thoughts.
Yet in 21st Century America, Christians are accomplished at the skill of explaining away sin, or at least minimalizing it. No longer are Christians materialistic, they are “blessed.” If you mess up your first marriage, just get a divorce and try harder with your new spouse. You say that you want to train up your child in the Lord…but your children know that grades, sports, and a college scholarship are really your top priority. And for goodness sake, ignore anything in the Bible that refers to “sexual immorality” …that was written for a different age.
“Sin is walking your own road”
What a powerful statement. There is no loophole, no fine print, no historical context. This inmate’s definition of Sin sounds a lot like something that Jesus said…
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Yet, this definition of sin does more than make us reevaluate our inclination to minimalize the “don’ts” of the Bible. It also shines a light on our tendency to disobey God by doing “good things” instead of doing “God’s things.” Let me explain. I wonder how many men, women, and couples God called to go to Hong Kong in 1966 to work with drug addicts and prostitutes in the Walled City?
Am I to believe that in 1966 God called thousands of men and women to serve in ministries in England, the U.S., and Canada. Yet, he only called a small handful to the poor of Hong Kong? Does that sound like a good plan to reach the world?
Or could it be that in 1966 God called thousands to leave the safety of their home countries in order to travel to the strongholds of Buddhism, Islam, Communism, Hinduism, and Animism around the globe? Yet, instead of obeying God and walking His road, they chose another. A safer road.
Reading Chasing the Dragon caused me to do more than revel in the amazing stories of God’s provision. It made me stop and ask “Am I walking my own road?”
For More on Kowloon Walled City
Jackie Pullinger in Kowloon Walled City
Jackie Pullinger, Chasing the Dragon: One Woman’s Struggle Against the Darkness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens, Minneapolis: Chosen, 1980, 2001, 154.