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Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong Paperback – June 30, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (June 30, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226510204
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226510200
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #172,892 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"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 run-down 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." -William Jankowiak, author of Sex, Death, and Hierarchy in a Chinese City"

About the Author

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.

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Customer Reviews

Ethnography's often done these days, but rarely so well.
J. Ubois
Nevertheless, at least within the riotous diversity of Chungking Mansions, profits seem as good a way as any to keep the peace.
B. McEwan
The author did a good job writing the book, and I am glad that I found it and read it.
TopCat19

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By PeeJ on July 17, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Chungking Mansions is an infamous building in Hong Kong. It is a labyrinth of exotica, adventure , and otherness. In many ways it is a shadowy unknown place to many who live in Hong Kong and the countless travelers it attracts yearly. What is for sure is that we want to know more about it. Specifically more about the eclectic array of people that walk and work in its corridors each day. This fine work by Gordon Mathews satiates this curiosity quite fully.
Exploring the history of the building, its many personalities, the goods and businesses that pass through, and the new transformations, Gordon Mathews produces a landmark text. This work is particularly compelling because it addresses some misconceptions about Chungking Mansions, namely its safety and criminality and redresses these issues. It shows us that the building is intricately placed in what Mathews terms `low end globalization'. Millions of phones sold in this building sold by Pakistani tradesmen can be traced to the streets of Lagos. Illegal workers support their families in Calcutta by washing dishes or handing out flyers for the many restaurants in the building. Sex workers save money to start businesses back in their home countries. The most contemporary feature of the building is the rise in African traders passing through, this phenomenon is explored in detail and provides context for the transformations visible in the streets around Chungking Mansions.
Another important contribution this text offers is that of acknowledging asylum seekers in Hong Kong and showing their particular struggles in the territory. Many of these asylum seekers who have fled torture or the threat of political assassination frequent Chungking Mansions and contribute to an understanding of the place as a bourgeois location.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By J. Ubois on September 15, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Mathews' work is the product of the best kind of obsession. His ability to put life in CKM into a broader context, to build rapport with people, to notice detail, to run a team of student researchers (some of whom I imagine are now well equipped to go on to do their own work), and to report so clearly on what is happening makes the book a pleasure to read. Ethnography's often done these days, but rarely so well. And it's combined here with a kind of awareness of global issues that is really thought provoking.

The chapters on cell phone trading, the vignettes of the traders and their businesses, and how his research has affected lives inside CKM are particularly interesting.

As an aside: back in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, I spent a fair bit of time living in CKM, and can say the author really caught the spirit of the place.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By B. McEwan VINE VOICE on July 24, 2012
Format: Paperback
The title of this book refers to a large apartment building in Hong Kong's expensive Tsim Sha Tsui district called Chungking Mansions. Although it sits on a prime piece of real estate, surrounded by luxury hotels and shops with names like Gucci and Prada, Chungking Mansions is most definitely not a luxury place. Rather, it is a microcosm of what author Gordon Mathews calls "low-end globalization."

The building itself began as cooperative apartments and is still managed by an owner's association. But it is a remnant of another time, before the neighborhood around it became a tourist and shopping destination. Over time, owners of the apartments inside the Mansions began to convert their homes into unlicensed `guest houses' where backpackers and others of modest means could stay while they experienced `Asia's World City,' as Hong Kong now brands itself.

From a physical standpoint, Chungking Mansions is a weird place. On one hand, it is a typical aging apartment building of 17 stories, with multiple elevator banks and commercial space on its ground floor. What is untypical is that this ground floor contains scores of tiny shops run by entrepreneurs from developing nations such as Nigeria, Pakistan, Ghana and India. Many sell mobile phones wholesale, which traders purchase in bulk and take back home to sell at profits that can turn them into rich men in their own countries. If they get lucky. On the upper floors apartment owners quietly convert a two bedroom apartment into a warren of, say, 10 guest rooms, each of which is rented by the week, usually for cash in advance.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Doyle on March 26, 2012
Format: Paperback
I used to live in Hong Kong and eat at the Indian places in Chungking Mansions. I also had a lot of friends who stayed their too. Mathews does a great job describing what has to be one of the most unique urban features in Tsim Sha Tsui. He really does a good job drawing out the true dimensions of what the place is all about. I read it before a recent trip to Hong Kong and it really got me in the mood for my journey. I also read Hong Kong 97, A Corporate Satire. This is another book that discusses the gritty side of life in Hong Kong.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By L. Starks on February 16, 2012
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I read this book several months ago, but found it so compelling I often continue to visualize the descriptions of life and business in one of the scrappiest, most marginal, and yet most optimistic places in the world. I heartily recommend this book as an antidote to both familiar developing-country tomes and weary first-world cynicism.

L. A. Starks, Author of 13 Days: The Pythagoras Conspiracy
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