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Faced with Mao Zedong’s nationalization drive, Chinese industrialists pulled up roots and reestablished themselves in Hong Kong, and a wave of refugees poured in, looking for work.

A robust capitalism emerged, turning the city into a prodigious exporter of goods and a place of such unregulated ease that it invited money from all comers.

A short walk from the tony designer stores along Canton Road and the opulent Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon’s Tsim Sha Tsui district, a rundown, 17-story building called Chungking Mansions spreads over a block—home to 4,000 people who constitute an international brigade of buyers and sellers.

They can be found at all hours under neon glare, ferreting through this world of no-frills hotels, restaurants offering African stews and Indian curries, and shops that sell everything from whiskey in a glass to saris and prayer mats.

Gordon Mathews, an American anthropologist who’s studied and written about Chungking Mansions for the past six years, says 130 nationalities embark here each year, hoping to do big business in what he labels “the ghetto at the center of the world.” When it was first built, Chungking Mansions was the domain of Chinese immigrants, who moved up and out.

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