Little Manila: An Unlikely Crowd of Resistance in Hong Kong

Evelyn Kwok*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Since the publications on crowd theory by writers and historians such as Elias Canetti and George Rudé in the 1960s, the discourse around crowds and power has evolved dramatically, particularly due to the increasing acts of civil disobedience where people collectively respond to corrosions of democratic values. Public protests, sit-ins, and marches all around the world have seen thousands upon thousands of people appearing in the streets, negotiating their goals, and exercising their rights through determination and solidarity. More important than ever now is the role of public space in facilitating opportunities for appropriation and transformation and amplifying the voices of the people who appear in those spaces. This paper demonstrates the complexities of a socio-spatial phenomenon in Hong Kong, where every week, a marginalised migrant labour group exercises its resistance and resourcefulness by gathering in public spaces. This crowd transforms particular public spaces that can best afford their reclamation of space and autonomy. Their appearance en masse and engagement in seemingly banal, domestic activities in transitory public spaces can be dismissed as an ordinary disruption of public spatial order. Closer observation reveals that they are unlike any other urban intervention because their occupation of public space is an inversion of the socio-spatial conditions they experience in their labour. Over time, their gathering has emerged as a spatial phenomenon known as Little Manila, demonstrating the marginalised migrant group’s shared persistence to obtain autonomy and space. Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork and spatial analysis, this paper explores Little Manila through an intersection of labour and space, revealing the group as a multifaceted crowd of resistance and resourcefulness. Further, it charts the transitory urban spaces in Central Hong Kong and how they have facilitated the formation and continuous expansion of Little Manila.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-314
Number of pages28
JournalArchitectural Theory Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2019

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts

User-Defined Keywords

  • crowds
  • Foreign Domestic Helpers
  • Hong Kong
  • public space
  • resistance


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