AbstractOnce feted, Hong Kong has recently become a centre of civil unrest. In this paper, we situate these emergent politics through a case study of corruption and everyday life in Kowloon Walled City, a mainland Chinese enclave in British Hong Kong, which developed notoriety as a freestanding grey economy. Drawing from oral testimonies of police officers, triad members and local residents, we excavate the lived experience of confinement within this contested space. These accounts reconstruct the Walled City as a ‘quasi-carceral’ site of enclosure, a zone of colonial exceptionalism and a hybrid cultural space. Through this case study, we historicize current debates in carceral geography, humanize recent interventions in urban scholarship and analyse the shifting politics at the frontier of Chinese expansionism.