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September 24, 2021

Shengshan Island, the Abandoned Fishing Village of Houtouwan in China

Wrapped in mist, the village has been slowly swallowed up by great nature. Without any human trace, the vines climb on the melancholy walls and roofs slowly and silently, and decorate the whole village into a green wonderland.

This is Houtouwan, the famous abandoned village of Shengshan Island. Known to the locals simply as wurencun (no person village), it’s been the subject of National Geographic articles and a fair few travelogues written by adventurers drawn to what looks, in pictures at least, to be the Zhoushan Archipelago’s answer to a lost Mayan city.

The story of Houtouwan officially starts with settlement in the 1950s, but doesn’t really begin until the 1980s and ’90s, with China’s fishing boom. By the end of the 20th century, this cluster of houses had spread up and over the steep inclines of the adjacent coves. At its height, there were 3,000 people living here.

From that point, the stories diverge a bit. Some say rampant commercial fishing meant the town couldn’t support itself. That seems unlikely; less than ten minutes away are two bustling ports thriving off one of the world’s largest mussel farms, stretching far into the sea. A couple of the taxi drivers on the island will say it’s because it was just too inconvenient to live there. The path to the village was too steep, and the bay was too small. Whatever the reason, the inhabitants gradually moved to the island’s western villages, to nearby Shengsi island, or to Ningbo and Shanghai, if they could afford it. Many of the families came from Ningbo anyway.

By 2002, Houtouwan was empty.

























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