Human life has long since departed this place, as have all signs of industry. In this eerily quiet abandoned village, nothing moves – unless the wind blows it. As a result, greenery has spread across rooftops and pathways, even reclaiming empty houses once filled by families. The vegetation is so thick that open windows are often the only indications that people once lived there.
Mesmerizing images ahead
Some mesmerizing images have been captured of this Chinese former fishing village. The photographer who took the snaps is named Jane Qing, and her wonderful work was shared online in June 2015. Her pictures give the rest of us an idea of what our own hometowns and villages could look like if humans suddenly disappeared. Clearly, nature wouldn't hesitate to reclaim its space.
Where did everybody go?
Despite the ominous implications for mankind, though, these images are undeniably awesome. They represent a seamless blend of architecture and nature – yet they still beg an important question. As beautiful as the scenery is, why didn't anyone bother to tame the overgrowth long ago? And better yet, why were the buildings suddenly abandoned in the first place?
While the area seen in these shots is relatively remote, it’s not like the settlement is completely off the grid. It’s located on Gouqi Island, which is one of roughly 400 small pieces of land making up the Zhoushan archipelago. As a matter of fact, the abandoned village is actually only around 40 miles from Shanghai, China. It's habitable, but still secluded from more populated parts of the island.
The longest river in Asia
Gouqi is broadly situated where the Yangtze River flows into the East China Sea. The Yangtze is an important waterway, having played a vital role in China’s past and continues to do today. At around 3,900 miles, it’s the longest river in all of Asia. And because the river is so close to civilization, it's far from deserted.
Not your average vacation destination
Don't let the island's overgrown vegetation fool you! It’s also home to many residents and a clutch of amenities. In October 2017, for instance, one visitor to the island reported that travelers to Gouqi could expect to partake in ocean swimming and enjoy a variety of seafood eateries. Still, you won't find a Marriott anywhere nearby.
But people and businesses aren’t altogether prevalent and thriving in the overgrown village. Yet from the buildings beneath all of the magnificent foliage, we can decipher that there was once life there. But what exactly caused the settlement’s population to flee, and when did they do so? As it turns out, the village actually has a name: Houtouwan.
It was a bustling fishing village
Houtouwan was an affluent community during the first half of the 20th century. Its relative wealth, apparently, was down to a flourishing fishing industry. But the village’s fortunes took a turn for the worse when its modest bay failed to cope with an ever-increasing number of fishing vessels. In other words, the village's supply couldn't keep up with the demand.
Houtouwan couldn't compete
The growth of other industries in the Zhoushan archipelago also had a substantial effect on fishing villages like Houtouwan. For instance, Zhoushan has an economy which is supported by activities such as shipbuilding. So, ultimately, increased opportunities elsewhere reduced the desirability of Houtouwan as a place to live and work. Other fishing villages had qualities that Houtouwan simply couldn't compete with.
Abandoned in droves
Perhaps some vessels were also attracted to larger ports nearby, such as in an area called Dinghai. Many fishing villages like Dinghai managed to stay connected to modern conveniences; Houtouwan wasn't as flexible. And where some ships lead, others are likely to follow in search of the best possible prospects. This could have caused fishing crafts to abandon the area near Houtouwan in droves.
Residents had no choice but to relocate
So what had once made Houtouwan so popular — its unique location, close-knit villagers, and bustling industry — actually helped contribute to its demise. And over time, Houtouwan became obsolete as a fishing village. Residents seemingly had no other choice but to relocate to other places. Yet considering how the village currently appears – almost completely reclaimed by nature – it might be a surprise to learn that this actually all happened relatively recently.
A lot can change in 30 years
CNN reported in 2018 that Houtouwan had a population in excess of 3,000 people as late as the 1980s. The broadcaster also claimed that the village’s residents gradually deserted the area due to “its remote and hard-to-access location.” This significant population departure, though, apparently only occurred in the 1990s.
It was "officially depopulated"
And when the people decided to leave Houtouwan, they seemingly did so en masse. After all, as CNN has claimed, the previously thriving fishing community had actually been designated as “officially depopulated” by 2002. Around this time, Houtouwan became a part of another village in the local vicinity.
Keep an eye out
So this mass exodus – believed to have begun just 30 or so years ago – slowly left Houtouwan nearly totally deserted. And in the short period of time since then, Mother Nature has left her green mark on the place. But this hasn’t been the final nail in the village’s coffin. It may have been "officially depopulated" in 2002, but the village isn't completely devoid of humans.
From village to tourist destination
The reason for this is seemingly – at least partially – down to the popularity of the sensational images online. The pictures apparently first came to the attention of the internet in 2015, and they quickly made an impact. The viral phenomenon then led to an avalanche of interest in Houtouwan as a possible tourist destination.
Book a flight to the mainland
So, if you wanted to see the splendid green vistas of Houtouwan for yourself, how would you go about it? Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, the village still isn’t that easy to get to... by 21st-century standards, at least. But the first step, of course, is getting yourself to mainland China.
Planes, busses, and ferries
Specifically, you'll need to get to Shanghai. Once there, you’ll only really have one option if you’re hoping to seek out Houtouwan: You’ll probably catch a bus down to the waterside and then hop onboard a ferry to Shengshan Island. You’ll need plenty of enthusiasm, too, because the ferry journey alone apparently lasts up to four hours.
A long journey to Houtouwan
And by the time that trip is done, you’ll still only be part of the way towards Houtouwan. That’s because Gouqi Island is joined to Shengshan by a bridge, so you’ll need to find a taxi to escort you the rest of the way to Gouqi, and then on to Houtouwan. Phew! We're starting to understand why people found the village to be a little too remote...
You'll have to look elsewhere for shelter
There’s one other thing that aspiring Houtouwan visitors need to be aware of, too. The island is, of course, devoid of most of the usual amenities and comforts of travel. Tourists, therefore, cannot stay overnight in a hotel in the village. They’ll have to arrange any lodgings in another local community.
Returning en masse
So while it’s not impossible for people to seek out the abandoned settlement, it does take determination. That’s not to say that people haven’t successfully made the trip before. On the contrary, the little village initially received such an influx of tourists that officials were seemingly somewhat peeved by their presence.
Not ready for tourists
As reported by CNN, a government representative from Shengshan released a statement in 2015. The official stance, it appeared from this assertion, was that Houtouwan was simply not ready for tourists. “Our telephone lines are jammed, and we are getting more tourists to Houtouwan,” Chen Bo reportedly said.
"Preserve its tranquility"
The statement continued, “Houtouwan of Shengshan hasn’t been equipped with the conditions to open to tourists... We urge visitors to preserve its tranquility for now.” Ultimately, in fact, it took another couple of years before island officials declared Houtouwan ready to welcome the world into its green embrace.
A moneymaking opportunity
But why did it take over 24 months for the island to capitalize on the interest in its verdant landscape? Well, it seems that those in charge were working to put in place a few new features in the area. These were intended to help tourists get the most out of their experiences – and to earn the village a little money, of course.
For one thing, in August 2019 the World Packing Canuck blog reported that it now costs money to enter Houtouwan. And while the price reported was little more than $7 per person, it’s still something for travelers to take note of. And there was an optional extra charge for another feature, too.
What can you do there?
This new addition is, in fact, a viewing platform. According to CNN, the observation deck was added in 2017 to give visitors a wider appreciation of Houtouwan. But, if World Packing Canuck is to be believed, visitors could save themselves the $3 fee and not miss out on much. So the question is, then, what do you get for your $7 entrance fee?
Beware of unsafe exploring conditions
Well, the highlight appears to be access to a self-guided hike around the eerily green landscape. CNN reported that notices have also been helpfully placed around the route to indicate dilapidated buildings that are unsafe to explore. Yet these aren’t the only benefits of taking a stroll around the place.
The area can "give anyone the creeps"
The real reason for visiting Houtouwan is, after all, to get up close to this off-the-grid ghost town. World Packing Canuck’s blog mentioned, for instance, the area’s ability to “give anyone the creeps.” Yet it also commented on how being in Houtouwan's abandoned village invites you to consider how the past encroaches upon the future... and how it could happen in your own home.
People flocked back to town
Speaking of the future, it appears as if the government’s decision to equip the village with the ability to welcome tourists has been a sound financial success. CNN claimed, in fact, that visitors to the area in 2017 brought in around $100,000 from tourists. That doesn’t seem all too shabby.
Some people have refused to leave
Yet, intriguingly, it’s not just occasional visiting tourists ensuring that Houtouwan hasn’t been devoid of humans since the exodus. In fact, a small number of older residents have steadfastly refused to leave the village. That’s fair enough, after all, as these folks have always called the place their home.
Mother Nature took back what was hers
Those who’ve remained, though, surely have noticed nature reclaiming the surrounding structures in quite a dramatic fashion. It’s as if the village is being quietly devoured by its own landscape. But if they’re aware of the changed views outside their windows, it seems that they’re doing little to combat it.
Other areas have been abandoned
And believe it or not, the plight of Houtouwan isn’t what we’d call unique within the context of China. This is, after all, a country where numerous other fishing settlements have also fallen prey to widespread urbanization and industrialization. Even shiny, modern developments in China’s more built-up areas aren’t immune to being abandoned themselves.
A "ghost mall"
Take Dongguan’s New South China Mall in Guangdong province, for example. The gargantuan shopping center is big enough to accommodate 1,500 retailers, covering more than a staggering seven million square feet. Yet it was, for the best part of ten years, labelled a “ghost mall” for being mostly free of shops.
A capitalistic wasteland
To put its size into some kind of context, the New South China Mall is two times larger than the Mall of America in the U.S. But it nonetheless managed to end up being mostly vacant. In fact, six years after it held its grand opening, fewer than one percent of its stores were filled.
The locals didn't need a huge mall after all
This must have been quite a shock to the developers, who had apparently intended on attracting around 100,000 shoppers everyday. So, what actually went wrong? Well, according to Culture Trip, it may simply have been that locals didn’t earn the kind of money necessary to keep the shopping center afloat.
Catering to its local residents
But fortunately for all involved, the mall has managed to turn its fortunes around in recent years. By 2018 the New South China Mall had undergone a refurbishment – and a shift in its marketing strategy had taken place. So, rather than aiming to attract society’s higher-ups, the mall now caters to more middle-class residents.
It's a rare win
As a result, the shopping center is now relatively thriving. A member of the mall’s marketing staff even told CNN that she expected the center to soon be at “almost full occupancy rate [with] no empty shops.” Yet not every Chinese site that has ever fallen into abandonment has ended up being quite so lucky.
The "city of the dead"
An example of such an unfortunate spot is the so-called “city of the dead” in Beihai. In 2014 it was reported that over 100 of this place’s apartments remained vacant. And this was despite their construction having finished in 2008. Some of these villas were valued at close to $500,000.
Another "modern ghost town"
Elsewhere in the Inner Mongolia region of northern China, a district known as Ordos Kangbashi has been called “a modern ghost town” by Time. The development was built to accommodate one million residents. The magazine, however, reported in 2009 that “hardly anyone” had taken occupancy there since it was completed six years prior.
Mother Nature's power
Obviously, Houtouwan can hardly be considered unique, at least in terms of its abandonment. After all, several other communities throughout China have had a similar experience. But with a bit of luck and some more visiting tourists, Houtouwan will be a prosperous community once again. Yet these images still stand to show the incredible potential of Mother Nature to take control of unpopulated areas.
A sight to behold
In fact, the photos offer an insight into how the entire planet might look in the absence of human beings. As television host Alex Trebek once put it, “If you can’t be in awe of Mother Nature, there’s something wrong with you.”