Being by chance around Shanghai at the end of February 2016, I decided to go to Shengshan Island with Gui, in order to take some distance from big cities and crowds. It was really worth going, even if we went during the low season, when the island is not « green » enough. Indeed there is a very famous beautiful abandoned village there which becomes a little paradise on earth when ivy spreads all over the buildings in the summer. However, I don’t regret my choice, as the place was much more quiet and deserted. And I have to say, the less green grass there is, the more pathways get noticeable and that is how we found another interesting place…
The abandoned fishing village of Houtouwan
The abandoned village of Houtouwan is located in an island not too far from Shanghai… For those who have not heard about it, it was considered as the « most beautiful abandoned village » (最美“无人村”) when a professional photographer shot wonderful views of this place in June 2015. The enchanting place became a hot topic online, a bit like Ukraine’s « tunnel of love ».
You can see amazing pictures of this village all over the internet (like here or here). Since then, the island attracted even more tourists during the summer to visit the village, including Tomboy urbex herself.
But me, I do not like to follow the masses in China, and I do not really care about when the perfect timing for photography would be. I just happened to have some work to do in Shanghai and took this chance to go on this island, that’s all. More over, it is less romantic when many tourists are there all together to take the same pictures…
The ferry boats are all full a long time in advance, the charm is not the same. What I liked about the early spring period was the sunny weather, the absence of tourists, the low prices on the island, and the ability to enjoy these abandoned places really without anyone around.
Even if this place is already well known, some precisions are needed to really understand the configuration of this island. First of all, from what I could read about this village, it seems that it is located on a lost island, where little activity happens. I am sorry to contradict this vision, urbexer Tommy, but in fact, there is still quite an active fishing economy here, even if it tends to slow down.
During the high season, the island is also generally full of tourists who love the place for its beaches and scenic spots. So it is quite a lively island.
Secondly, what the main websites and reports about this village do not stress enough is the size of the abandoned village: it is huge, it took two hours to visit it from one end to the other.
According to one of the last inhabitants (only two families remain in the village), it was a village of fishermen who got richer in the 1980s and who decided to move in a more accessible place. The main problem was indeed the lack of transportation giving access to the place: small paths and stairs are the only ways to get to any part of the village, located on a cliff near the sea.
Yes, I know, it would look better in the summer, but in this report, I am willing to share an atmosphere: it was a peaceful and sunny day, with no one around except one peasant working on his crops. We only heard the sound of birds and the regular movement of waves breaking on the rocks below us. At that moment, this place was a small paradise on earth.
An abandoned national defense network of tunnels… ending in military territory
The village of Houtouwan was maybe not looking at its best during this early spring time but at least, the lack of ivy allowed us to see a beautiful path in the mountain with nothing or no one around, except the sea, the sun and the wild grass. We followed it until we arrived to a very strange abandoned site. It was a military tunnel with at least four successive entrances. What is even more surprising is that not only was the tunnel abandoned, all the doors were open! Doesn’t it remind you of the series « Lost »?
This was a very creepy place. A deserted side of the island, an abandoned military tunnel, the scene looked just like a horror movie scenario so no, we did not go inside in the dark to see what was behind the second open door… That would have been the exact moment when the first door got slammed and we would be trapped inside with whatever creature, noway!!
The path in nature continued after the series of tunnels, we thought we would arrive to a village, but… we ended up right into a military zone! Yes, there were no signs on this path, we could not have known… Actually, the defense work of the military is very active in this part of China because of the many border issues still unsolved in the East China sea, not far from the islands claimed both by China and Japan and not far from Taiwan! Therefore, trespassing in a military zone is more of a problem than anywhere else in the country… What worried us was that these military people asked to see our pictures: it is forbidden in China to take pictures of a military site, especially for foreigners! At this moment, all we could think of was the famous abandoned tunnel that we took many photos of. We ended up at the local police station for an identity control and the policemen did not even say anything about that place! After checking one by one all my photos, he said « ok, it’s fine »… Since then, I wonder even more about this tunnel, that even the military and the police don’t know and don’t care about!
The semi-abandoned fishing village of Qianwei
Again, I need to rectify some of Tommy’s mistakes here when she talks about Shengshan island being « full of deserted villages ». There is another village called Qianwei which is located in the south of the island, but it is only half abandoned. And that is all for abandoned places in this island! The rest of the site, especially the part that connects to Gouqi island by a bridge, is full of people, even during the low season! To come back to this village, it is a beautiful place to explore and admire the cliffs just next to it.
I got very moved when I found intimate elements of villagers’ life in the houses.
So to conclude, this place is extremely beautiful and offers one of the best seaside views in China, which is very rare… Exploring it during the winter makes it a great location to feel out of the world and explore some interesting places… I will come back for the tunnel!