On the eastern coast of China, a once-bustling fishing village blends seamlessly into the hillside, reclaimed by the ivy and moss of the lush, green landscape. The village, located on Shengshan Island, is part of the Shengsi Archipelago, a smattering of over 400 islands just south of the mouth of the Yangtze River.
Once home to over 2,000 fishermen and their families, Houtouwan Village is a virtual ghost town today. Only a few elderly residents remain, having refused to leave the home they love. In the early 1990s, most of the residents moved away, due to limitations in educational opportunities and access to food and supplies. Many of the archipelago’s small islands are suffering the same fate as Houtouwan, thanks to an increase in urbanization and quickly depleting resources.
Today, thousands of tourists flock to Houtouwan’s eerie cliffs to photograph and explore the haunting remains of a village that exists only in memory. Many of the homes still contain furniture and supplies used by the families that fled Houtouwan. Windows and doors are thick with ivy, making the stone structures virtually undetectable from afar.
Residents carry on with their everyday lives, barely taking notice of the curious tourists milling around the island. With no running water or electricity, the staunch resolve of the village’s remaining citizens is a testament to the community that once was.
The Shengsi Archipelago is only forty miles from China’s largest city, Shanghai, making it a popular weekend vacation destination. As an official National Scenic Area, the islands boast some of the most breathtaking landscapes in China. As nature continues to reclaim Houtouwan, it isn’t straightforward to determine where the earth leaves and civilization begins.