Houtouwan Village Has Become Almost Entirely Consumed By Nature

Samantha Franco
Photo Credit: JOHANNES EISELE / AFP / Getty Images
Photo Credit: JOHANNES EISELE / AFP / Getty Images

Off the eastern coast of China sits an abandoned village that has become part of the landscape. Houtouwan was once a thriving fishing settlement but was left behind due to its remote location. Over time, nature has consumed the buildings that comprised Houtouwan, creating a remarkable blanket of dense green foliage over the once-bustling village.

Houtouwan is located in the Shengsi Archipelago

A distant view of a village on a hilly mountain with a view of the bay.
Houtouwan was a thriving fishing community of sturdy brick homes that climb up the steeply hilled island of Shenghshan, but is now abandoned, with entire houses completely overgrown in a lush layer of green. (Photo Credit: JOHANNES EISELE / AFP / Getty Images)
The sides of abandoned buildings overgrown with green plants
A dog barking while standing between houses covered with overgrown vegetation in Houtouwan on Shengshan island. (Photo Credit: JOHANNES EISELE / AFP / Getty Images)

The Shengsi Archipelago is a collection of islands within the Zhoushan Archipelago, located south of the Yangtze River on the eastern coast of China. With nearly 400 islands, the Shengsi Archipelago has been declared an official National Scenic Area in China and is operated by the Shengsi County of Zhoushan City.

The Shengsi Archipelago is comprised of four scenic areas. They are the Sijiao Area, the Huaniao Area, the Shengshan-Gouqi Island Area, and the Yangshan Area. The fishing village of Houtouwan is located on Shengshan Island, about 40 miles from the city of Shanghai.

It was once a bustling little village

A view of abandoned buildings on a hill covered in green foliage
This picture shows abandoned village houses covered with overgrown vegetation in Houtouwan on Shengshan island, China’s eastern Zhejiang province. (Photo Credit: JOHANNES EISELE / AFP / Getty Images)
Aerial view of rooftops surrounded by lush greens
This aerial view shows just how much nature has taken over the once-inhabited fishing village of Houtouwan. (Photo Credit: JOHANNES EISELE / AFP / Getty Images)

During the 1980s, Houtouwan was a fully operational, lively village with a resident count of over 2,000 people. Fishermen and their families inhabited the area, but as the world progressed toward the 21st century, the remoteness of the village made it difficult to maintain life there. By the 1990s, residents of Houtouwan began to move out and relocate to nearby areas, leaving their homes and some furniture behind.

With everyone gone, the village sat abandoned. Over time, Houtouwan was slowly overtaken by nature, with almost every building in the village becoming covered in a thick, bright foliage that has become characteristic of the town. Since 2015, Houtouwan has gained significant attention due to a series of photographs that went viral, showcasing the village being enveloped by nature.

Its location was the root of a lot of problems

The view of a balcony covered in lush greenery with other buildings covered in foliage in the background. A mountain and water can be seen between buildings
Almost the entire sides of the abandoned buildings in Houtouwan have been completely covered in lush greenery. Only small portions of the facades of buildings remain exposed. (Photo Credit: JOHANNES EISELE / AFP / Getty Images)
Aerial view of a decaying rooftop with plants growing over it.
Some buildings in Houtouwan have reached a significant point of decay that has been equally overcome by nature, as can be seen on this rooftop. (Photo Credit: JOHANNES EISELE / AFP / Getty Images)

The remoteness of the village affected many different elements of life there. Firstly, transportation to and from Houtouwan is difficult. In order to get to Shanghai from the village, one must start by catching a taxi across Sanqiaoshan Big Bridge that connects Shengshan Island and Gouqi Island. Then comes a three-and-a-half-hour-long boat ride from Ganxie Port on Gouqi Island to Shengjiawan Port, and then a two-hour drive to reach Shanghai.

Food delivery was thus difficult going to and from the village, and with rising demand in the fishing industry, fishermen and their families chose to move to improve their business. Additionally, Houtouwan lacked an efficient and up-to-date educational system. This also caused a lot of residents to move away. The population dwindled drastically until there were only a few residents left, and in 2002, the village was officially depopulated.

Tourism has been on the rise

A small building entirely covered in plants. A man walks beside the house.
Tourists can still hike the village for a small fee, allowing the area to increase its income. (Photo Credit: JOHANNES EISELE / AFP / Getty Images)
View from inside a building looking out onto a hill of other buildings covered in plants
Tourists are allowed to enter the abandoned buildings at their own risk, and those who do can see the beautiful views of the hilly village where other abandoned buildings remain covered in lush greenery. (Photo Credit: JOHANNES EISELE / AFP / Getty Images)

After it became a sensation online, Houtouwan saw an immediate increase in interest from tourists. However, as it had sat in abandonment and ruin for many years, officials were nervous about how the surge of tourism would affect the village. At the time, an official of Shengshan Island said in a statement that “Houtouwan of Shengshan hasn’t been equipped with the conditions to open to tourists… We urge visitors to preserve its tranquility for now.”

However, after more than two years of planning and investing in tourism for the village, Houtouwan opened its metaphorical doors to allow tourists into the area. In 2017, a viewing platform was opened to showcase the village from afar at the cost of $3 per person. For a closer look, tourists could pay a fee of $8 per person to hike to the little village. As the houses still stand in a state of abandonment and decay, signs have been put up around the village warning tourists of potential danger should they choose to enter the deteriorating buildings.

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Areas surrounding the village have also taken advantage of the tourism boom with new bed and breakfast businesses and restaurants being erected on the island. However, as of early 2022, tourists cannot stay in Houtouwan. Regardless, the rise in tourism has brought a significant amount of money to the area, with 2021 welcoming over 90,000 visitors and an income of about $470,000.