Go inside the abandoned Chinese village that nature is taking back one house at a time

Houtouwan Chinese villageDamir Sagolj/ReutersAfter abandonment, nature has begun to reclaim the village.

Nearly fifty years ago, more than 2,000 people called this bucolic Chinese village home.

Now, only a handful remain.

Houtouwan clings to the lush green coastline of a tiny island in the Zhousan archipelago at the mouth of the Yangtze River in China. Half a century ago, it was a busy regional center and a port of call to a sizable fishing fleet.

But as was the case with so many agricultural communities in China, the lightning speed of the country’s modernization has left Houtouwan a virtual ghost town.

The photos below, taken by Damir Sagolj for Reuters, show how the force of nature has retaken this village in a matter of decades — and turned into a tourist attraction.

A former resident of Houtouwan is in charge of guiding visiting tourists through the ghost village on Shengshan Island, about 80 miles southeast of Shanghai.

Residents began to leave the village in the early 1990s as their fishing fleet outgrew the small bay on which the town sits.

Finding proper education was another problem, as the island is rather remote.

By the mid '90s, most residents had left, leaving the village empty but intact.

Soon, the forces of nature began to take over. Now, most of the village is covered in plants and vines.

This striking phenomenon has made the abandoned town a popular tourist attraction in recent years, and those looking for breathtaking photo opportunities are not disappointed.

Xu Yueding and his wife Tang Yaxue, who left the village over 20 years ago, come back every day to their former house to welcome visiting tourists and sell water bottles.

Most of the houses are in pretty good condition considering they have been empty for over two decades.

Here, a picture of a Chinese god of fortune is stuck to a wall in a house -- a reminder that people once lived here.

Many professional photographers flock to the village to make images of its stunning views.

Tourists walk between buildings covered with vegetation. This house is starting to show signs of its age.

These children's clothes were left on a sofa in an empty house in the village.

Every year, the vines creep further along the houses, swallowing them in verdant green layers.

Only a few hearty residents remain, refusing to leave their native home.

Sun Ayue, one of the handful of the remaining denizens of Houtouwan, prepares dinner in the room where he lives.

Sun, a 59 year-old former fisherman, doesn't leave the village except for an occasional game of mahjong in the town across the hills.

He lives alone in a house with no running water and electricity.

Getting through the town is very difficult, and tourists have to traverse narrow footpaths overgrown with plants and vines in between buildings.

But the spectacular morning mists that roll off the East China Sea make the trek worth it.

Only time will tell how the village will look another twenty years from now ... or if it will still be there at all.

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