Rescuing Zhoushan: Preserving Heritage Amidst Modern Challenges

As depopulation and aging threaten a once prosperous fishing area, young local creatives are stepping into the fray

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8:34 AM HKT, Thu May 9, 2024 1 mins read

Zhoushan archipelago, located in the northern Zhejiang province, is the largest island group in China and is famous for its urbanized fishing villages. However, since the 1990s, many small islands have been deserted due to environmental changes and new maritime policies. In contrast to the early years of the Reform and Opening Up era, when the fishing industry flourished and attracted a surge of migrant workers to Zhoushan’s fishing ports, today’s landscape tells a different story. However, there is a growing push from young creatives with roots in the area to revitalize Zhoushan through collaborative projects and the arts.

One of the most noticeable transformations of Zhoushan since the 1990s lies in the demographic makeup of the islands. Young people have left home to seek job opportunities, while the elderly with no skills for employment beyond fishing were left at home. Today, these seasoned islanders, some in their 80s and 90s, find themselves navigating the challenges of aging and solitude in a rapidly changing environment. This narrative is poignantly captured in Chai Shan Lu, a recent documentary by a Zhoushan native, Liu Fan, which sheds light on how the islands’ elderly residents face aging and mortality.

Still image from Liu Fan’s 2024 documentary “Chai Shan Lu.”

Amidst a backdrop of change and uncertainty, questions loom about the islands’ future. Can alternative avenues such as tourism and art residencies breathe new life into their economy? Advocates propose initiatives like collaborative “co-building” projects to help revitalize the islands

One such endeavor is “Dream in Nature,” a project harnessing the power of social media platforms like Xiaohongshu and WeChat to solicit proposals for the islands’ development. With Huanglong Island as its canvas, the project aims to resurrect forgotten spaces, as exemplified by the modernist house refurbished with the involvement of actor Daniel Wu in 2018. Soliciting input from experts in the entertainment, arts, food and beverage, and architecture industries, the project aspires to draw wider attention to the island. However, doubts linger regarding the long-term impact of short-term residencies and how newcomers might alter the island’s cultural identity.

The first “co-building” roundtable on Huanglong Island. Image via Dream in Nature.

As Zhoushan navigates these turbulent waters, the search for sustainable solutions continues. While challenges abound, there remains a glimmer of hope that innovation and community engagement will chart a course toward a brighter future for this once-prosperous archipelago.

Banner image via Dream in Nature.

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