A remote village in the northwest Chinese Gansu province has a unique distinction. Lonelyville, ghost village, so on and so forth, are the terms accorded to describe this village. However, they don’t make much sense for Liu Shengjia, the lone resident of the village for the past ten years.
Liu’s story is one of compassion, one that stengthened his resolve to continue living in the village in the face of extreme odds. As members of the 20 families who had inhabited Xuenshanshe village either relocated because of thinning natural resources, or passed away by 2006, Liu insisted to stay on and take care of his aging mother and younger brother.
However, fate had other ideas for him. His relatives, the sole reason he chose to stay back in the village, soon passed away and left Liu to fend for himself. Today, he lives by himself, and only has the sheep he tends to as his companions.
Things were obviously tough for Liu initially. The deficiency of daily supplies proved to be a big challenge for him, forcing him to carry water buckets for long distances and traverse miles to purchase food for himself. Also, leading a reculsive life with nobody to talk to, takes a lot coming to terms with.
“In the beginning, I wasn’t able to sleep at night while listening to the howling of the wild dogs,” he told Chinese newspaper the People’s Daily. “But after I started to tend a few sheep and they’ve become my companions, I slowly got used to living alone.”
Liu has been left with nothing but an empty village. But it has its upside too. Having no neighbours means he has the liberty to choose where he wants to stay in the village. The houses are deserted, theoretically leaving him with enough choice to select where he wishes to start his day.
One night when parts of Liu’s house collapsed, the hermetic man had to move out. But options proved to be few as most of the abandoned village houses had either settled to dust or were simply inhabitable.
Apart from sheep rearing, Liu has taken up a temporary job of forest watcher. The job fetches him an earning of 700 yuan (Rs 7,184) which helps him make ends meet.
Liu’s situation signifies China’s growing problem of ghost villages. Cities, being built by the country to house the rising number of labourers who move enmasse in search of jobs, are still under construction and many remain mostly empty.
China expects this number to grow. The Chinese government has said it hopes some 250 million people to move out of the country’s villages into its cities by 2030.
However, for Liu, hope and optimism continue to be his guiding light.
“Surviving here is not a problem for me, but I still prefer to move to a more populous area when the time comes,” he says.