Photo Essays

The Abandoned Island of Xiji

Photographs 40 years after Taiwan’s industrial revolution emptied a village.

James X. Morris
By James X. Morris for
The Abandoned Island of Xiji

Xiji Village sits largely in ruins today, four decades after its abandonment. Typical of traditional Chinese villages, nearly every building faces in the same direction.

Credit: James X. Morris
The Abandoned Island of Xiji

Xiji Temple has withstood the elements for four decades without maintenance. In recent years its deterioration has accelerated.

Credit: James X. Morris
The Abandoned Island of Xiji

The interior of Xiji Temple.

Credit: James X. Morris
The Abandoned Island of Xiji

Decorations still survive on the interior walls of Xiji Temple.

Credit: James X. Morris
The Abandoned Island of Xiji

A protective pagoda and shrine erected in 1951 for safety along the coastline watches over the beach where small fishing boats once moored.

Credit: James X. Morris
The Abandoned Island of Xiji

A house built next to the sea has withstood the elements due to its more modern construction materials. Its roof has been lost due to 40 years of typhoons.

Credit: James X. Morris
The Abandoned Island of Xiji

Debris from a collapsed roof litters the floor of an abandoned house. The alcove above the doorway is unique to Penghu. It serves as an altar to the Emperor of Heaven, Tian Gong, who is normally worshipped outside. The strong winds of Penghu necessitated a modified practice.

Credit: James X. Morris
The Abandoned Island of Xiji

The remains of a typical kitchen. A traditional stove is covered with collapsed roof debris. Stoves typically featured woks inset in their surface. Many houses are constructed using local building materials. Here the walls are made of coral stones, which are susceptible to collapse if not maintained.

Credit: James X. Morris
The Abandoned Island of Xiji

The remains of a bedroom. Mattresses would have been placed on the raised platform at the far side of the room. Cisterns along the left wall would have been used for holding water collected at one of the islands’ many wells.

Credit: James X. Morris
The Abandoned Island of Xiji

The remains of a family altar for worshipping ancestors and popular deities can be found inside many houses on Xiji.

Credit: James X. Morris
The Abandoned Island of Xiji

Today, Xiji’s only residents are a herd of goats that roam the island. Abandoned houses serve as shelters for the herd during storms, and nearly every square inch of floor space is covered by their droppings. It is not uncommon to find their remains inside these buildings.

Credit: James X. Morris
The Abandoned Island of Xiji

An unidentifiable shrine on the village’s outskirts is little more than a pile of rubble after 40 years of neglect.

Credit: James X. Morris
The Abandoned Island of Xiji

The remains of the KMT-era elementary school on Xiji. Its walls have collapsed in recent years. Children would have been sent to other islands if they wished to complete their education.

Credit: James X. Morris

The island of Xiji sits today as a wraith among the islands of Penghu County in the Taiwan Strait. Abandoned in 1978 as a result of Taiwan’s economic miracle, it is a testament to the less acknowledged effects of industrialization. For centuries, Xiji was a typical traditional Chinese community whose residents subsisted on agriculture and the bounty of the ocean. During the 1970s, as was typical with many small communities at the time, many of its youth migrated to Taiwan’s industrializing cities in search of higher wages.

What makes the case of Xiji unique is that its geography became its undoing. In the 1960s and 70s the government invested heavily in the smaller islands of Penghu. Harbors were built, dredged, and enlarged. Roadways and utility services were developed and installed. Xiji, however, could not be developed due to the dangerous submerged basalt reefs surrounding its southern coastline. Its northern half, sheer cliffs of columnar basalt pockmarked by sea caves and blow holes, was even less accessible. Deemed too expensive to develop, the island was passed over.

Therefore, in 1978 the remaining villagers of the community voted to relocate to Penghu’s main port city, Magong, and reestablish themselves as a neighborhood. Today Xiji Island is part of the recently established South Penghu Marine National Park. The island is now off-limits to visitors without a permit from the park service.  The result is that a traditional Chinese village has been left in situ, uninhabited and exposed to the elements for four decades.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the island’s abandonment. It’s an opportunity to pause and reflect on what once was, and what still remains, of Taiwan’s pre-industrial communities.

James X. Morris is studying for a PhD in Anthropology with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region at National Chengchi University in Taipei.