Young "island hoppers" on their way to one of the 2085 islands
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Grace Zhang

Hop Across 2,085 Islands in Zhoushan

Embark on a journey through the East China Sea’s largest archipelago, where hidden treasures, vibrant culture, and unexpected stories await

Consisting of 2,085 islands with only 141 of them inhabited, Zhoushan city is full of surprises—even for locals. ”[Visiting each island] is like opening a blind box. Every time, I am touched by life on these islands,” says Nana, a Zhoushan native who has recently started exploring the archipelago.

Many young people in Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, opt to hop on buses heading for nearby Ningbo, Hangzhou, or Shanghai for fun (and work, since the salaries in those cities are higher). But hidden gems may await those who stay and venture off the beaten paths to discover the more remote, lesser-known parts of Zhoushan.

Situated to the east of the Tiantai Mountains, Zhoushan is the largest archipelago in the East China Sea. Its thousands of islands formed when rising sea levels submerged mountains here 10,000 years ago. The biggest island (also named Zhoushan) is home to more than half of the roughly 1.2 million residents in Zhoushan city. Near the high-rise buildings, one can find harbors with stalls selling the day‘s fresh catches, where office workers often come for seafood after clocking off.

Another popular pastime is visiting Mount Putuo Island, known as the home of the Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin, according to folk belief. During the Tang dynasty (618 – 907), the thriving sea trade attracted numerous ships to the area, and legend has it that Guanyin appeared to save sailors from storms.

But there’s much to see beyond the main island, where Nana, who prefers to be known by the pseudonym, has recently taken to traveling. Her first trip last year was to Mayi Island (蚂蚁岛, literally ”Ant Island”). Though only around 3 square kilometers in size, the island enjoys some acclaim as the setting of the widely popular 1980 song ”Night at the Port,” as the song’s lyric writer Ma Jinxing was inspired by his stay on Mayi Island. ”The tuk-tuk drivers on the island are very proud, and they hummed the song to us,” Nana recalls of her visit there recently.

Her island-hopping adventures began courtesy of a WeChat group set up by Grace Zhang, another local. Zhang, a 32-year-old born in Dinghai district on Zhoushan Island, faced what she describes as having ”no friends, no activities” upon returning from studying in New York in 2020. Inspired by the Burning Man festival in the American desert, she wondered if she could create a similarly vibrant community in her hometown.

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author Wang Lin (王琳)

Wang Lin is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese who aspires to tell fresh stories about life, arts and culture in China—no prejudice, no clichés. Her writing has appeared on Nikkei Asia, the South China Morning Post, RADII, and elsewhere. She was born in Ningbo, a bustling port known for its dumplings and seafood.

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