Text by Gao Ting Photographs by Jiang Peng
Despite the summer season, the ocean breeze chilled the morning in coastal Qingdao City, Shandong Province in eastern China. At 7 o’clock on the morning of July 8th, a crewman untied Seamark 0511 from the dock, and the ship set off into the drizzle and fog.
Boarded by a dozen people, the 150-ton ship headed for an isolated island on China’s maritime border, loaded with fresh water and vegetables for three lighthouse keepers who live there.
Sentry Post on the Yellow Sea
Over 30 nautical miles from Qingdao, Chaolian Island lacks any permanent residents, but is home to a marking monument reading “Orientation Point for China’s Territorial Sea.” The island is China’s easternmost lookout point on the Yellow Sea and only 12 miles away are international waters.
Perpetually engulfed in fog, visibility around the island is sometimes only a handful of meters and there’s no supply of fresh water to be found. It’s no surprise that the humidity can also become unbearable. In the 1980s, Chen Xijin was stationed on the island as a lighthouse keeper for three years. “Even my blanket got moldy because of the humidity,” he recalls.
Built in 1903 by German colonists, the island lighthouse has become the most important navigation post on the Yellow Sea, guiding every ship sailing in and out of Qingdao’s port.
Chaolian Island consists of a bigger island and two small ones, in total covering area of only 0.258 square kilometers. The main island is called Chaolian and the other two are called Taipingjiao and Xishantou, respectively. There are two docks built at the southern and northern tips of the island. The southern dock accommodates visiting ships and the northern one is used to load supplies.
Surrounded by roaring waves and covered with flourishing wild grass, the isolated island is also home to several beacons manned in shifts and an army unit. Other than transport vessels supplying the island, soldiers seldom see other ships.