The Chinese underwater city of Shi Cheng

The Chinese Underwater City of Shi Cheng

Deep inside the Qiandao Lake in the Zhejiang Province of China, 400 km (250 miles) south of Shanghai, lies the ancient submerged city of Shi Cheng (Lion City). The city was built during the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25–200) and was first set up as a county in AD 208. The city was named Chi Cheng from the nearby Wu Shi Mountain, located just behind the city.

The valley surrounding the city was flooded in 1959 to create the Qiandao lake (also known as Thousand Island lake) for the Xin’an River Dam project. Nearly 300,000 people had to relocate for the project, some of whom had families that had lived in the area for centuries.

The Chinese underwater city of Shi Cheng

The Lion City was rediscovered in 2001 when the Chinese government organised an expedition to find the remains of the ancient metropolis. In 2011, the Chinese National Geography published some never-before-seen photographs and illustrations which raised international interest for the lost city, with many calling it “the Atlantis of the East”.

Today, Shi Cheng remains submerged at a depth of 26-40 meters (85- 131 feet) and measures about half a square kilometer (123 acres). Expeditions have revealed that the city had five entrance gates, as opposed to the traditional four – with two western-facing gates as well as gates in the other cardinal directions. The city’s wide streets also have 265 archways, featuring preserved stonework of lions, dragons, phoenixes and historical inscriptions, some of which date back as far as 1777.

Even though it is submerged, Shi Cheng has remained well preserved as the water actually protects the ruins from wind, rain and sun erosion. The city isn’t yet fully mapped so the diving into it is considered exploratory and limited to only advanced divers who can visit it between April and November.

Interesting Facts About Shi Cheng

  • The remains of the city are in excellent condition to this day – The water that was used in submerging the city did not have any corrosive chemicals and it was not favorable to marine life growth. That is why up until today, the city of Shi Cheng remains to be in pristine condition. 
  • Even the wood structures in the city are impeccably preserved – Most of us are probably aware that it is not often that wood survives the fragmentation process especially if it’s submerged in water. However, the wooden structures  in Shi Cheng is an exception because they are still perfectly preserved, and most experts believe that it is because of the water condition and lack of underwater organisms and wildlife. In some way, the water helped in preserving the priceless artifacts and history of what once was a bustling city. 
  • Most architectural structures in Shi Cheng contains Mythology – Most of the architecture surrounding of Shi Cheng depicts its resident’s beliefs, which is why these structures are able to tell how the temples were used back in the city’s heyday. Even if the colors of the city have faded, the archways and statues still remained to be intact. 
  • The city still has not been mapped out completely – Even if it’s not the largest city in the world, Shi Cheng’s underwater remnants is still not fully mapped out. Experts say that it would take several years for divers to slowly cover every area of the city. This includes noting each structure, building, archway, home, and roads. Keep in mind that the whole city have been preserved and submerged in water, this means that there are a handful of structures and buildings that have to be explored.
  • The water temperature and the city’s full submersion are accountable for the city’s preservation – Even if it seems that sinking an entire city that was so rich in history was not the smartest move, the idea of using a man-made water source to sink it may have been a good move. Since the water temperature remains the same and never fluctuates, the structures in the city may not weaken anytime soon. 
  • China had plans of launching submarine tours to the city – At some point, China thought that it would be a great idea to have the city of Shi Cheng opened to the general public for viewing purposes. But, all the plans were ticked off in fear that the frequency of the tour would damage the city. 
  • Amazingly, the water in the lake is not the clearest water for diving – Even if there’s no marine life in the lake, the visibility in the water is quite low. This is more likely because of the ground composition and dirt that existed in the city before it was flooded. Aside from this, debris and dust from the ancient structures also contributed to the cloudiness of the water. This is one of the reasons why only experienced divers are allowed to explore Shi Cheng. 

Shi Cheng used to be one of the most powerful cities in all of China – Around 25 to 200 AD, Shi Cheng was known to be the most powerful empire in China. That is why its eventual flooding became a historical tragedy. History from both Qing and Ming dynasties was sunken along with the city.