BY: JESSICA BEUKER
With over 1.3 billion people, China is the most populous country in the world. While most places are incredibly dense, there are a few areas that remain uninhabited. Xuenshanshe Village in the province of Gansu is one such area – almost. The village has a very small population, and he goes by the name of Liu Shengjia.
The only person for miles, Shengjia works as a shepherd in the secluded mountainous region. Besides his sheep, he has been completely alone in the village for 10 years.
Prior to that, the village had about 20 other families living in it, but they either passed away or relocated to a new place because of thinning resources. According to CCTV News, after the last family left, Shengjia stayed behind to take care of his ageing mother and younger brother. But following the death of his last remaining relatives, Shengjia was left alone in the village, with nothing but a few sheep. This prompted him to start breeding sheep, and after awhile Shengjia adapted to the quiet, solitary lifestyle.
Unfortunately, living in such a secluded place has its setbacks. The sheep breeder is forced to carry water buckets for long distances and has to travel miles just to purchase food. Apart from sheep rearing, he took a temporary job as a forest watcher in order to make ends meet. Shengjia told CCTV News that while survival is not a problem, he would prefer to move to a more populated area when the time comes.
But there is something to be said about living a life of solitude. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche believed that isolation was necessary to be free, to allow individuals to make conscious choices rather than follow the crowd, and to learn to control and expand one’s own mind. “What primarily makes solitude a heroic virtue is its agonal character,” he writes. “With whom, then, does the solitary struggle? The answer, of course, is himself. The solitary is not only his best friend and conversationalist, but also his own best critic and fiercest antagonist.”
Quartz interviewed Roc Sandford, who moved to a remote farm on the Isle of Gometra in Scotland in 1992. He now spends at least one-third of each year on the island, living in seclusion. While he says the isolation is challenging, he believes that everyone should have a period of complete solitude at some point in their lives. “Time feels much longer,” he says. “It seems to slow down, which is a wonderful feeling. Your senses get heightened, whether you’re reading, writing, looking at the landscape, thinking. It’s a bit of an amplifier. If you’re sad you get much sadder and if you’re happy you get much happier. I suspect you get closer to [your] own mind and personality because you’re not compromising and negotiating with other people.”