Crouching trekker, hidden buildings: China’s urban explorers

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Crouching trekker, hidden buildings: China's urban explorers
 Crouching trekker, hidden buildings: China's urban explorers
Urbexer Brendan Connal explores the Shougang Steel Plant on the outskirts of Beijjing, China / Photo: James Wasserman

Intrepid urbexers are wandering through the industrial wastelands of China, uncovering the dramas of the country’s astonishing economic rise

Like a Conquistador trawling the rainforest for an ancient metropolis, the black-clad explorer crept through the undergrowth, foliage crackling underfoot.

“It’s just like the Mary Celeste,” he marveled, as he arrived at a clearing where the first metallic towers of a hidden kingdom came into view. “People just upped one day and left.”

Around him unfurled a decaying sprawl of vine-covered structures, turrets and trees. Giant cranes reached heavenwards, steel claws clutching at tufts of cloud. Below, a rusty sign extended visitors an ominous welcome: “Your families are waiting for your safe return”.

The lost city in question is not in the jungles of South America, but the smog-choked outskirts of Beijing where Brendan Connal was on his latest quest in search of a hidden China.

Connal, a 35-year-old from Norfolk, is one of a small but intrepid network of urban explorers who are fanning out across the industrial wastelands of mainland China, uncovering the dramas and mysteries of its astonishing economic rise as they go.

“Each time I find a new site I feel excited,” says Zhao Yang, 29, another “urbexer” who documents his unconventional treks through abandoned military installations, cobweb-choked cinemas and derelict factories on a website called Cooling Plan. […]

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