Located in a remote southwest corner of China’s Sichuan Province is the tiny rural village of Yangsi. Surrounded by mountains and rice fields, it is much like many other isolated villages dotting the countryside here, and with only 80 current permanent residents is so small and nondescript that most people would probably pass it by without giving much thought to it. Yet, if one were to pay a visit one might be surprised to be greeted by diminutive villagers standing up to 3 feet 10 inches tall at most, and as short as 2 ft. 1 inch. One might also be surprised to find that this is not just one or two people or even a couple of families, but that nearly half of the villagers here are of the same minute dimensions, all going about their work in the fields and about their little hamlet as if nothing is odd at all. This is China’s mysterious “Village of Dwarfs,” and it has been baffling scientists for decades.
The village itself and its secrets remained long hidden from the world, yet numerous sightings of mysterious “little people” were reported by travelers through the area since at least the late 19th century, to the point that they were believed by the superstitious as mythical, perhaps supernatural beings. In 1947 the English scientist Dr. Karyl Robin Evans made a sighting of a congregation of several hundreds of these dwarfs, and interest in the academic world was piqued, propelling it out of the realm of a mere traveler’s tale. In 1951, Yangsi was officially “discovered” by the outside world, and although it was not a land of mysterious magical gnomes as had been thought, it still managed to provide its share of mysteries nevertheless.
It was found that around half of the residents of the tiny village displayed severely stunted growth, and that this seemed to be a birth defect haunting just this one village, with all of the dwarfs born and raised here. This rate of dwarfism is far beyond the norm, which normally averages at about just about 1 in 20,000 births, and the strangest part of all is that no one knows why. It is especially mystifying as none of the surrounding villages have the same problem, making it seem unlikely that this is an environmental effect. Scientists have even extensively tested the soil here, as well as the water supply and the grains grown here, but have found nothing at all out of the ordinary. Not a single rational explanation for why this one secluded village should display such an intense rate of dwarfing has ever been discovered, and it has managed to mystify the scientific world for decades.
While science has yet to provide answers, the villagers themselves seem to be full of theories as to why they have been afflicted in this way. One popular idea is that this was the result of secret experiments or poisonous gas attacks carried out by the Japanese during World War II, although there has been no physical evidence that this is the case, and indeed Japan never managed to invade this province. Another theory is that this is due to some mysterious illness. Village elders claim that the village wasn’t always like this, and that it all started one day when a mysterious disease befell them, which caused their children to simply stop growing at around the age of 5 to 7, as well as exhibit other unpleasant side effects such as rashes, balding, and joint problems. Again, physical examinations have failed to turn up any sign of such a phantom disease.
More bizarre are the various supernatural explanations put forth. Not a few of the older villagers believe that it is a curse that has been laid upon them by ancestors angry that they were not buried properly. Even more far-out is a popular tale told in the village of a mystical black turtle with strange feet that appeared there one day long ago. The villagers captured it, but unfortunately for the poor beast they were in the middle of a famine at the time. After deliberating over whether to let the unique turtle go or eat it, hunger won out, and the turtle was killed. According to this legend, the magic black turtle managed to cast a curse over the village with its dying breaths, dooming them to be forever stunted and deformed. So pervasive is this dark rumor that many villagers over the years have left the area, and even others from nearby towns have moved away to avoid the perceived curse.
Despite all of the ideas and stories, the true reason for Yangsi’s unique predicament has managed to elude all attempts to understand it, the mystery made murkier by the fact that the Chinese government discourages visits to the village by outsiders. However, whatever it is that has caused this dwarfing seems to be wearing off in recent years, as the younger generations have displayed fewer and fewer cases of dwarfism, meaning that we may never really know what caused it in the first place. For now it is a curious anomaly that may never be solved.