The time was 19:35 on June 22, 1999, and the location was East Lake (东湖) in Wuhan, Hubei Province.
A few scattered fishermen were turning their boats around and heading home after a hard day’s work. The peaceful dusk atmosphere was soon disturbed when a white mist reportedly rose from the lake and moved rapidly toward Moshan Hill (磨山) on the southern peninsula. It traveled over a pump house at the foot of the hill, where a staff member surnamed Qin was on duty at the time. Qin later recalled that the pumphouse was almost shaken down by a sudden blast of wind together with the sound of trees cracking echoing on the hill. The whole episode lasted only about four minutes.
A driver named Yu Yonghui who worked at the Administration Department of the Moshan Scenic Area was one of the first to arrive at the scene where the mist hit. The view baffled him: amid the forest covering the hill, there appeared to be a passageway from the lakeside up to the hillside. It was 7 to 8 meters wide and almost a kilometer long. Over 700 trees covering an area of 2 hectares were either cut off or uprooted. These fallen trees were said to be at least 70 years old and quite thick. To make matters even more bizarre, the boundaries of the passageway were quite clearly defined; any trees outside of this route were untouched. Any of their branches that overreached into the passageway were cut off while the trunks outside this path were unharmed.
News of this bizarre incident soon traveled across the country and inspired many wild guesses to its cause. The event was referred to as “The Mystery of the Fallen Trees on Moshan” by media. Local fishermen who witnessed the event insisted that a dragon that lived in the lake had caused it. One of them told the CCTV reporter that he saw a dragon raising its head from the water and soaring into the air. It then swooped down on the hill and broke all the trees. Some even swore they saw dragon footprints among the fallen trees.
Interestingly, the CCTV investigative program (titled “Approaching Science”) produced in 2006 didn’t brush off these accounts as superstition. Instead, the show interviewed Dr. Du Yun from the Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, to discussed the possible existence of a previously unknown large underwater creature in the lake. Unfortunately, the good doctor deemed it quite unlikely given the lake’s limited depth and frequent human activity.
Unsurprisingly, some people piped up to claim UFOs caused the incident. They said alien aircraft generating a strong airflow or some kind of energy emission had damaged the trees. There were even rumors that people had been witnessing flying saucers over the hill as early as the 1970s.
Meteorologists gave a scientific but much less impressive explanation for the incident: A “down burst,” which is a strong downdraft of air that causes damaging winds on the ground with speed up to 75 meters per second. It’s strong enough to have been responsible for those fallen trees. In contrast to a tornado, winds are directed downward and then outward from the surface landing point and are straight-lined, which is consistent with the aftermath.
For those who refuse to buy into the meteorological explanation, the trees remains quite an enigma. The administrators of the East Lake Scenic Area have certainly encouraged this debate by erecting a stele at the site of the fallen trees, listing alien visits as one of the possible causes. Today, you can walk on the passageway while getting a good look at the ruins of the trees to investigate the mystery for yourself.
Other than the site of the “mysterious” incident, Moshan Hill also features various natural scenic sites and historical relics that are worth a whole day’s trip. When you’ve finished your visit to the hill, continue to explore East Lake, which is six times the size of the famous West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Its colorful scenic spots include one of the China’s most beautiful campuses, at Wuhan University at the southwest bank. The university made headlines in September for blowing up an 88-meter tall, perfectly functional building to restore the natural skyline around the lake—a part of the Scenic Area’s environment treatment plan. If you ever travel to Wuhan, take a moment to enjoy the natural beauty there while pondering over a curious mystery.
Photography by Liu Jue (刘珏)