In PR China, during most of the Communist era, private ownership of property was abolished. The state officially owned all the land and real estate. Since 1990s, China has begun to accept private ownership of real estate. However, private ownership of the land under the real estate is still not allowed nationwide. The ownership of real estate is not complete as compared to in western countries, which results in widespread forced demolition of the houses and eviction of the houseowners by developers, local government or their alliance.
Anyway, the laws have been tightened up. In 2007 China enacted a property law definitely stipulating the property rights of Chinese citizens over their real estates except the underlying land. And it is now illegal to forcefully demolish property without an agreement. But the property law, like all other Chinese laws, has not been strictly followed. Forced demolition of Chinese citizens' houses become fewer, but still abounds across China. And in some cases, the resistence of the property owners to be evicted from their homes was so fierce that it often leads to violent fighting, casualty and sometimes even fatality.
Nail householders: Chinese forefront fighter for civil rights
Compared to other form of fighting for civil rights, such as writtenly criticizing the government and state system, gathering and demonstration, house holders are largely tolerated by the central government to fight with developers and local government against forced demolition and land seizures. Exposure and report of the brave and stubborn house holders are usually not forbidden.
Property owners in China that refuse to move to make way for development are known as 'Nail Householders' referring to a stubborn nail that is not easy to remove from a piece of old wood and cannot be pulled out with a hammer. The name Nail Householders or nail house were originally derogatively branded by the developer and government alliance on anyone that refuse to relocate, but now they are widely hailed by Chinese nationals as grassroot forerunners for civil rights. Reports on nail house have been usually defending the attitude of nail householders and critical of the developers or local government. Although there are many Chinese commentators and microbloggers argue that it is the fault of greedy house owners who demand too much from the developer and government that causes the stalemate in transforming a usually shabby village into a commercial center, comfortable residential complex or a grand avenue, a majority Chinese do understand that a country will become prosperous, harmonious and stable only when the state protects the property rights and other civil rights of its citizens seriously.
Through focused attention, provided by the limited press freedem, on nail houses and the sacrifice of the persistent housholders, an entire nation is progressing rapidly, which is testified by the increasing number of undemolished buildings standing proudly in construction sites, on street, and even in middle of motorway. A house of an ordinary citizen can prevent an important public infrustructure from being opened to the public, is unimaginable a decade ago. And in this reason, the nail householders are hailed by some Chinese intellectuals as the Chinese forefront fighter for civil rights, and heros in eyes of the millions of ordinary Chinese citizens.
Sure, one should never forget that except the small number of successful nail householders, most of other property owners have accepted the conditions defined by government or developers, though most of the time obviously unfair, to move without causing a ripple in the social pool. The progress is limited.
Here we collect a number of high-profile and successful nail householders that have received much attention in the Chinese press.
Nail house stands in the middle of a newly built motorway in Wenling of Zhejiang
The most recent one is the case in Wenling of Zhejiang in east China. The nail house is a half demolished five storey building standing in the middle of a newly built road after the nail householder, an elderly couple refused to relocate because they believe that the relocation compensation offered by the government is not enough. The strange sight as cars drive around it while the couple remain living inside is so eye-catching that it has drawn almost all major media around the globe.
The house owner is the farmer family of 67 years old Luo Baogen, who has been widely dubbed as the 'Most Awesome Nail householder (?????)' so far. Mr. Luo Baogen and his wife, son and daughter-in-law and two grandchildren make a living by farming and raising livestocks. Luo Baogen built the five-storey house with an building area of 618 square meters in 2001 and it has cost his family 600 thousand RMB in total including the cost for indoor decoration, but the local government only agreed to offer 260 thousand RMB as compensation for them to relocate to make room for a broad road leading to a major railway station. Luo Baogen refused to move, citing the cause that they could not afford buying or building a new house for their 6-member family with the compensation. In 2011, all the other 36 households signed agreement with the Daxi Towship government of Wenling, took the aparently unfair compensation and moved away, leaving alone Luo Baogen's house standing there.
Man has to admit that the local Wenling government is humane compared to its counterparts in other areas of China. The demolition team has never come, water and electricity are not cut off. For Mr. Luo, the true ordeal is imminent since the entire road to the important railway station has been finished except the ground his house lies on. The government is making an impression that it is because of the nail householder that the major road can not be opened. Whether Mr. Luo and his family will persevere to the end under growing public pressure, is yet to see.Update on the Wenling nail house: was demolished on Dec. 1, 2012
On November 30, authorities started to demolish the five-story home of Mr. Luo Baogen that stood incongruously in the middle of a new thoroughfare leading to an important railway station after they reached an agreement with Mr. Luo. Local media said Mr. Luo was tired of all the media attention and voluntarily consented to accept the official offer of 260,000 RMB which he refused for years. The real reason and amount of compensation is not known and Mr. Luo Baogen turned off his mobile phone and refused to be interviewed by any media, possibly due to pressure from the authority.
Many Chinese believe Mr. Luo signed the agreement only because the authority satisfied his original demand, and as an exchange, Mr. Luo should not disclose the real amount of compensation so that it renders an impression to the outside that the local government is the winner.
The failure of Chongqing nail householder disappointed Chinese over the new property law
Another case that drew most attention is the nail house in Chongqing in the spring of 2007 when China had just enacted its first property law in January that year. One family among 280 others at the location of a six-story shopping mall under construction refused for two years to vacate a home their family had inhabited for three generations.
Developers cut their power and water, and excavated a 10-meter deep pit around their home. The owners broke into the construction site, reoccupied it, and flew a Chinese flag on top. Yang Wu, a local martial arts champion, used nunchakus to make a staircase to their house, and threatened to beat any authorities who attempted to evict him. His wife, a restaurateur named Wu Ping granted interviews and frequent press releases to generate publicity. The family were called the most awesome nail household in that year and enjoyed hero status among many Chinese netizens. Their house with national flag flying on top was regarded a symbol of grassroot's brave resistence against forced eviction imposed by the state and powerful developers.
The owners turned down an offer of 3.5 million yuan (US$453,000), but eventually settled with the developers in April 2007 after the case became everyday headline in China and drew intense international attention.
People in China had anxiously watched and hoped the new property law would truly protect private ownership, but the final result was sure to have disappointed them. A bulldozer demolishes the nail house by the real estate developer in the night of April 2, 2007. Wu Ping and Yang Wu, the two-year nail householder, left their house on afternoon the same day after reaching an quick agreement over the compensation with the developer under the brokerage of the government. The real amount of compensation, the major terms of the agreement and whether the nail householders had been coerced was not disclosed. Wu Ping and Yang Wu have since vanished from public attention. They have since never accepted an interview. Even where they have hidden remains a mystery.
The failure of the relatively strong Chongqing family to protect their property facing the state power makes it a common sense that the new Chinese property law is not different from other Chinese laws. The consequence was clear: forced demolition would not stop and ordinary Chinese citizen would not have final say on the fate of their houses. They should be satisfied to be granted a better compensation rather than refuse to relocate.