Chinese homeowners nail down their
rights By Catherine Jiang
SHENZHEN, China - Chinese "nail house" -
or dingzihu - sagas have spread since March
when a stubborn couple in southwest China's
Chongqing Municipality drew international
attention in their fight to be properly
compensated for their two-storey, 219-square-meter
brick residence and restaurant building popularly
dubbed the "the coolest nail house in history"
because it refused to be hammered down.
The two had been fending off demolition
since 2004 when developers tried to evict them and
another 280 households to
way for a shopping mall. They eventually reached
an acceptable negotiated settlement spurred by a
combination of Internet-generated heat, savvy
public relations (the husband nailed a Chinese
flag to the roof of their urban "island", while
the wife held daily "press conferences") and
growing awareness of China's landmark Property Law
which guaranteed the right of private property
protection and had been passed only a month before
after 13 years of heated dispute.
to safeguard my dignity and my rights," the wife,
Wu Ping, said in one of her homespun press
"Let's hope the new law
reduces such disputes," Zhao Wanyi, professor at
the Southwest University of Political Science and
Law, told China Daily shortly after the
At the time their struggle
inspired a couple in Shenzhen who was also locked
in a nearly year-long battle with a powerful
development company that had targeted a site that
included their six-storey, 779-square-meter
apartment building in the city's Luohu district
and near the city's landmark and highest building,
the 420-meter high Diwang building.
Lian Hao is the wife of Cai Zhu Xiang, a
57-year-old Hong Kong construction worker who
commuted from Shenzhen. The couple owned the
apartment building which Cai had built for 1
million yuan (US$134,000) in 1996. After hearing
of the Chongqing nail house, she decide to take
their struggle with the Shenzhen Kingkey
development group to the Internet.
Registering under the name, "A Xiang Po"
(fragrant old lady), 60-year-old Zhang began to
tell the netizens about their nail house plight.
Photos at the time showed the lonely brick
building on a site the size of six football fields
in Shenzhen's Caiwuwei commercial district
surrounded by a concrete and glass forest of much
larger, newer buildings and all in the shadow of
the Diwang "mansion". (At the same time, other
nail houses were also reported in Shanghai and
Zhang and Cai were also battling
extremely stiff odds. The chief executive officer
of Kingkey is Zeng Baobao, the niece of China's
Vice Premier, Zeng Qinghong.
September 21 after lengthy negotiations, more
Internet-generated publicity and a lawsuit filed
by Cai, the couple accepted compensation of 12.58
million yuan. And on September 22 Cai received the
"The new Property Law ... really
encouraged us to fight for what we deserved," he
told Asia Times Online. "It really encouraged us
to fight for what we deserved. We felt more
confident than before after the Property Law was
passed in March. The new law says that private
property has the same rights as public property.
What they were trying to do was to tear down our
apartments forcefully and it was against the law
and wasn't for any public benefit. It was totally
for commercial activity."
didn't end with the settlement, however. Both
during and since the fight, he said he was
subjected to numerous extortion threats and
harassment. Cai said Kingkey originally offered
him 6,500 yuan per square meter while apartments
in the same area were selling for about 16,000
yuan per square meter.
"I was spied on a
by a couple of people who followed me when I was
out of the house," Cai said. "Sometimes, when I
was in some narrow space, they would come up to
threaten me. They said if I didn't sell my
apartments to them for 6,500 yuan per square
meter, they would not let me go. So I walked to
the police station, but they didn't dare to follow
me in there."
He also received anonymous
extortion calls on his home phone demanding that
he go to a bank and withdraw up to 10 million yuan
in cash. "They told me to withdraw the money,
bring it home and that they would pick it up a few
days later," he told Hong Kong's Next Weekly
magazine. "There were different male voices but it
was always the same number. I don't know who they
Cai claimed that the threats and
dust and noise generated in the construction area
while he and his wife were holding out in their
nail house had taken its toll on his health. "I am
definitely going to see a doctor," he said. "I
lost my income of HK$700 [US$90] per day because
of this too." Still, he has big plans for his
hard-won wealth. He said he plans to buy four
apartments and rent out two and keep two for his
family. He is also considering moving permanently
to Hong Kong if the extortion threats continue.
He isn't alone. Shenzhen currently has two
other nail house hold-outs, both in a dispute with
Kingkey, one of whom said he also was considering
a change of residence when his case was settled
but who also praised the recent real estate law
reform. The man, Yang Bing Hui, said he has become
a reluctant amateur law student in an effort to
find a solution. (The other nail house stalwart, a
woman named Zhang Ping Zhu, could not be reached
Yang is a People's
Liberation Army veteran of China's short-lived
1979 bloody border war with Vietnam who later
received the land for his 740-square-meter
apartment as a part of his wife's dowry. In 1997,
he built the apartment, but for nearly a year he
has also been locked in a dispute with Kingkey. He
said his water and electricity have been shut off
for four months, but he is continuing the fight,
also near Cai's former abode.
now runs a metal trading company, showed law books
he has been reading, including copies of China's
constitution, and the new Property Law.
was 'forced' to read the Property Law," Yang told
Asia Times Online. "I had no choice, I have to
protect my property. It says clearly in the law
that our property should be protected and we have
the rights to decide what we want to do with it as
long as it is according to the law. If this law
had not been issued after the 13 years of
discussion, then democracy and a just legal system
were not going to become true in China. The
Property Law is very helpful to ordinary people."
Like Cai, he said he has been subjected to
extreme stress and harassment during his fight.
"The developers kept making noise 24-7. We
couldn't sleep or do anything, so I had to rent
another apartment for my wife and two daughters.
There were also people urinating around our
Yang added that he was also
considering moving to Hong Kong or even another
country once the case was finalized.
Catherine Jiang is a freelance
writer based in Shenzhen, China.