China's extraordinary 'nail houses' show the government doesn't get its own way all the time

The holdouts have become symbols of resistance

Adam Withnall
Wednesday 20 May 2015 00:34
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A half-demolished apartment building standing in the middle of a newly-built road thanks to a Chinese couple that refused to move in Wenling, in eastern China's Zhejiang province. Luo Baogen, 67, and his 65-year-old wife have waged a four-year battle to r
A half-demolished apartment building standing in the middle of a newly-built road thanks to a Chinese couple that refused to move in Wenling, in eastern China's Zhejiang province. Luo Baogen, 67, and his 65-year-old wife have waged a four-year battle to r

The plight of the individual homeowner who holds out against big developers to keep his or her land is a familiar story around the world.

But in China, where economic growth is king and the authoritarian government has little patience for dissent, such cases make heroes of the occupants and attract a huge amount of interest.

In the People’s Republic, these houses are known as dingzihu or “nail houses”, a pun which compares them to stubborn nails that refuse to be hammered down in hard wood.

According to the New York Times, the Chinese government has previously banned the news media and bloggers from reporting on such homes for fear that they represent a symbol of resistance.

One of the most famous cases was in 2007, when restaurant owner Wu Ping’s home in Chongqing became an island raised up in the middle of a large building site.

She became something of a celebrity, the Times reported, with crowds gathering to watch her enter her almost impossible to reach home. Ms Wu eventually settled her case with developers – but before then she was hailed as a rare symbol. One observer said: “Ordinary people don’t dare fight with the developers. They’re too strong.”

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