The Hardest Nail in China

Filed as Features on March 26, 2007 8:00 am

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Over the past few days, a single post at Sina.com resulted in 7000 comments. Then, it was abruptly taken off the site. What was the post about, and how did it garner so many comments? Well, they were the thoughts of a man behind a human interest story that has gripped most of China, battling a classic David-and-Goliath fight that has received little international attention.

Here’s his story.

Right in the middle of an excavated construction pit near the light rail station Yangjiaping in Southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality stands lonely a two-storied brick building, whose pictures have been widely spread on the web forums, and has in turn caught national attention beyond the Internet.

It was hailed as the “coolest nail household in history” since the owners are being as stubborn as nails. The owners are a couple named Yang and Wu, have refused to move out and make way for a local real estate company, despite the fact that all their neighbors have given in and the court has ruled a deadline of March 22 for them to tear it down.
On the afternoon of March 21, Yang, a local Kungfu contest champion, managed to return to the isolated house by building some instant staircases with his nunchakus from the bottom of the over ten-meter-deep construction site, demonstrating his determination to stay.

Yang carried a national flag and banner reading “No violation of legitimate private property”, which he hung from the top of the house.With his relatives’ help, he also took two gas bottles, mineral water and other necessities. Water and electricity supplies were cut off long ago. Yang’s wife, Wu Ping, remained outside the house, answering questions from the media.

She said they had not lived in the house for two and a half years.

The building, formerly a restaurant with a floor space of 219 square meters, is located in Jiulongpo District. The local government plans to build a shopping mall and apartments on the site. More than 200 households were moved from the area in the past three years to make way for the development. But the couple refused to move because they were not satisfied with the compensation offered: 3.5 million yuan ($453,000).

Wu said they wanted a property of the same value, because the compensation money would not cover the cost of an apartment of the same size in that location.

After negotiations between the couple and the local government reached a stalemate, the government took the matter to court in January.

On Monday, the Jiulongpo District court ordered the couple to move out by Thursday. According to the court ruling, the couple would be forcibly removed if they did not move out of the house by the deadline. No action had been taken on Friday.

Property disputes are rife in China, often involving illegal land grabs by developers in collusion the government. The national parliament passed a landmark law solidifying private property rights this month partly to combat such disputes.

Wu’s case has generated wide discussion in the media and Chinese blogs. According to a survey by QQ.com, 81.46% of the netizens back up the house owner to protect his property, while 10.84% deem the issue as too complicated to come up with an idea, and 7.10% consider the house owner as “stubborn nails”.

On Friday, Yang blogged on Sina.com with only one post saying that he was determined to fight on to the end. In a single day, he had garnered almost 100,000 visitors and accumulated 7000 comments for his single post. The post was eventually taken down, and at this time its unknown whether or not it was the result of hackers, government pressure on Sina.com, or Yang himself.

The original post can be translated as follows.

First of all, I want to start off thanking all netizens who click my blog and I hope that you will keep focusing me and giving me support. My house was already a dilapidated for two years, and according to recent law, the developers were not allowed to start any construction on the site before all old houses including mine were removed. Now the situation is such that the developers started construction 2 years ago that has now turned my house into a “Isolated Island”. It is obviously a violation of my legitimate rights, including my right to live, subsist, travel … Here, I want to appeal to all the people with a conscience to bring as much attention to me and my wife. I need all your support. Glory to the Constitution !!!

The drama is still playing itself out in the online world and off, but it really shows how the Internet can be a galvanizing force for drumming up public sentiment — particularly when its a fight for the little guy.

isolated house

man waving chinese flag

photos courtesy of cnwest.com and hinews.cn

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  1. China Bits » Land Developers Create Folk Hero, The “Toughest Nail in China”March 27, 2007 at 12:18 am
  2. By Matthew posted on March 27, 2007 at 8:16 am
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    This made the front page of the New York Times today:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/27/world/asia/27china.html

  3. By Mark posted on March 27, 2007 at 9:14 am
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    Nice to see that the NY Times attributed the news source to Chinese bloggers. I’m really keen to see what happens next in this story and why Yang’s post was taken down.

  4. By wang xiao posted on March 27, 2007 at 10:14 am
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    Well, actually there’re still many journalists in that city waiting for any update news of the case despite that the National Publicity Department has notified medias all over China to bring down the temperature of this hot topic.

    Last week, most of China’s newspapers made it front page and top lede.
    But now, no editor dares to do that cuz the stuff “should be cooled”.

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