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In the eastern Chinese city of Wenling, a lone five-story row house with ragged edges stand in the middle of a motorway in staunch defiance. The house belongs to Luo Baogen, a duck farmer, and his wife who are the lone holdouts from a neighborhood that was demolished to make way for the main thoroughfare heading to a newly built railway station. Luo Baogen and his wife insist on living in the half-demolished building because they believe that the relocation compensation offered by the government is not enough. Dramatic images of Luo’s home have circulated widely online this week, becoming the latest symbol of resistance in the frequent, countrywide standoffs between homeowners and local officials accused of offering too little compensation to vacate neighborhoods for major redevelopment projects.
During most of the Communist era in China, private ownership of property was abolished, making it easy for residents to be moved. But now the laws have been tightened up and it is illegal to demolish property by force without an agreement. 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.
Luo had just completed his house at a cost of about 600,000 yuan ($95,000) when the government first approached him with their standard offer of 220,000 ($35,000) to move out, which he refused. The offer has since gone up to 260,000 yuan ($41,000).
What is unusual in Luo’s case is that his house has been allowed to stand for so long. It is common for local authorities in China to take extreme measures, such as cutting off utilities or moving in to demolish when residents are out for the day. Luo told local reporters his electricity and water are still flowing, and that he and his wife sleep in separate parts of the home to deter any partial demolition.
Other families haven’t been so ‘lucky’. Earlier this year, Niu Chuangen and Zhang Zhongyun dared to stand in the way of a local property developer in Zaozhuang, in the Shandong province. As a result, the resolute couple, both in their 60s, have been left stranded on their tiny spot of land, while all around them the ground is dug up and skyscrapers erected. Their utilities were cut off, and the distraught pair were regularly threatened by gangsters and have had to fend over a number of attempts to illegally demolish their ramshackle home.
In another case, one family among 280 others at the site of a six storey shopping mall being built in Chongqing refused to leave their home for two years. Developers cut their power and water, and excavated a 10-meter deep pit around their home, which their family had inhabited for three generations.
The owners broke into the construction site, reoccupied it, and flew a Chinese flag on top and then Yang Wu, a local martial arts champion, used nunchakus to make a staircase to the house and threatened to beat any authorities who attempted to evict him. The owners turned down an offer of £300,000 but eventually settled with the developers in 2007.