A "nail house" in Chongqing Municipality has grabbed the headlines and become a hot topic in online forums. A poignant picture captures how a house stands alone in the middle of a huge property redevelopment area, where everything around it has been knocked down. For more than two years, the owners have refused to relocate and have resisted all forms of pressure applied by land planners and local officials to demolish the house.
"Nail house" is a Chinese slang term for describing precisely that situation—as if the house is nailed to the ground and difficult to move. When the National People’s Congress enacted the "Property Law" in its 2007 annual conference in March, it pushed the "nail house" issue even further into the spotlight. All of a sudden, the Chongqing Nail House became a symbolic test for the validity of the newly passed Property Law.
The Property Law is designed to provide legal protection for individual property ownership, but it has been given mixed reviews by the public. Many are skeptical of its intent to protect the ordinary individual. Instead, they see it as protection for the privileged who acquired their property through shady channels. Protecting a "nail house" as an individual is indeed a daunting task. In most cases, refusing a relocation order often incurs dire consequences such as attacks by thugs hired by the developers and local authorities or even jail terms. In the end, the house is often simply bulldozed without permission. In recent years, violence related to the demolition of property and land development has been rampant, and suicide and other tragedies have arisen from angry homeowners’ reactions to seeing the culmination of their life savings destroyed. A survey of more than 1,000 petitioners who went to Beijing showed that 10 percent of them were related to the loss of property due to forced relocation, reflecting the magnitude of the problem and the need for the proper protection of private property.
Given the circumstances, it’s understandable that the Chongqing Nail House is gaining such public support and media attention, but it is not indicative of the broader situation. In a nation where even the most basic constitutional rights are not guaranteed, one can hardly expect a property law to have a tangible impact overnight, for there are too many interests-both government and private—involved in the land development business. In all likelihood, we will continue to find many more victims of relocation—related violence than the unlikely heroes of Chongqing, unless all homeowners stand together or the authorities start enforcing the law in earnest.