HONG KONG—Stories of intrepid property owners who hold out against the combined might of government and the big developers have taken China’s Internet news sites and chat forums by storm in recent weeks.
And where China’s tightly controlled state-run media have been warned off coverage of highly emotive stories about these battling “nail houses,” ordinary people are filling the gap by uploading first-hand reports, photos, and video of property disputes to the Web, where it all circulates too fast to be entirely deleted by online censors.
Nail houses are essentially property holders who hold out against redevelopment work; one of the best-known cases was of a couple in the southwestern city of Chongqing, whose house made a stunning spectacle as it perched on a precarious island of earth amid a massive construction site. The house was finally demolished Monday after the owners struck a deal with the developers.
If you don’t obey their order, they will shut down your Web site. But the deleted photos had already been picked up by bigger Web sites elsewhere.
Meanwhile, more than 100 villagers were left homeless after the forced demolition of their houses in Sanhekou village, Beihai city, in the southwestern region of Guangxi. Armed police and officers wearing military-style fatigues clashed with the last few villagers to hold out against the forced demolition.
Photos uploaded to a local news Web site showed officers in clashes with villagers who refused to move. An eyewitness told RFA Mandarin service reporter Ding Xiao: “There were police and public security personnel. They had handed out pamphlets saying their demolition actions were legal. People were injured during the clashes. More than 20 people have been hospitalized, some in serious condition.”
“But their condition is not life-threatening. The people who beat them were not policemen. They were wearing military fatigues. They are ‘professional’ — they won’t beat you to death,” the villager said.
One Sanhekou resident told RFA’s Cantonese service: “Some of the villagers tried to resist police attempts to get them into minibuses, and there was violence on both sides, with police using truncheons to beat people around the head. Because of this, some villagers were injured.”
Because of the speed of the operation, which took place before villagers had reached agreement with the government on a compensation deal, some villagers only discovered their houses had been demolished after they had gone to work for the day. They were now homeless, the villager said.
A member of the editorial staff on a Beihai-based Web site told Ding Xiao said the site had sent reporters to cover the clashes and posted photos online, but were soon ordered by public security personnel to delete the material.
“Shortly after we posted them, we got a call from the public security bureau ordering us to delete them,” the journalist said. “We are under their jurisdiction. If you don’t obey their order, they will shut down your Web site. But the deleted photos had already been picked up by bigger Web sites elsewhere and are circulating on the Internet.”
An officer who answered the phone at the Beihai municipal police station told Cantonese service reporter Lee Kin-kwan: “I don’t know about these matters. You should ask the municipal government.”
Calls to the propaganda department of the Beihai municipal government went unanswered during office hours Friday.
Chongqing “nail house” couple Wu Ping and Yang Wu have in the meantime reached a “negotiated agreement” with the authorities, and their house became a pile of rubble like its former neighbors.
China sees thousands of incidents of popular unrest across the country annually, many of which are over the demolition of people’s homes, or the appropriation of their farmland by local officials keen to cash in on booming property prices.
The country’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), passed a law in mid-March setting out plans for a nationwide property registration process, in which the rights of individual, collective and State ownership would be specified for all existing property in the country.
Article 66 states: “The legitimate properties of individuals shall be protected by law and shall not be occupied and damaged by any institution and individual.” The law also provides for litigation and compensation in cases where property rights have been infringed.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Ding Xiao and in Cantonese by Lee Kin-kwan. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. RFA Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.