Dingzihu, “nail-house,” is a Chinese expression to label homes and their tenacious owners who resist eviction. These inhabitants are perceived as being as stubborn as a nail. However, this is no idiomatic exaggeration. In photos, these homes stand like pillars on an island, forlorn on a dirt mound in the middle of an excavation site for business development. These homes and their owners are immovable.
The media can be a powerful partner. The image of the nail house resonates across many different audiences and it raises many questions about the situation and stakeholders. Questions circulate about cause and effect, like where tenants go after eviction, property laws, the economic situation in the state, the willpower of the defiant and so on.
The international audience begins to draw comparisons between similar scenarios and starts questioning their own limits and privileges at home. In the comments of a National Post article on the topic of nail houses, commenters were surprised by the secure private property protection laws in China. In comparison to some of the expropriation efforts in the West, where governments clear property for the sake of “public interest,” the nail houses in China are an example of nearly unimpeded individual expression.
Many families face threats from gangsters, and officials have severed the families’ electric and water supply. The story of the Wu family in Chongqing is especially stirring as they would rather stay and die in their home, than be moved unjustly. Similarly, in the case of the Santa Marta favela dwellers in Brazil, officials adopted several unscrupulous tactics to flush out residents, including the termination of public services.
Unfortunately, eviction initiatives are common in many regions of the world as governments press against the poor to make room for grander urbanization projects. Some find it a wonder that the nail house residents in China have held out for so long.
In the long run however, nail houses are not a significant threat to developers. Government and businesses continue to build their visions and complete their agendas, leaving these nail houses to appear as nothing more than a humorous public presentation. Some owners ultimately yield and turn over their property. Some do not, forcing developers to build roads and buildings around the structure. Often, officials do not care about the safety of a home residing in the center of a construction site and these owners eventually relocate as well.
Nevertheless, nail house owners still walk out as victors. They’ve made a statement. There will always be people prepared to combat social and political injustice, with a media and international audience on standby to amplify the outcry. Abandoned nail houses encircled by the tarmac of highway roads, and nail houses rising from the middle of a pedestrian crosswalk at a city intersection will serve as haunting monuments to remind the public and officials that citizens are not easily bullied. The images and stories these nail-houses leave behind help to inspire and empower the oppressed around the world.
– Carmen Tu