China's Eminent Domain: Nail House Down

Nail House Down

by Priya Prakash Royal

The nail house was demolished, but the Chinese government’s power is not unlimited. The house was demolished on April 2 after a three-year standoff that made international news and flooded the national blogs  (China’s government has been censoring the media’s coverage of the incident). Last week, Wu signed an agreement to move into a similar-sized apartment in Chongqing, Time magazine reports.  Time reported, based on a witnesses’ observations, that the two-story brick building was “clawed into dust by an earth mover as a few dozen reporters and people looked on.” Zhou Shuguang, who witnessed the event, told Time that the demolition took about three hours and he has posted pictures to his blog.  

Does this mean that China just demolished its progressive march towards preventing eminent domain abuse? Not quite. A Chicago Tribune article reported that the outcome is favorable to the couple who owned the “nail house”. They negotiated a ground-floor apartment with space to open up a restaurant. Wu did not want to give up the building for a space on a higher floor because of her restaurant business.

However, on the same note, the mall won. The developer can now continue with his plans to build the shopping center. As far as public sentiment goes, the couple set a good example for the citizens by refusing to budge until they received, “just compensation.” The Chicago Tribune reports, one writer on noted that the couple “set a good example for common citizens. They protected citizens’ dignity by sticking with their little house.” Another site reported that officials and developers “lowered their heads, subject to the public pressures.” However, the couple’s power over officials is dubious. They have disappeared from the public eye since the agreement was signed. The have offered no comments or details on the agreement. The witness, Shuguang wonders if Wu Ping was threatened or whether it was just a farce to get some publicity.

The end result, however is a victory in obtaining “just compensation” in an eminent domain action. The Jiu Longpo District Court stated that the couple would get a new apartment and business space in addition to an equivalent of $120,000 in compensation for loss of business during the standoff.

The nail house was a celebrated example for China’s citizens of the people's resolution to stand up for their rights. Although the building may have been demolished (see Josie’s blog), the government’s power has been tested, and it is indeed heartening to know that in China, today, the people can fight and win back at least some of their rights.