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Wrecking ball brings down Chinese pair's 'nail house'

The homeowners had gained cult status in the property rights battle.

April 03, 2007|Ching-Ching Ni | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING — The famous "nail house" that stood against developers for three years was pounded down by the wrecking ball Monday night.

The two-story building in south-central Chongqing municipality has come to symbolize the Chinese people's struggle to defend private property rights.

The couple who stubbornly protected their house gained cult status among supporters captivated by their courage and rooting for an outcome that might indicate real change in a country that only last month passed legislation to protect private property rights.

Wu Ping and husband Yang Wu rejected a compensation package from the developers that they said was below market price. While 280 neighbors packed their bags and watched their homes fall, the pair stayed, staging a public protest that attracted widespread attention.

In the end, the couple got what they wanted: a new apartment of the same size but in a different part of town, according to state media.

Wu's phone rang unanswered this morning.

State media reported that an agreement was reached Monday afternoon. Yang, a kung fu master who had been holed up in his house vowing to defend it to the end, climbed down and drove away. By 10 p.m., the little house that clung to a mound of dirt in a huge construction pit had been flattened.

But the spirit of the nail house has made a lasting impression. "Obviously, the longer you can hold out, the more bargaining power you have," said Lou Jianbo, a law professor at Peking University.

Chinese bloggers contributed daily updates and photos of the house and its owners in different roles. While Wu, the well-groomed restaurateur, played official spokeswoman for their cause, her husband came to embody the physical power of the grass-roots. His image was superimposed on pop icons and widely distributed in cyber discussions: Yang as Superman, Spider-Man, even Lady Liberty.

"Blood can flow, heads can fall," wrote one cyber supporter, "but backs cannot bend. If they forcibly tear down the house then the new Chinese property law is nothing but a blank piece of paper."

*

chingching.ni@latimes.com

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