Dead Cats and Rotten Fish: Guangzhou’s “Niuest” Nailhouse becomes History

Property Development

"On a blank sheet of paper free from any mark, the freshest and most beautiful characters can be written." (from JR's archive)

The story of Guangzhou’s most incredible or coolest (牛, niú) nail house, in Haizhu District (广州市海珠区) came to an end today, reports China National Radio (CNR). The owner, Li Xueju (李雪菊), had confirmed in an interview with Xinwen Zongheng news program‘s editor Cui Tianqi (刘祎辰) and Liu Yichen (刘祎辰) that she had just reached an agreement with the developers who had bought the landuse rights in an auction, in February 2006. The state broadcaster mentions that the editors had contacted Mrs Li late at night.

Yangcheng Evening Post (羊城晚报), a paper from Guangzhou itself, was naturally  faster – on Sunday, qq.com republished the paper’s report, with Yangcheng’s photo of Li, at broad daylight and in front of her house, rather than in the middle of the night.

Until 2006, Li ran a printing workshop to sustain her family – six brothers and sisters,  according to CNR, and her (hospitalized) father, according to Yangcheng Evening Post. Differences about proper compensation apparently arose because of the house’s commercial nature – the printing shop was located there -, and the two million Yuan RMB offered by the developers hadn’t satisfied Li. This had got the two sides into a 2,000-days stalemate. However, this hadn’t felt like a long time (然而,李雪菊说,真正折磨她的,并不是漫长的时光).

Li Xueju: How can I put this? It should rather be described as ‘time passed in fear’, because , beginning early in 2008, snakes and dead cats were thrown, then some gasoline was put here, and subsequently, a “moat” was dug.

A moat that surrounded the house, from October 2008 on, CNR adds (as happened in previous nail-house cases, too). Flying stones, fireworks and threats by some husky big guys (彪形大汉) had been applied too, according to media reports. All this had finally led to her decision, on October 13, to agree to the developer’s terms: the developer would provide arrange for a new place to live, pay the appropriate compensation, and help to find a new place for her shop.

Accusations that Li held out for so long to get a luxury replacement, and that she had never been very open, in her numerous interviews, about what she had been offered and what she had asked for, had emerged on the internet, according to CNR, to which Li replied that she had to insist on a replacement, given that their present home had been the only one for her and her family. Seven rooms within one place, not luxury, had been the issue.

Howsoever, Li and her six brothers and sisters had spent their last night at their old home, CNR remarks solomonically. After the five past year, Li was no longer reluctant to leave, but only wanted to take a picture as a keepsake of her old place.

Yangcheng Evening Post’s report is somewhat spicier than CNR’s (and in a way which is likely to strike a chord  with what appears to be a public sympathetic to nail houses owners anyway), in that they mention Li’s father’s funeral procession  – he died in January this year – through a landscape of bulldozers and under the gaze of the demolition teams (要在推土机和拆迁队的注视中, 给自己年迈的老父亲送葬), and adds rotten fish and dead lobsters to the account of things thrown at Li’s nailhouse during the siege.

The place she and her brothers and sisters will now move to will be a few hundred meters away from their old home. And although the photo showing her standing in front of the nail house leaves a reasonably harmonious impression, Yangcheng Evening Post quotes her as saying, “before, I didn’t know what fear is. But I’m beginning to learn” (以前,我从来都不知道害怕。现在,我开始会了).

Yangcheng Evening Post also reports some numbers. Something more than 500,000 Yuan in compensation plus a replacement house with a said market value of 1.2 million Yuan had been offered by the developers, the paper quotes Li. That would have amounted to 700,000 Yuan missing in her calculation.  (The CNR and Yangcheng reports seem to contradict each other as the amount on offer from the developers had been two million Yuan, according to CNR.)

City development is a hot spot for “social instability” in China. At times, people who lose their homes have to leave without either replacement or compensation, compensation may objectively be insufficient for relocation and continuing their trades. Given the lacking rule of law, public suspicion may either go into the direction that common people (nailhouse owners, in this case) had once again been screwed, or that astute and well-connected (even if rather “small”) business people get themselves an unfair advantage, given the hurry in which city development is moving on.

The CNR and Yangcheng reports don’t seem to portray Li Xueju in either of these fashions. She isn’t described as a cunning person (unless there’s something between the lines which escaped me), but she would be sufficiently well-connected to be no easy target either, by Chinese standards. She had once been president of the self-employed association (but with no indication of neighborhood, district, etc.), Yangcheng Evening Post quotes her.

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Related

» CCTV Homestories, March 2, 2011
» Modern Dictionary: Property Tycoons, November 22, 2010 (includes further related links)
» Zheng Yongnian about Farmland Reform, October 17, 2008

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