A Chinese couple's battle to stop developers from razing their home and business is getting close attention in a nation eager to test a landmark new law guaranteeing private property rights.
Wu Ping and Yang Wu have been fighting off bulldozers in downtown Chongqing since 2004, when they were one of 280 households asked to make way for a redevelopment project in the booming southwestern city of 27.7 million.
One by one the other residences have been demolished, leaving their two-story brick building perched precariously on a small island of land surrounded by a vast, moatlike construction site.
Chinese news reports and online commentators refer to the home as a "dingzihu" or "nail house," playing on a phrase for troublemakers who stick up like nails and refuse to go along with government policies.
There are thousands of property disputes in China every year, but this one is getting unusual attention, in part because it is regarded as the first major test of a landmark law guaranteeing private property rights.
Images of the house have been plastered in newspapers the past week and have been the focus of editorials and cartoons. Discussions have flooded Chinese Internet chat rooms.
"I support you! Hold on! Governments are indifferent of people's needs. You are the pride of the Chinese people!" said one posting on ynet.com, the Web site of the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper.
Property disputes and illegal land grabs have accelerated in recent years as China's economy expands at double-digit rates and farmland is gobbled up for industrial parks and skyscrapers.
Government officials often have sided with developers, touching off riots and protests. But it's unclear what their position is on the dispute in Chongqing or why the standoff has dragged on so long.
An official with the Jiulongpo district housing management bureau of Chongqing said Tuesday there was "no deadline" to demolish the house. He refused to give his name because he said the issue was too sensitive.
"We're still trying to reach an agreement through negotiations, not force," he said.
But Wu tells a different story, saying the local government has notified her that the home will be torn down by next week. Although she and her husband no longer live there, she said she deserves proper restitution.
"I believe I'm in the right," she said in a telephone interview Tuesday, her voice hoarse and agitated. "I have a legitimate right to protect my property."
Wu was offered US$258,000 in compensation or two higher floors in the planned complex - both of which she turned down because she wanted the lower levels in the new building so she could run her restaurant. She also wants the exact same location as before, which is unlikely because a supermarket will occupy the area.
Wu's carefully made-up face and frizzy hair have become well-known after several television and newspaper interviews. Her cell phone is constantly busy as she juggles a steady stream of calls from reporters.
Calls to Wang Wei, a spokesman for the developing company, rang unanswered.
State-run media has deemed it the first major application of the property law adopted by China's legislature at its annual session earlier this month.
The property rights law, which had been kicking around for 14 years, highlights how private property remains a contentious issue nearly 30 years after China began dropping central planning in favor of free markets.
The law offers the same protections for private and public property, a far cry from the first decades of communist rule when China preached common ownership and the state took care of housing, education and health care for its citizens, reports AP.
"Ms. Wu's upholding of her private property rights just reflects the spirit of the property law," said an editorial published last week in the Southern Metropolitan newspaper. "Any effort to strive for fairness should be praised and cherished."
Wu said she was "pessimistic because the property law means nothing."
"This is a purely commercial project," she said. "It has nothing to do with public interest."
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