Just after 7pm Monday, crews went to work destroying China’s “toughest nail house”, an isolated Chongqing residence where homeowners had vowed for days to fight for their rights and stand up to property developers [Chinese coverage]. As demolition work began, the homeowners reportedly reached a relocation agreement with city authorities. Yesterday, Chinese news media and Internet users turned to post-game analysis of the winners and losers in the standoff over the “nail house” and property rights in China — and the count was by no means unanimous. [BELOW: Screenshot of “nail house” special feature page at QQ.com.][“Nail house” destruction photos via ESWN].


Southern Metropolis Daily, generally home to China’s most outspoken lead editorials (社论), those representing the views of the newspaper, was silent on the “nail house” demolition yesterday, a sign, perhaps, that the outcome was not particularly to the liking of editors there, who might have opted for a more symbolic ending (preservation of a “nail house” monument perhaps?). The newspaper did, however, include a piece by editorial writer and former CMP fellow Yan Lieshan, in which he said he “more or less” agreed with the view that the “nail house” affair was a “major symbolic event following on the heals of the property law”.
“It has already caused people to look carefully and think about relevant laws and regulations, and at the same time has become a living case study in how people should approach the lines between ‘public interest’ and private property, and how they should balance the interest demands of various sides,” Yan Lieshan wrote. “In being managed properly, this provides a good classroom lesson in reaching social consensus.”
In another sign of the growing reverberations between the Web and traditional media in China — a converging of the two opinion environments — Yan Lieshan drew from the comments of one Web user to make a veiled contrast of the “nail house” affair and the crackdown on democracy demonstrations on June 4, 1989: “One week ago, a bold and well-known netizen said to me that she worried that this [“nail house”] affair would snowball into a tragedy in which all sides lost, ‘a replay of the situation back in those years.’ I knew what she was making reference to. At the time, I was rather optimistic, believing that the Chongqing authorities would not lightly resort to strongarm tactics, and that the developer, who had ‘tolerated’ [the situation] for over two years, would not play the bully …”
Yan also offered a passing criticism of foreign media and what he seemed to perceive as their appetite for the story that bleeds. If the “nail house” owners had continued to resist a resolution, he said, if “the Yangs had let emotions run hot, if they had refused to compromise and things led to tragedy, those foreign media who had incited them would not take on any responsibility whatsoever, but in a few days would move on to other news topics like mosquitoes in search of fresh blood.”
An editorial by Yang Zhizhu (杨支柱), an assistant professor at the China Youth University for Political Sciences, argued in Guangzhou’s New Express [article here] that the agreement reached Monday was the “best possible ‘win-win’ situation” for all parties involved. But the editorial stressed that this “win-win” scenario disguised a widespread “relative injustice” (相对不公), namely that the compensation given to other homeowners at the Chongqing development site was unfair, and that by extension the compensation generally given to evicted homeowners across China was inadequate. “It was precisely the universality across the country of this brutal eviction and demolition, of insufficient or delayed compensation, that generated such sympathy and support for the ‘toughest nail house'”, Yang wrote.
Writing for Hangzhou’s Metro Express (都市快报), Xu Xunlei (徐迅雷) said he was “extremely happy” to hear news of the agreement settling the “nail house” affair. “Like the people, we truly don’t wish to see a forced eviction in the face of failure to reach compromise or a peaceful agreement, much less a case of bloodshed,” Xu wrote. “At this time, no matter what the case, we should express our respect for the developer, for the Chongqing government and the courts, and for the media who consistently reported on the affair …”
Internet comments multiplied rapidly yesterday following news of the “nail house” compromise. Many Web users took issue with the suggestion in traditional media that the outcome had been a win-win situation for all sides. But postings were mostly invisible today, suggesting Web portals were being told to keep the topic cool.
“It seems many Websites aren’t allowed to speak [about this] right now? What’s going on? Everything is editorializing about the government’s side,” said one of a handful of responses visible on a Chinese bbs today. “The Chongqing nail house affair underscores how weak and ineffectual the government is,” said the only other remaining post.
As postings on the Web disappeared, perhaps the most enduring legacy left by Internet users was an ironic shift in Chinese semantics. The word “harmonious”, of Hu Jintao’s “harmonious society”, has now yielded a new popular meaning on the Web and in private conversation — “to be harmonized” (被和谐) denotes suppression and containment, so that one, for example, can be “harmonized by the authorities” (被政府和谐). Silenced and resolved.
[Posted by David Bandurski, April 4, 2007, 9:47am]

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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