Nail Houses

A term coined by Chinese developers, a “nail house” is a building owned by someone who refuses to leave in the face of local development. It’s a pun referencing a nail that can’t seem to be nailed down in wood. While buildings and property around the nail house may be torn down for new development, the one homeowner refuses to let go. Often leading to fascinating scenes such as this.


Private ownership of real property was abolished in China during the Communist era. This mean that all real estate (including that of personal homes) was owned by the government, not individuals. Should the government decide to create a new development project, any homes in the way would simply be demolished to make way for progress. Often, entire cities were relocated or simply removed for large projects (which you can read more about in Forced From Home: Property Rights, Civic Activism, And The Politics Of Relocation In China).

This changed in 2007, when China passed its first private property law. Now land can only be taken when it is “in the public interest”. But what that means is still under debate. More specifically: can private commercial developments count as a public interest? This is the case with the above photo, where the land surrounding a home in Chongqing was being developed for a shopping center.

Yang Wu, a martial arts champion, lived in the Chongqing nail house with his wife. His family had lived in the home for three generations and he refused to sell. After refusal, the developers dug a ten-meter pit around the house, cutting all utilities in the process. Yet Yang Wu persevered and used nunchakus to climb to his home, threatening to beat anyone who attempted to remove his family. After refusing an approximate $453,000, he eventually settled with the company for an undisclosed sum; the house torn down in April of 2007.

AP Photo/EyePress
AP Photo/EyePress

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