China's private property law under test

Chinese couple’s fight to save their home gets wide media attention, support.

28 March, 2007

The media in China have played a crucial in highlighting the plight of a Chinese couple fighting to keep their home and restaurant from being razed by developers. The incident is also significant in that it is the first major test of a new law passed by China in early March 2007 allowing private property.

Wu Ping and Yang Wu have been fighting to protect their building in the southwestern city of Chongqing from the developer since 2004, when 280 local residents were asked to move out of the area.

According to Chinese state media reports, there are thousands of property disputes in the country every year. But this one, involving the couple Wu Ping and Yang Wu, mainly shot into limelight because developers dug deep around the two-story brick building, leaving it perched precariously on a small island of land.

Chinese news reports and online commentators refer to the site 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.

In an interview in The Beijing Times, Wu said: “If nobody stands up for this, the concept of fairness will be harmed. The fight is not only for myself but also for others and the future.”

The couple were offered 2 million yuan (US $258,000/€195,000) in compensation or two higher floors in the planned new building, but they turned it down because the wife wanted lower levels in the building to run her restaurant.

Images of the house have been splashed across newspapers in China and the issue has been the theme of editorials and cartoons. Besides, discussions galore in Chinese internet chatrooms.

Said a posting on, the website of the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper: “I support you! Hold on! Governments are indifferent to people’s needs. You are the pride of the Chinese people!”

China’s state-run media have considered the whole incident as the first major application of a property law passed at the annual legislative session earlier in March 2007. The law, which had been discussed for 14 years, highlights how private property remains a contentious issue even 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, as opposed to the practice in the first decades of the communist rule when China advocated common ownership and the state took care of housing, education and health care for its citizens.

An editorial in the Southern Metropolitan newspaper commented that “Wu’s upholding of her private property rights just reflects the spirit of the property law. Any effort to strive for fairness should be praised and cherished.”




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