Southern Weekend's Investigative Report on the Chongqing Nail House

(Southern Weekend)  The Inside Investigation of the Chongqing "Nail House"  By Zhang Rui (张悦).  March 29, 2007.

[in translation]

On the evening of March 27, Yang Wu, the owner of the building on number 17, Hexing Road, Yangjiaping, Chongqing, appeared on the roof of his building.  This was his seventh day on his "island."

About two hours before, this owner of the so-called "most awesome nail house in history" appeared at his window and made his characteristic move -- holding his fist tightly -- and yelled: "I want to speak to the mayor!"  Then he picked up his mobile telephone and called several reporters from whom he had gotten telephone numbers and he said excitedly: "I am Yang Wu of Chongqing.  I want to see Wang Yang (city party secretary)!"

At that moment, Yang Wu calmed again and looked at the deep ditch around him.  His stern look made him look like a castle owner inspecting the moat around his fortress.

But the people on the light-rail station were able to see that he was still alive.  During the past seven days, an endless stream of people stayed there to watch him.  By now, they were no longer permitted to take photographs or films.  The same ban was applied to the roofs of the civilian buildings surrounding the site.  Like the cheering crowds in the Roman arenas, the people look at this cornered gladiator and they offer loud cheers periodically.

But Yang Wu seemed to be tired.  He no longer waved his fist at the security guards like he did when he first ascended the isolated building.  He did not bother to lift the gas canisters to show his resolve.  He did not wave the national flag planted on the roof top.  The damp weather in Chongqing made him wear a black woolen sweater to wrap up his rippling body muscles.

He did not even acknowledge the "cheers" like he did several days ago.  He just turned around and went back inside his house.

Down the direction that Yang Wu can see, there is a huge housing advertisement sign which read: "Happiness is on the other shore" with the sub-title: "At the end of March, the whole city is waiting ..."

Actually, for the entire month of March, more than one hundred media outlets from China and the rest of the world and the eyes behind those media are waiting to see how Yang Wu on his "island" and the entire "most awesome nail house" incident would end up.

Previously, before Yang Wu suddenly emerged on March 21 from the background to dramatically climb up onto his "island," he was just quietly defending his house.  In the words of his wife and "spokesperson" Wu Ping, he is someone who has the patience to sit tight.  Ever since getting onto the "island," he has not contacted his family on his own initiative.

On March 24, Yang Wu changed the pattern and called his family.  His worried family thought that something had happened.  Instead, Yang did not say a thing about himself and he did not seem particularly concerned about the progress of the forced eviction.  He only wanted to know whether the Chinese fighter beat the Russian 穆斯里穆 in the Mixed Martial Arts Championships in Chongqing.  When told that the Russian was defeated, there was a loud "It's wonderful!" over the telephone."

"Yang Wu versus 穆斯里穆.  That would be gaining glory for the people of Chongqing and the people of China too!"  Wu Ping and her brother Wu Jian praised the Boxer King of Yuzhou twenty years ago in front of the media, as if Yang Wu were a national hero in the manner of Huo Yuanjia (霍元甲).

The Russian 穆斯里穆 was the defending champion in the Chongqing Mixed Martial Arts Championships.  Although 穆斯里穆 has stated that a 23-year-old man should not be fighting with a 51-year-old man, Yang Wu had traveled from Beijing to Chongqing in early March to demand a match.  He issued the challenge on march 14.

Yang Wu said that he really wanted to fight 穆斯里穆.  According to Wu Ping, the organizers were trying to negotiate for a match between the two.  "For the past two days, the organizing committee has been calling to say that they want to arrange for a fight, but my husband is unable to leave here.  So we can only offer two possible options.  One is for the Olympics Organizing Committee to send someone by car over there.  The other is for the organizing committee to arrange an arena to be built here for the match."  According to this, Yang Wu becomes the master who is awaiting for the challenger.

For Yang Wu, this 17-meter-tall island is like the tall martial arts ring in the movie <Fearless> (note: about the life of Huo Yuanjia).  But this is his personal arena and he refuses to let anyone intrude.

On the afternoon of March 21, he shook his fist at the worksite security guards who were trying to prevent him from entering his own house: "If you dare to come up, I'll fight you back down!"

That was quite an unexpected "punch."

The developer for this project (the Chongqing Zhengsheng Real Estate Company) is represented by executive vice-president Liu Jianming, who said that the reason why the security guards attempted to stop Yang Wu was because "he had ever appeared during the many previous negotiations and they did not realize that he was the owner."

If the negotiations were regarded as a boxing championship match, then the Yuzhou Boxing King Yang Yu held back for the first eleven rounds and he only swung a punch on the twelfth round.  And it was a heavy blow.

According to the decision of the Jiulongpo district court three days ago, Yang Wu had to move out on his own before March 22, or else the court will demolish the building by force.

On the afternoon of March 21, Yang Wu broke through the security guard cordon and used two steel poles to make some holes on the hillside for footing in order to climb up.  Then he entered the house through a hole in the rear.  According to Wu Ping, the hole was made by thieves who stole more than 100,000 RMB in money and property from the house.  Since the walkway was demolished, the owner could only creep through the thief's hole into his own house that he had not visited in the past 2-1/2 years.  It was a mess inside, with almost nothing left.

Shortly afterwards, he stood on the highest wooden stand on the roof and waved the national flag, causing the spectators to emit surprised cheers.  At the same time, Wu Ping and her brother Wu Jian brought in a barrel of mineral water, two bags of food, one blanket and two liquid gas canisters that Yang Wu would lift up to demonstrate over the next two days.  A thick green nylon rope was tossed to Yang Wu, who used it to lift the aforementioned items into the house.

Although Wu Jian claimed that these items were purchased at the spur of the moment and Yang Wu rushed up there in anger, Wu Ping admitted frankly: "We came prepared.  We shall not move.  We will live and die with the house!"

When the photographs of Yang Wu waving the national flag appeared on the various Chinese web portals and media at a speed faster than the light-rail across the street, Wu Ping knew that her plan had succeeded.

Yet, once you shoot an arrow, it cannot be brought back.  She can no longer control how this battle will develop.

On every afternoon after March 21, Wu Ping showed up on schedule to hold a "press conference" at the worksite.  People are already familiar with her position about using the law as her armor: "First, I want to defend the dignity of the law; second, I want to defend my own legal rights and interests."

"I do not have any background.  If there is any, then the law is my background!"  Of course, everybody has her own friends," she said.  But she refused to discuss any private topic not related to this case and she forbade any reporter to interview her at home.  "Absolutely not!"

Another evicted resident named Luo from the same neighborhood told our reporter that Wu Ping has spent some time reading law books.  Also, it was reported that she was involved in a lawsuit while in business and she won her case.

But Wu Ping said that she did not want a lawsuit.  "I've been through that in business.  A lawsuit goes on for three to five years.   I may win the lawsuit but I end up losing money."

As for her mysterious family background, she sometimes let down her "diplomatic language" after she got to know the reporter better: "Let me tell you.  My father was a prosecutor.  My parents were both among the first graduates from the cadre school after the liberation."

The neighbor Luo who had a store across Yang Wu's house also told the reporter than Yang Wu relied principally on his father-in-law.  "If he does not work in the court, then he must be in the procuratorate."  Of course, Luo had heard about that from Wu Ping.

Wu Ping thinks that her "good qualities" are related to her family background.  She lived in boarding school when she young and she was independent early.  After she graduated from high school, she learned law and economics on her own.  "I love literature from when I was young.  Even now, I love to read books when I have time, and I can play the piano."

The evidence that can establish Wu Ping's background is the following: when Wu Ping went to the Chongqing City High Court to turn in the complaint, the security guards were perplexed as to how she got in.  Furthermore, she also met with a deputy director at the High Court.  Wu Ping admitted that the meeting was arranged through "connections."

Wu Ping acted mysteriously in front of the media.  Yet, our newspapers obtained access to the file of Wu Ping which stated that her father was an animal-breeding worker in Chongqing and her mother worked at the Lijiatuo Beverage Services Company.  The political status is therefore "ordinary people."  Before the liberation, her father was a first lieutenant in the Kuomintang army.  Therefore, the Wu family had poor "political composition" up until the end of the Cultural Revolution.  It is unlikely that there was any cadre school experience.

As for Wu Ping herself, she began to work at the Jiulongpo district Lijiatuo Emporium as a "clothing saleswoman" in 1977.  After she married Yang Wu, she went on sick leave and began to engage in private entrepreneurship with Yang Wu.

As for Yang Wu's family, it is quite simple.  According to the housing committee director Hou Liyong at Hexing Road, Yangjiabo district, Yang's father was a small businessman who sold chicken eggs and everybody called him "Chicken Egg Yang."  His mother worked at a food/beverage company.  Yang Wu lived with his parents all this time.  His father and mother passed away two and one years ago respectively.  Before they died, they told Yang to preserve the "home of the ancestors."

Yang Wu's 66-year-old second brother Yang Jincai was a government public servant who he has retired from the Administration of Press and Publications.  He told this reporter: "I don't care about this house.  I have never used my government connections to do anything about this house.  I am only worried about the safety of my younger brother."  Yang Jincai shows up almost daily to watch the developments.

By comparison, the land developer that Yang Wu is facing off seems to have more of a government background.

When Jiulongpo district Housing Administration Demolition Management Department Ren Zhongping was interviewed by our newspaper, she said: "I can tell you unequivocally that this project developer is not a company under the Housing Administration nor a government company."

Yet, the facts are not so simple.

The legal representative and engineering quality assurance company are "Chongqing Zhengsheng."  The commerce/industrial information database showed that "Chongqing Zhengsheng" is controlled by the stockholder "Chongqing Shengbo Real Estate Limited Company, which is a fully-owned subsidiary of the Chongqing Publishing Group.

When Chongqing Zhengsheng was first established, the legal representative was Luo Xiaowei, who had been the deputy district mayor/secretary of the South Shore district, Chongqing city.  In March 2003, he became the publisher of the Chongqing Publishing Company.  He was also the chairman of the Chongqing Publishing Group which was established in April 2005.

After 2004, the legal representative of Chongqing Shengbo was changed to Yu Yang, who was also the legal representative of Chongqing Zhengsheng.  The biography showed that Yu Yang had been a member of the Chongqing city party committee organizational department and also the secretary of the Chongqing City Party Committee Office.  In September 2001, he joined the Chongqing Publishing Company and he became the deputy publisher in February of the next year.

Yang Jincai confirmed to our reporter that since he was also in the publishing sector, he was acquainted with the leaders of Chongqing Shengbo.  However, he has never contacted them about this matter.  During the negotiations between the developer and Yang Wu, the other party brought up the fact that they were acquainted with Yang's elder second brother but Yang Wu and Wu Ping ignored it.

The developer said: "As a state enterprise, we were very restrained during the eviction process and we obeyed the rules."

On one side, we have a state-owned developer who "is wary about haste and practices patience."  On the other side, there is the modern version of General Bawanzi who is prepared to give up his life to defend his city.  A long seesaw battle was therefore unavoidable.

The seesaw battle has reached saturation point.  On March 27, Wu Ping looked at her husband who has been separated from her for almost a week.  "I come here every day to keep him company.  I feel very bad inside."

The stalemate began in 1993.  In that year, the old wooden house of the Yang family became worn out and Wu Ping received permission to rebuild this little house at the original site.

Yet even before the paint on the Yang house was dried, land requisition notices began to appear on Hexing Road which announced that the Chongqing Nanlong Real Estate Development Company is the developer.

Based upon the photographs from back then, the newly renovated Yang family house stood out among the shacks in the neighborhood.  For many of the residents who lived in the dangerously decrepit buildings on Hexing Road, the land requisition was obviously attractive.  Ren Zhongping said that this project was designed to replace those dangerous buildings.  In the core commercial section of Hexing Road, about 80% of the buildings were in dangerous conditions.

Yet, due to lack of capital, there was no action taken with respect to the land requisition.  The project was inactive for eleven years.  In 2004, the Chongqing Nanlong and Chongqing Zhirun Real Estate Company signed an agreement.  Then Chongqing Zhengsheng entered and became the legal representative.  The project was then restarted.

The project had two methods for compensation: either a house or cash.  Wu Ping chose to have a house back.  "I want a house."  She was just as firm as she was eleven years ago.

According to the displaced Mister Luo, the assessed price was very low and practically all the residents were dissatisfied.  At the time, even though the cost of land in that section did not quite reach 100,000 RMB per square meter, it was already between 50,000 and 70,000 RMB.  Based upon the requisition regulations which suggest 70% of market price, the estimated price should be more than 35,000 RMB.  Yet, the actual amount was still only 18,000 RMB after including various kinds of incentives.

Since the developer did not agree with Wu Ping's demand to stay at the original site, the two sides never reached a formal agreement.  "At the time, the developer dealt with the easy cases first and left the harder cases for later.  Therefore, she was put aside for the moment," said Ren Zhongping.

"Afterwards, negotiations were held with the families one at a time.  The other affected families all accepted the proposal," said Ren Zhongping.  By September 2006, only Wu Ping's family was holding out on all of Hexing Road.

Based upon the assessed price, the Wu Ping house was worth 2,470,000 RMB.  "I never considered cash compensation and I never negotiated price with the developer," said Wu Ping.

According to project manager Wang Wei who worked for the developer, Wu Ping did not bring up the issue of cash compensation.  But she let the developer propose prices: "She said, you just keep raising the price until I say stop."

The developer was willing to go as high as 3,500,000 RMB.  But Wu Ping then gave up the notion of cash compensation and she focused on getting a house back.

Between September 14, 2006 and February 9, 2007, Wu Ping and the developer negotiated three times.

At the first negotiation, Wu Ping demanded a new business building in the original area: "First floor for first floor, second floor for second floor.  Same direction.  Either left or right is okay."  She also asked for two forms of compensation totaling more than 5 million RMB.  Since the developer could not satisfy this demand, the first negotiation ended unhappily.

The two forms of compensation that she demanded were: First, between October 5, 2004 and September 14, 2006, there were 23 months.  During this time, the family had their water, electricity and access cut off so that they could not conduct business.  Based upon a cost of 200 RMB per month per square meter, the total sum was 1,007,400 RMB to compensate for the economic loss.  Second, between March 1993 and October 2004, there were 138 months.  Based upon a monthly economic loss of 30,000 RMB, the total was 4,140,000 RMB.  This is because the Nanlong Company went through preliminary demolition and caused the loss of value in the neighborhood, so that the shop business suffered.

On September 18, 2006, the two sides held a second negotiation.  Wu Ping proposed: "The compensation should include 10 square meters for the roof plus 85 square meters for the illegally constructed building extension; 120,000 RMB for stolen property from the house; 180,000 RMB for re-decoration" as well as the provision of the same area of land during the transitional period.  Based upon the meeting minutes that the reporter read, the two sides failed to reach agreement because Wu Ping demanded to have the same area size instead of payment for the difference.

"None of this has any legal basis.  We cannot support it.  But the developer was still willing to pay her a certain amount of compensation," said Ren Zhongping.

On January 11, the Jiulongpo district housing administration issued an administrative order to ask Yang Wu to move out voluntarily within 15 days.  "Even at that time, we did not abandon the negotiation.  We even reached an agreement at one point, including the requirements for handing over the new house, the compensation for the transitional period, and so on.  But the house owner refused to sign at the end," said Chongqing Zhengsheng company vice-president Liu Jianming.

At the third negotiation, the developer gave way again and offered a house facing the street with a second floor with the same area as before.  This condition did not appear in the original proposal and followed Wu Ping's request.  At the same time, a compensation of 720,000 RMB was offered in response to Wu Ping's demands.  But Wu Ping needed to pay the price difference of about 700,000 RMB between the old and new house.

This means that Wu Ping did not have spend one RMB in order to get a brand new business/home that faced the street.  "Also, she can have her business stand out in the area by a change of design to meet her request."  Wang Wei said that this proved that the developer was sincere.

When many of the other evictees heard this information from the reporter, they felt mistreated on the basis of this agreement.  "At the time, my store was right across Wu Ping.  If I could have the same house in the same location, why would I accept a cash settlement?  If the developer had said that people can stay in the same location, I could have gone to see them.  By now, they obviously won't accept that," said Mister Luo who has been displaced.

Although the negotiation could not fully satisfy all the conditions that she brought up at the time, the other families thought that this was an extraordinary victory already.

Actually, the third negotiation brought the two sides extremely close.  But the issue of a public seal caused the talks to collapse.  Wu Ping refused to sign on the agreement over "the public seal of Nanlong Company which was responsible for building the houses."

Liu Jianming said that in order to solve this problem, the Nanlong Company legal representative Lin Mingshe sent his daughter to bring the company seal to Chongqing.  But Wu Ping refused to sign: "You can get a seal made anywhere in the street.  Why should I believe that this is authentic?"

Wu Ping said that if the developer failed to carry out the terms of the agreement, she needs to have concrete evidence to win a lawsuit and she does not trust the developer.

In March 2005, the Chongqing Zhengsheng Company entered the Hexing Road old city reconstruction project and became the legal representative and construction quality assurance company for the project.  Yet, in the sense of the law, it was still the Nanlong Company and the Zhirun Company which are the entities that are carrying out the reconstruction.  Wu Ping refused to negotiate with the Zhengsheng Company.  "I saw that several families had signed agreements on which the Zhengsheng Company seal appeared.  I cautioned them that if the arrangements failed to materialize in the future, then they cannot win their case in court."

Wu Ping said that if she did not see the three bosses in person, the public seals may be fake.  She must see their personal identification cards, "because the persons may be fakes too."

"From the legal angle, any of the sides in the construction project has the obligation to implement the arrangements.  This type of agreement can be entrusted to be signed by others," said Ren Zhongping.

Ren Zhongping signed that the housing administration never called Wu Ping "a nail house family."  Instead, they have been calling her "Teacher Wu" or "Boss Wu."  But now she no longer knows what Wu Ping is anymore.

Even the developer has similar doubts.  "If the court can really enforce the demolition, then it must follow the court's relocation regulations to place her.  This means that there will be fewer opportunities for us to negotiate."

Wu Ping said that three conditions must be met before she will sign: first, the application for forced demolition must be withdrawn; second, the administrative order must be terminated; third, the legal representatives from the three companies in the rebuilding project must be present at the signing.

Ren Zhongping said that this was impossible.  "This has already entered the judicial process.  But as soon as they reach an agreement, the administrative order will be stopped automatically."

Liu Jianming said that Lin Mingzhe is presently hospitalized in Guangzhou.  He has to go through hemodialysis three times each week.  So it was unreasonable for Wu Ping to make a demand that cannot be fulfilled.

Wu Ping offered to visit Lin Mingzhe in Guangzhou.  "If he is in ill health, I visit him and bring him a bouquet of flower.  But they won't even give me the number on his mobile telephone."

Wang Wei said that the seriously ill Lin Mingzhe thought that Wu Ping was making too many unreasonable demands and refused to see her.

"I have given most of my time to her during the past two years," Wang Wei said in sarcasm.  "Everybody from the company president to the ordinary worker has spoken to her.  The media portray her as a member of a vulnerable group.  But I feel that we are the vulnerable group."

When Wu Ping heard that Wang Wei described himself as a member of a vulnerable group, she said: "He is a member of a vulnerable group?  Can a vulnerable group dig out my house like a bunch of bandits?  He is just talking nonsense."

"I feel that the Internet and the media is calling her a representative figure in the implementation of the property rights law and lifting her sky-high, such that she cannot come down," said Liu Jianming.