The Shenzhen Nail House

(Xinhua via China Daily)  'Nail house' owner receives millions of yuan in compensation.  September 30, 2007.

A couple in south China's Guangdong Province have ended their one-year battle to protect their house from being razed by developers after receiving compensation. The old couple, Cai Zhuxiang and Zhang Lianhao, from Shenzhen, refused to reveal details about the compensation but it is believed to be between a staggering 10 million and 20 million yuan (US$1.3 million to 2.7 million). The couple's seven-storey brick building lies in the booming downtown area of Shenzhen's Luohu district. 

A photo on China's portal website shows it is erected on a bare excavation site as large as 63 football fields against the backdrop of a forest of fancy buildings. Cai, 57, received the notice ordering him to move this April, when the compensation offered by developer was only 5,000 yuan per square meter. "Apartments near my house were all sold at a price above 16,000 yuan," he said. He noted that the building, which was built ten years ago, cost him one million yuan. The site is expected to be turned into a financial center including a 439-meter-tall skyscraper, according to the developer Shenzhen Kingkey Group.

First, here are the photographs of the Shenzhen nail house.

But the most interesting part of the story is what happens next to the former Shenzhen nail house owners.

(Next Weekly)  Issue #917, October 4, 2007.

[in translation]

On Monday, our reporter tried to call Cai Zhuxiang's telephone at the Caiwuwei, but it was impossible to get through.  Finally, the reporter called the mobile telephone to offer congratulations.  But Cai's was complaining instead: "As soon as the news got out that I received compensation, the home telephone has been ringing non-stop.  More than one hundred something calls!  All of them were extortion calls.  They said that they wanted to split the money with me!  So I took the telephone off the hook."

The reporter then proceeded to his home and indeed saw that the home telephone was unplugged.  "I tried reconnecting it this morning, but the telephone calls came back immediately."  Since the reporter looked skeptical, Cai reconnected the telephone and within one minute, the telephone was ringing.

"Fuck your mother!  Why did you hang up the telephone? ..."  A stream of obscenities came over the telephone.  The reporter asked the caller to identify himself, but the caller would only yell: "What do you care who I am?  Where the hell is that Cai Zhuxiang?  You tell me to listen carefully -- has he done what I told him yesterday?  If he does not want to die, then he better do that!"

By that point, Cai Zhuxiang could not stand it and took over the telephone: "What do I have to do?  What should I give you 10 million yuan?  Why don't I burn it for you? (note: this refers to paper money that the Chinese burn in order to deliver to their ancestors for spending in the nether world)  I only have my life.  If you want it, come and get it!"

57-year-old Cai Zhuxiang said angrily that these extortion calls all want me to go to the bank to withdraw several million to ten million in cash.  "They told me to withdraw the money and bring it home.  They said that they will come and get it in a few days."  Although different male voices were calling, they all came from the same mobile telephone number.  Therefore, this must be the same group of people, except Cai does not know who they are.

There was even an extortion call from an "official" who claims to be a Luohu district tax collector.  "He called and asked me how much compensation that I had received.  He told me to pay my taxes."  It was Zhang Lianhao, the wife of Cai Zhuxiang who took that call.  She said: "We signed the compensation agreement in court.  If they really want to collect taxes, then the government must know the amount of the compensation.  Obviously, someone is wading in to extort us."

The two have filed a police report in Shenzhen, but it was futile because the telephone calls kept coming.  "If I were kidnapped or murdered, then this group of people must have done it.  At that time, you can track down this telephone!"  Cai smiled at the thought that he gained this bitter 'victory' after fighting hard for one year, but he ends up living in fear.

Actually, it was no ordinary real estate developer that was working to rebuild Caiwuwei.  The real estate developer is the Kingkey Group, which is among the top groups in Shenzhen.  The Kingkey Group specializes in developing up-scale residential buildings and five-star hotels.  The CEO of the Kingkey Group is Zeng Baobao, the niece of State Vice-Premier Zeng Qinghong, and that political background allowed the group to develop rapidly.  More than two years ago, the Kingkey Group set its eyes on Caiwuwei because this was a commercial district with many tall buildings including the 69-story highest building in Shenzhen.  The Kingkey Group planned to invest 3 billion yuan to build a 400 meter 88-story financial center that will become the new landmark in Shenzhen.  According to the architectural plan, the center of this skyscraper is located exactly at the spot of Cai Zhuxiang's 6-story building.

Cai Zhuxiang smuggled into Hong Kong when he was young and he eventually obtained a Hong Kong ID.  He was a cement worker.  But he has been living in Shenzhen for the past few decades, preferring to commute to Hong Kong every day.  "I was a cement worker for decades.  Since become a nail house owner, I could not work.  I used to earn 700 yuan a day.  I have suffered economic losses because I did not work for more than one year.  Who is going to compensate me?"

When Cai Zhuxiang learned that the Kingkey Group was going to build there, he waited for compensation.  The proposal from the real estate developer wanted him to sell his house and land for 6,500 yuan per square meter.  Cai Zhuxiang's 6-story-house has 780 square meters of area, and he would have received just over 5 million yuan.

Cai Zhuxiang thought that the real developer's proposal was absurdly low.  He figured that Caiwuwei was in the middle of the Shenzhen financial center and right next to Shenzhen Theater subway station.  Therefore, his building should be worth at least 18,000 yuan per square meter for a total of 14 million yuan.  "I am a Caiwuwei resident, and my lot was leased to me for 75 years by the government.  In 1995, I took out more than 1 million yuan in personal savings in order to construct this building, where I was hoping to live out the rest of my life.  They cannot just take it away like that."

Cai Zhuxiang could see that his neighbors were selling out one by one, but he refused to budge.  When the case came to be known, the local media called it the "most persistent, most awesome and most expensive nail house."  "There was no point for the developer to drag this out.  I am not afraid and I will not compromise.  I am also a Hong Kong resident, so they don't dare do anything to me!"

As a nail house owner, he has been frequently harassed and threatened: "Every single window in my house has been broken.  Periodically, someone splatters feces and urine on the house.  They also cut off the water and electricity."

During that period, Cai Zhuxiang and Zhang Lianhao locked themselves up by 6pm each evening.  They never got out.  They locked all their doors because they were afraid of being robbed at night.  They were cursed at by the security guards when they came and went.  When the reporters came to visit them, the security guard stopped them: "What are you doing here?  This place belongs to the real-estate developer.  You have no right to be here.  Scram!"  Even if Cai Zhuxiang came out to receive the reporters, the security guards would still said: "Why the fart are you so important?  Nobody would know if I killed you!"

He related his experience to the city government, but an official threatened him: "You better be careful if you want to be a nail house owner.  According to Guangdong province statistics, 98% of all nail house owners die in car accidents."

In April this year, the Kingkey Group issued a final notice to him to move out or else they would send in the demolition teams.  Cai moved some stones from the worksite and stored half a dozen gas canisters at this part.  He was ready for a fight when the demolition teams came.  At the same time, he filed an appeal at the local court and asked for government mediation for a reasonable compensation.

At the end of last month, there was a breakthrough.  According to information, the Kingkey Group was anxious to start construction as quickly as possible and minimize any losses due to delay.  The Chinese government is also enacting the Property Right Law this month.  So an agreement was reached.  Although Cai did not disclose the amount, it was estimated that the amount was at least 12 million yuan.  Cai may not gained victory, but he will still have to face a new round of extortions.  Cai could still smile because of his new wealth: "I will use the money to buy four apartments.  One for me, two for my children and one to rent out."