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Photos

Chinese 'Nail Houses' Won't Budge for New Development

The holdout homes are a symbol of underdog defiance of wealth and power.

A six-floor "nail house" on a construction site in the central business district of Shenzhen April 17, 2007. ( REUTERS/Paul Yeung)

In Chinese cities, investment in new real estate and infrastructure is flowing unabated. High-rises, train stations, and airports are popping up at a velocity that's sometimes faster than the government can convince people to move.

There are often already people living on the primo land parcels that developers prize most, especially in and around existing cities. These people are generally either evicted with the help of local government or get bought out, often for far less than the original value of their properties. Most residents acquiesce, whether or not they want to.

But sometimes, they don't. Sometimes, Chinese homeowners refuse to cash in, either because an offer is too low or for more principled reasons, and their property remains standing while the new project shoots up around it. Dingzihu, or "nail houses," as these won't-budge properties are called, have become symbols over the past several years of brave defiance of the powerful wealth that's driving new development. These photographs of nail houses throughout China underscore, in visual terms, their underdog identity—though some of them also show the final nail in the coffin for most nail houses: Demolition.

Nail houses are hardly a strictly Chinese phenomenon. One of America's most famously resolute properties, Seattle's tiny Edith Macefield house, goes up for sale on April 20. Demolition, writes the New York Times, is a distinct possibility.

A nail house sits in the middle of a road under construction in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, on April 10, 2015.  (REUTERS)
Cao Mingyun, daughter of 75-year-old Cao Wenxia, the owner of a nail house, talks to journalist in front of their house in Hefei, Anhui province January, on 29, 2010. (REUTERS/Stringer)
A "nail house," the last house in this area, stands on the square in front of a shopping mall in Changsha, central China's Hunan province, on November 13, 2007. (REUTERS)
Zheng Meiju walks towards her partially demolished nail house (back) in Rui'an, Zhejiang province on July 17, 2013. (REUTERS)
A nail house is pictured at a construction site which will be developed into a new apartment zone in Hefei, Anhui province, on January 3, 2008. The banner reads "strongly requesting the government to punish the developer who demolished my house, give back my home". (REUTERS/Jianan Yu)
A woman walks past a nail house on the outskirts of Nanjing, Jiangsu province on October 31, 2008. (REUTERS/Sean Yong)
Cao Wenxia (L), the owner of a nail house, lights firecrackers to celebrate Chinese New Year near an excavator used for demolishing buildings near his house in Hefei, Anhui province, February 13, 2010. (REUTERS)
A woman stands at the balcony of her house, which will be demolished to build new apartments in downtown Shanghai, on December 1, 2010. (REUTERS/Carlos Barria)

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