China's nail houses: Defiant homeowners who refuse to make way for progress [Photos]

As China's cities grow at an incredible rate, farmland and villages are demolished to make way for highways and apartment blocks. People living on prime real estate are either evicted or bought out, usually for less than the value of their properties.

Occasionally, however, homeowners who are unwilling or unable to reach an agreement on compensation simply refuse to move out. Construction goes on all around them, leaving their homes isolated in the middle of wide roads or perched on tall islands in the middle of building sites.

The homes are called dingzihu, or nail houses, because they are like stubborn nails stuck in a piece of wood that can't be pounded down.

A residential building is seen surrounded by a circular motorway off-ramp, in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, on 18 June 2015. The building was supposed to be demolished, but several residents refused to move out as they couldn't reach a compensation agreementMa Qiang/Southern Metropolis Daily/Reuters
Zheng Meiju walks towards her partially demolished home in Rui'an, Zhejiang province, on 17 July 2013. Her neighbours moved and their units were demolished, but she was dissatisfied with the compensation offered by the developers and continued living in the house even though the water and electricity supply were cut offReuters
A nail house is stranded on top of a huge mound in the middle of a construction site for a new residential area, in Yibin, Sichuan province, on 19 May 2015. The owners of the nail house refused to move as they couldn't reach a compensation agreement with the authority in charge of the demolitionReuters
Cars are forced to drive around a house in the middle of a newly-built road in Wenling, Zhejiang province, on 22 November 2012. The house was finally demolished after its elderly owners, duck farmer Luo Baogen and his wife, agreed to accept compensationChina Daily/Reuters

During much of China's communist era, private ownership of property was abolished, and all real estate was officially owned by the government. In recent years however, private ownership has been allowed. A law passed in 2007 said the government could only requisition land from private owners if it was in the public interest (without stipulating quite what that meant).

Several high-profile nail houses have received national and international press coverage, often forcing the developers to offer a higher rate of compensation.

A "nail house", the last building in the area, sits in the middle of a road under construction in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, on April 10, 2015AFP
The road in Nanning on May 28, 2015, after the house was demolishedAFP
The last house in the area, covered in protest banners, stands in the centre of a construction site which will be developed as a new apartment zone in Chongqing Municipality, on 4 February 2009China Daily/Reuters
A nail house stands alone in the centre of a construction site in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, on 28 November 2007Joe Tan/Reuters
A car drives past a partially demolished building in the middle of a street in Xi'an, on 14 August 2013. A family of seven were still living in the three-storey building without electricity and water for three years after construction startedReuters
An old shop still stands on the square in front of a new shopping mall in Changsha, central China's Hunan province, on 13 November 2007Reuters
A three-storey house is seen in the middle of a newly-built road in Luoyang, Henan province, on 16 May 2015Reuters
A partially demolished "nail house" is surrounded by a construction site in Hefei, Anhui province, on 2 February 2010. The owner of the house eventually agreed to demolition after battling to get more compensationReuters
Two "nail houses" are seen in the middle of a road under construction in Yongjia, in eastern China's Zhejiang province on 10 March 2015. The houses were knocked down soon afterwardsAFP
A six-floor apartment block is stranded in the middle of a construction site in the central business district of Shenzhen on April 17, 2007Paul Yeung/Reuters

It's not just houses that stand in the way of progress. In 2012 a "nail grave" on an isolated island in the middle of a construction site made the headlines.

Workers build around a grave mound that stands 10 metres high, at a construction site in a village in Taiyuan, north China's Shanxi province, on 6 December 2012. A relative of the grave's occupants was refusing to accept the compensation offered by the construction companyAFP

The Chinese public shows a great deal of interest in nail houses, generally supporting these rebels who refuse to give in to bullying. In 2007, a family in Chinqing refused to move out of their house in the middle of a construction site for a new shopping mall. They held out for two years without power and water, in the middle of a 10-metre deep pit.

A house sits on an island in the centre of a deep pit in south-west China's Chongqing municipality on 29 March 2007. The local court had ordered the owners to move, but they were holding out against property developers who were planning to build a shopping mall. All of their neighbours had moved, having accepted compensationChinaFotoPress/Getty Images
A building sits on its own island of land in the middle of a site cleared for construction in Chongqing, on 21 March 2007ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images
The owner of a building on an island of land in the middle of a construction site in Chongqing retrieves a gas cylinder on 21 March 2007ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

The case became a national sensation, until the Chinese government forbade newspapers from reporting on the event.

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