House in the middle of the road
By Aly Song
“Right now, buying a house like this would cost me more than 2 million yuan, but the government only offered me 260,015 to move, where could I go?” 67-year-old Luo Baogen said while smoking a cigarette in front of his partially demolished “nail house”, standing alone in the middle of a road in Wenling city, China’s eastern Zhejiang province. “Nail house” refers to the last houses in an area owned by people who refuse to move to make room for new developments.
About 500 kilometers (310 miles) from Shanghai, this house quickly became an Internet hot topic after local news reports bearing dramatic photographs went public last week.
Considering a follow-up story and to have some more pictures of our own, I traveled there with a Reuters TV colleague on Saturday.
It was difficult to believe that such a small city of Wenling was also undergoing great changes like Shanghai. On my train ride, I could see big and small construction sites on both sides of the railway. As soon as I stepped off the train, I could hear many noises of heavy machinery, constant reminders of the fast GDP development in this country.
I knew most of the “nail house” problems were as consequences of economic developments. This one was no exception.
After a brief interview, we learned that Luo Baogen and his wife were farmers who used to live in a quiet village too small to be found on Google map, with a few houses and some crop fields around the area. But just a few years ago, the high-speed railway ran through this village, and the local government decided to take advantage to turn this place into an economic development zone. Negotiation and demolition kicked off. Fast forward to today, and Luo and his wife are the last family refusing to move.
Luo told us he was distressed as feedback from the government changed all the time. He didn’t know what else he could do, so he just waits day after day by his house, puffing on cigarettes.
While we were interviewing Luo, dozens of other villagers came to us to complain about the local government’s behavior, but all of them asked to be off-the-record. In the meantime, an unidentified man kept using a mobile phone to take pictures of us to keep us on record.
I have covered several nail house stories in my photojournalism career, and sometimes, I can feel the same powerlessness and tininess as my interviewees, being in the way of the development of a fast-growing nation.
I sincerely hope that there will be a happy ending for this couple. I believe honest people like them, and many other citizens, deserve better, as they have already given so much to society.