'Nail house' blogger is homeowners' hope
As the nation watched and waited late last month to learn the fate of a two-storey house sitting stubbornly in the middle of a building site in Chongqing , Zhou Shuguang decided to go there to report first-hand on developments 'from an ordinary citizen's point of view'.
For six days the citizen journalist, equipped with a second-hand digital camera, a video-capable mobile phone and 1,000 yuan, uploaded 30 articles, pictures and video clips to his blog about Yang Wu's holdout against developers.
As mainstream media were forced to abandon coverage of the 'nail house', Mr Zhou's site became a popular alternative source of updates. At its peak, it attracted more than 37,000 visitors a day.
Others hoping to negotiate better deals with developers or to highlight violations of their legal rights have asked Mr Zhou, a 26-year-old vegetable seller from Hunan , to feature their causes on his blog.
In a country where many feel the legal system and governments have failed them, people are increasingly turning to the media - official and unofficial - to get redress. The Chongqing saga is a case in point.
The couple who owned the house had been fighting off the bulldozers for three years, but their break came only when Mr Yang moved back into the property in defiance of an eviction order and journalists from across China descended on the site.
Brandishing the constitution and wearing traditional red clothes, Wu Ping , Mr Yang's wife, held press conferences at the site during the 11 days of talks. She repeated her story to an army of reporters and took calls from journalists who could not make it to the site.
Quickly, officials formed a taskforce to deal with the media and negotiate an end to the drama. Chongqing party secretary Wang Yang and Mayor Wang Hongju demanded updates twice a day or more - until the couple and the developer reached an agreement on April 2 and Mr Yang left his fortress.
Mr Zhou said: 'Traditional media were not allowed to report on it, but I am just an ordinary citizen. There was no risk for me.'
He added: 'Wu Ping was great. She had a clear head and was very calm. She got what she wanted and I felt glad for her.'
Homeowners across the country flocked to the site in hopes of attracting attention to similar causes, among them 45-year-old Shanghai resident Chen Jialiang, whose house was flattened in his absence last year.
Mr Chen's trip to Chongqing did not yield him any mainstream media headlines, but he did secure a lengthy report with pictures on Mr Zhou's blog for himself and 12 other households in his district. Mr Chen said the exposure might lead to a breakthrough in his dispute with the developer.
'I'm very grateful to Zhou Shuguang for putting forward the case about our houses. Our problems would have been solved long ago if we had got the same attention that the Chongqing couple did.'
In Shenzhen, 56-year-old housewife Zhang Lianhao and husband Choi Chu-cheung had given up on the media when they sought fair compensation for their six-storey house in a financial district.
Ms Zhang uploaded pictures of the property to a popular website and entitled it 'the coolest nail house in Shenzhen', hoping the phrase would draw in visitors to the site.
The tactic paid off and the story was picked up by both Hong Kong and mainland media.
'I was inspired by the Chongqing couple,' Mr Choi said. 'I tried to talk to the media last year but nobody was interested.'
Property rights watchdogs have applauded the Chongqing couple for turning media attention to their advantage. But other parties involved denied the coverage played a role.
Ren Zhongping , who negotiated between the developer and the couple, said media attention was not the main factor. 'Ms Wu is very good at dealing with media and she knows the law, not always with the right interpretation. But the housing authority gave every family the same treatment,' Ms Ren said. 'The media attention had no special influence.'
Wang Wei , project manager of Zhengsheng Property Development, which is developing the Chongqing site, said he believed the 'nail house' incident would not lead to bigger problems on other projects.
'Every relocation project has holdouts who refuse to move. They are headaches for us and in the Chongqing couple's case we were having to pay 60,000 yuan in extra loan repayments every day,' Mr Wang said.
'But we really have no other choice but to abide by the law, with or without the media attention.'
Mr Wang said he was pinning hope on the Property Law, which comes to effect on October 1, to clearly spell out 'what are the rights for developers and homeowners'.
Shenzhen-based property rights activist Zou Tao also said he believed that turning to media would not ultimately lead to a solution for ordinary citizens.
'No other similar land disputes will receive that much attention again. The couple were rich and could afford to fight the developer. Most ordinary citizens don't have that many resources,' Mr Zou said.