Avatar a eulogy for China's 'nail houses'

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While most of the global audience are enjoying the dazzling 3-D experience of the Hollywood blockbuster Avatar, some Chinese see it from a very different angle: a successful battle against forced eviction.

James Cameron's Avatar tells the story of an ex-Marine sent from the Earth to infiltrate a race of blue aliens and persuade them to let his employer mine their homeland for natural resources.

Many moviegoers have criticized the film for its trite and commonplace plot, despite its use of the spectacular 3-D technology.

But in China, the story has aroused a sympathetic response among many spectators, as they see in the film a familiar social conflict -- forced demolitions by real estate developers and urban administrative inspectors.

"They are very much alike. For instance, the conflict in the film also starts with land," a posting by "A Cup of Green Tea" said in an on-line forum operated by the www.xinhuanet.com.

"When real estate developers want a piece of land, the local residents must move away; if they decline to leave, then real estate developers will resort to violent ways," the posting said.

Forced demolitions have always led to opposition and resistance from local residents in China and have given rise to the term "nail house" in China, in reference to a nail refusing to be hammered down.

In southwest China's city of Chongqing, a couple battled for three years from 2004 to 2007 to stop developers from razing their home. Their neighbors left one after another, leaving their two-story brick building standing like a tower surrounded by a 17-meter deep construction site. Their fight finally came to an end in April 2007 with a negotiated agreement that nevertheless saw the demolition of their house.

In June 2008, Pan Rong and her husband stood on the roof of their house in Shanghai and threw Molotov cocktails at the approaching bulldozer. Pan's efforts to protect her home failed at last when the bulldozer destroyed the walls, forcing the couple out.

In November last year, a 47-year-old woman, Tang Fuzhen, in the southwestern city of Chengdu, set herself on fire to protest the forced demolition of her house and died later.

In both cases, the local governments insisted that the forced demolitions were lawful and accorded with regulations.

"I am wondering whether Cameron had secretly lived in China before coming up with such an idea of writing the story of Avatar, but with a promising ending in the film," said renowned football reporter, Li Chengpeng, in a blog article on www.sina.com.

"In a word, I think the film is a successful eulogy of the fight of 'nail houses' against forced demolitions," he said.

The Chinese central government is increasingly aware of the negative impact of and public discontent toward forced demolitions.

China passed its landmark property law in 2007, highlighting the protection of private property.

On Dec. 7 last year, five professors from Peking University claimed in an open letter to the National People's Congress, the country's top legislature, the Regulation on Urban Housing Demolition Administration was unconstitutional and violated the property law.

The existing demolition regulation took effect in 2001, allowing forced demolition. The government has finished a draft revision to the regulation.

The draft revision, with its content still unknown, put more restrictions on the government's administrative power in demolition procedures, and was aimed at easing growing tensions caused by forced demolitions, legal experts said.

"To audiences of other countries, forced demolitions are probably beyond their imagination," said young writer Han Han, well known for his always controversial remarks, in one of his blog articles on www.sina.com.

"So I think Avatar is a great movie. I give it a full mark of 10, also taking into consideration the 3-D and IMAX," he said.

In China, Avatar had grossed more than 300 million yuan (44 million U.S. dollars) as of Monday since its premiere on Jan. 4, the China Film Group Corp., the movie's Chinese distributor, announced Wednesday.

"It will not be a problem for the movie to exceed 500 million yuan at box offices," said Weng Li, a company spokesman.

So far the film had taken more than 430.8 million U.S. dollars in North America in four weeks. Its total worldwide revenue was estimated at more than 1.3 billion dollars.

However, "A Cup of Green Tea" voiced a note of warning: "I strongly advise real estate developers and urban administrative inspectors see the movie and learn from it."

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