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First Test Case for Newly Approved Property Law?
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A house that has occupied land on a construction site in Jiulongpo District, Chongqing Municipality, for the last two years is now at the center of a legal wrangle between its owners and the Chongqing District Court. On Monday, the court ordered the occupants of the house to vacate it by Thursday, after which the house was to be pulled down. However, the house was reportedly still standing as of Friday.

The owners of the house have vowed to defend their rights to their property at all costs. In a melodramatic show of their conviction, they flew the national flag.

The case has caused a major stir in academic and civic circles. Photos of the two-story house are being circulated on the Internet after an anonymous netizen uploaded them in early March. The family that owns and lives in the house has even earned for itself the title of "the greatest dingzihu in China".

"Dingzihu" describes people who refuse to vacate their premises, in spite of government orders, until they are assured of adequate compensation from either the government or property developers wanting to use their land.

In this particular case, there are plans to build a large business center on the land. Two hundred and eighty other families moved out of their houses soon after construction started in September 2004. All their houses were subsequently torn down.

This one remaining house now stands on its own atop a 20-meter-high mound in the middle of a gigantic construction site. A sales representative with Weilian Real Estate Company, the developers of the project, said that the second phase of the building project has already started.

Yang Wu, the 51-year-old owner of the house, had reportedly asked for 20 million yuan (US$2.56 million) in compensation from the developers, according to the Southern Metropolis Daily.

Yang's wife, Wu Ping, told China Central Television that this was totally untrue.

"We didn't ask for that amount of money. We only hoped to be compensated with a same-sized apartment at the original location on the same floor and with same exposure to the sun, as well as a temporary residence and shop space," Wu said. The developers have reportedly not given the Yangs what they want.

A famous snack street stood on the current site years ago. Wu's family used to run a restaurant business from home. Wu added that they used to make thousands of yuan a year until 1993, when they found out that the area was to be cleared.

Nearby residents told reporters that the house has been uninhabited since September 2004, but Wu explained this was because the developers cut off their water and electricity supply.

Authorities have reportedly said that the Yangs' demand was neither in accordance with the law nor realistic. The developers claim that numerous negotiations with the Yang family have come to naught.

Wang Wei, manager of the development department, told Shenzhen Daily that Wu would not sign any agreement although she was aware of the conditions that the developers were willing to offer. "We've now invested 300 million yuan (US$38.79 million) into the project. We will suffer huge losses if this matter remains deadlocked." 

The house is estimated to be worth about 2.47 million yuan (US$319,414). The developers reportedly promised the family 3.5 million yuan (US$452,612) in order to entice them to move out sooner. The Jiulongpo district house regulator ruled on January 11 that the family would receive a house in another area after they moved out. Wu ignored the ruling, which prompted the regulator to apply for an order to have the house demolished.

Ren Qiuping, the director of Jiulongpo District's relocation department, said the family should defend their rights but should not ask for more than what is reasonable by law. "They asked for a same-sized apartment at the original location on the same floor and with same exposure to the sun, which is impossible. And no law can guarantee this for them. And according to the city's plans, a shopping mall will be built where their house now stands, each floor covering 5,000 square meters. It is not possible to give the huge space to them since their house is only 219 square-meters. We have provided them with several alternatives, all of which they have rejected. We don't know why."

Flying the national flag has come to represent a defense of civil rights. In addition to flying the flag high, the Yangs brandished certificates, law books and copies of statutes, including the Constitution of the People's Republic of China. Wu said: "We don't want to be 'dingzihu', but we will compromise our legal rights. We have been fighting this for three years!"

She also claimed that the court order was illegal. "The Constitution and the latest Property Law protect private property ownership. They said they were going to demolish our house because it is in the public interest. But they are going to build a shopping center, which has nothing to do with the public interest! It is a business move, and what the court ruling protects are the developers' interests!

"We only want justice... all I want is to negotiate with the developers in a fair environment," She added.

However, Professor Jiang Ping, the former president of China University of Political Science and Law who led the team that drafted the newly approved Property Law, refuted Wu's claims. "She is not in a position to judge what is or isn't in the public interest," he told China.org.cn. "If the compensation is legal and reasonable, they should move out; if they don't think so, they may file lawsuits and take this issue to court."

(China.org.cn by Zhang Rui March 23, 2007)

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