x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

An internet eyesore

China's latest "nail house" story shows how the internet is changing the balance between the government and ordinary people.

China's most famous nail house has been hammered. The term - "nail house" - has been coined as Chinese owners have refused to sell their properties to make way for local government projects, leaving the holdout houses sticking out like nails from pieces of wood.

In this case in eastern China's Zhenjiang province, duck farmer Luo Baogen and his wife had been holding out for more money, but officials had gone ahead and built a road anyway. The Luos' five-storey home was completely encircled by asphalt and an apparently functioning multi-lane thoroughfare right at their doorstep.

The China Daily has referred to Mr Luo's "lone stand against the wrecking ball", powerful imagery in a country where local bureaucrats are often accused of running roughshod over ordinary Chinese. It didn't hurt, either, that the road with a house in its centre looked absolutely absurd. China's internet avalanche came crashing down on officials, with about 90 per cent of online comments favouring the Luos.

And then a few days ago, Mr Luo accepted the original offer of 250,000 yuan (Dh147,000), and the house was demolished. Whether the attention helped or hurt the Luos is hard to say. But what is sure is that nails can no longer be pounded with impunity in internet-connected China.