Tooth and Nail: China’s Resilient Holdouts

A Chinese nail house (via triplefivechina on Flickr)

A Chinese nail house (via triplefivechina on Flickr)

CHICAGO — A nail house is not a sharp object or an eyesore. It’s a site to behold, an abode that holds its ground.

The term “nail house” is a literal translation from the word dingzihu (钉子户)a Chinese word meaning either a household or person who will not leave their home to make way for real estate development. They have popped up all over China, and though the concept isn’t exactly novel, the idea behind nail houses has been revived as old-new commentary on a rapidly modernizing China, a country undergoing its own version of an industrial revolution.

When seen in photographs, nail houses appear almost as if snatched from a post-apocalyptic scene in Planet of the Apes or Pacific Rim, or embedded into the ghostly landscape like that haunted mansion atop a hill in The Nightmare Before Christmas. These are actual peoples’ homes, however, not some fictionalized dystopian landscape — but judging from some of the words spoken by residents, it’s hard to tell the difference.

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