A “nail grave” in the middle of a construction site in Taiyuan, Shangxi province

Alia | December 10th, 2012 - 4:34 am

If you think the “nail house” in the middle of a new highway in Zhejiang province (which has already been demolished earlier this month) was a bizarre enough scene, check out the “nail grave” from China’s northern city of Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi province.

[Nail house is a Chinese neologism for homes belonging to people (sometimes called "stubborn nails") who refuse to make room for development. The term, a pun coined by developers, refers to nails that are stuck in wood, and cannot be pounded down with a hammer]

The picture of a grave standing alone on a 10-meter island in the middle of a construction site has recently caught the attention of many Chinese netizens. The grave, which belongs to villager Chang Jinzhu’s father and grandparents, is sandwiched between two residential buildings that are almost done. According to construction workers on site, the grave is in the way of what is supposed to a public green land in the soon-to-be-finished residential community.

Picture from MOP

Burying the dead has long been a way for the Chinese to show respect to their ancestors and family history. The location of a grave is usually carefully selected by family members of the dead. A spot at some popular cemeteries in China cost no less than an apartment in big cities per square meter. “To uproot your family’s graves” is one of the most catty curses in Chinese.

According Cao Shuanquan, village cadre responsible for land management, the construction site used to be a public grave land for local villagers with about 200 graves. As the construction began, most villagers agreed to relocate their family’s graves after reaching an agreement on relocation compensation. Massive grave relocation started from 2009, and the grave of Chang’s family was the only one that was left.

The standard compensation for one grave is RMB 800, but in real operation, specific compensation for each family varies from a few thousand to tens of thousand.  Cao told journalists in an interview that Chang refused to remove the grave due to dispute over relocation compensation: “The real estate company has already compensated RMB 1 million yuan to Chang’s family. They took the money but still refused to move.”

What’s the other side of the story? According to Chang, he or his family never took any compensation money from neither the village nor the real estate company. He refused to relocate the grave because he demanded “a reasonable explanation” of issues in the village’s renovation projects.

“The village cadres never cared about my family and our lives. So why would I cooperate? This is a private matter between me and my village. I never thought it would become an “internet event,” nor did I expect my ancestors’ grave to become a “nail grave”. The village committee has never helped solve a single problem of my family, such as my family’s farmland.”

This wasn’t the first controversy involving grave lands in China this year. The removal of some 2 million graves in the city of Zhoukou, Henan province ignited both online and offline protests from local residents. Public outcry forced local government to stop what was part of a government-promoted “flatten graves for farmland” project.” In the face of China’s rapid development, not even the dead can have peace.

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