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Old Beijing tries to avoid wrecking ball

Up to 1.5 million residents lost their homes to Olympics-related development, often with little compensation or choice. Defiant homeowners have seen their property trashed.

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If Olympic marathon runners take in the scenery as they approach Tiananmen Square in the Games’ closing race, they will see a most unusual sight.

Beside a newly paved road, in the middle of a freshly turfed open space, stands a lone, dilapidated house. It is a relic of another era.

City planners consider the building an eyesore, and have shrouded it in green netting. Sun Ruonan considers it home, and a symbol of the fight against an all-powerful government that most Chinese homeowners lose when they try to defend their property.

There is little, aside from Ms. Sun’s tenacity, to explain why her house is still standing when every other building on her street was torn down months ago as part of Beijing’s Olympic beautification campaign. “We have nothing behind us,” she says of the campaign she has waged with her sister, Ruoyu.

“The government compels us to move. This is illegal. This is robbery,” reads a sign in English on her front door, a rare venture of public protest.

Yet Sun is not opposed to the Games in whose name her neighborhood was destroyed. “The Olympics are a good thing for Beijing,” she says. “But it is also good for people to know that underneath there are ugly things happening.”

From ‘nailhouse’ to Apple store

Sun’s building the ground floor was once a famous restaurant and she lives upstairs with her sister is known in Chinese as a “dingzihu,” or a “nail house.” Such structures have become a familiar sight in construction zones across the country as residents hang on to their homes until the last moment in hope of winning higher compensation from developers cashing in on China’s property boom.

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