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'Nail' for Hire Stands Up to Chinese Government, Developers

Lu Daren is Beijing's first 'human nail' for hire

Land seizures to make way for new developments are a growing problem in China. But one man is standing up for the ordinary person in a country where that can sometimes be a dangerous thing to do. Lu Daren works as an anti-demolition guard, occupying buildings to prevent developers from tearing them down without offering fair compensation and describes himself as a 'human nail'.

Lu used to work in demolition. But when he heard about what was going on at Beijing's Fish Castle restaurant, he was moved to go over to the other side.

He says when he heard about the Fish Castle situation, he felt the owners were cheating people. He says he felt that even though the owners knew the place was going to be torn down, they still signed a contract with the renters.

When the landlord wanted them out so the building could be demolished, the Fish Castle renters had two years left on a three-year contract. They say the compensation they were initially offered did not begin to cover the cost of setting up the restaurant the first year.

In China, the term "nail house" refers to situations when people refuse to allow their land or buildings to be confiscated because of disputes over compensation. Thousands of people each year lose their homes, farms or businesses in China because land is confiscated to be redeveloped, sometimes in projects the government has endorsed. Often, the landholders wind up with little in compensation.

Lu is Beijing's first "human nail" for hire. The idea is that the demolition crews will not start work as long as someone is inside a nail house.

Lu says he is at Fish Castle 24 hours a day, living and sleeping at his post. He says he is resigned to staying there until there is some sort of compensation agreement.

Authorities cut off the restaurant's water and electricity, and demolished a coal stove Lu set up to ward off the cold.

Unidentified men came by and roughed Lu up, leaving him bruised and bleeding. He says he and his boss thought violence was possible.

Lu says his boss gave him accidental life insurance and also agreed to pay a settlement on top of his salary if something unexpected happens.

The "human nail" says people like him "sound alarm bells" that things are not right.

The Fish Castle issue was resolved, after a month-long standoff. Both parties agreed to discuss higher compensation. Lu was paid for his work, but the end of that job may be the beginning of a new career.

Lu says he is certain that in the near future, there will still be a need for the kind of services he provides. He says the nail house problem is leftover from history and will still exist because the government has not taken steps to resolve it.

Businessmen have contacted Lu about starting a company offering anti-demolition services. Chinese media reports also say a film director is interested in telling his story.