Photograph by Youth Jin, European Pressphoto Agency

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The "nail tomb" stands about 30 feet (10 meters) high in the middle of construction.

Photograph by Youth Jin, European Pressphoto Agency

Grave Obstacle to Chinese Construction Boom

A grave teetering above a construction project is one family’s symbol of defiance against China’s relentless tide of development. The family refused payment to move a relative’s grave.

China's construction boom waits for no one, dead or alive. In the city of Taiyuan (map) that means a multistory residential complex is taking shape around a lone grave, which now sits atop a tower of mud about 30 feet (10 meters) above the building's excavated foundations.

The family of the deceased—buried there in 2004—has refused an offer of 1,000,000 yuan (about $160,000) to compensate them for the land. Chinese news reports say they can't understand why the developer chose this particular spot and have asked for an explanation. Meanwhile, the construction crew is sticking to their schedule, working toward an April 2013 completion date.

In similar situations around the country, people sometimes resist vacating their homes to make way for large-scale projects such as hotels, factories, and shopping malls. Typically, a developer will start work anyway, turning the home into what's known as a "nail house"—a single building that sticks up in the middle of a construction site like a stubborn nail in a board.

The homeowner may hang on for a time, even with the electricity and water turned off, but eventually the developer offers enough money, takes possession of the house, and tears it down. In a widely reported recent case, an elderly duck farmer and his wife refused to move from their home in the village of Xiayangzhang (map) to make way for a road. After four lanes of asphalt were laid down around the building, the owners accepted a payment of 260,000 yuan ($41,000) and a plot of land for a new house. Their old home was demolished on December 1.