Property Rights, Legal Consciousness, and the New Media in China: The Hard Case of the 'Toughest Nail-House in History'
China Information, Vol. 26, No. 1, March 2012
26 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2009 Last revised: 11 Apr 2012
Date Written: January 9, 2012
Despite recent legislation and regulations to protect homeowners’ rights in the process of urbanization, forced eviction remains one of the most prevalent causes of violence in contemporary China. This article examines the capacity of residents of Chinese cities to protect their property rights using new media to produce alternative discourses on law in the urbanization process. Fieldwork conducted in Beijing, from 2007 to 2008, a period during which the national capital underwent massive development schemes for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, shows that homeowners create virtual precedents, backed not by the authority of the court, but by that of the media. Evictees of so-called dingzihu (nail-houses) facing chaiqian (demolition and relocation) develop arguments based on the 2007 case of Wu Ping, the first new media superstar in (post-)socialist China. The article, following poststructuralist formulations, develops a theory of “legal surrealism” characteristic of the position of law in reform era China. Whereas social media is equated with revolution elsewhere, in China, the lesson of the role of new media in effecting social change may be one of limitation. While digital mass communication technologies may assist individual “victories,” challenges to eviction face both intrinsic and extrinsic obstacles for collective action.
Keywords: Property rights, real estate, legal consciousness, legal semiotics, legal surrealism
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