Beijing is full of patriotism these days. National flags adorn cars and “I [heart] China” t-shirts are in fashion. But it’s hard to match the display of one small store in central Beijing. A national flag flies high above its roof, next to a white Olympic flag. Below hang a pair of Communist Party hammer-and-sickle flags, and much of the wall space is covered by images of Chinese leaders including Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. But the display isn’t so much about patriotism as it is defiance.
The store, which is also a residence, is a nail house—the Chinese phrase for residents who refuse to capitulate to the wrecking ball, leaving their house sticking out like a nail. It’s a fairly common phenomenon, but some nail houses can, because of their circumstances, become more than a local story. The most famous case was of a house in the southwestern city of Chongqing last year, where some extreme excavation left the structure looking more like an island than a mere nail. The dramatic images, plus a media-savvy homeowner, elevated the Chongqing house into a national case.