Saturday, June 05, 2010

Chinese " Avatar"?

To prevent developers from taking over his land, this Chinese farmer in Jinyinhu fortified his house with homemade rockets. Thus far, he has been able to hold out for more than 2 months as the police requested both sides to restart the negotiation and avert violence.

The writing on the wall "官逼民反"

* January 8, 2010, 12:40 AM ET
A Chinese Take on ‘Avatar’

When “Avatar” shattered China’s single-day box office record over the weekend, local filmmakers may have borne the brunt of the assault, but according to some critics here, the real target of James Cameron’s sci-fi blockbuster is another group altogether: Chinese real-estate developers.

“The developer [in the movie] thinks it is promoting GDP growth, improving the economy, bringing new life to this ignorant backwater,” writes blogger and sports reporter Li Chengpeng in a much-viewed post on the film. “The residents, on the other hand … they just want to live in the tree, in harmony with the spirits, not in some high-end apartment building with elevators.”

“Avatar,” for those few who have yet to see it, tells the story of the Na’vi, scantily-clad nature-worshiping natives of a moon called Pandora who find themselves in the cross-hairs of a military-backed corporation from Earth that is hell-bent on exploiting a valuable mineral buried underneath the gigantic tree they call home. (See Joe Morgenstern’s review here for a more fulsome summary.)

While the plot contains obvious allusions to colonialist resource-grabbing, Li instead sees “Avatar” as an allegory for the exploitation of regular people by Chinese real estate companies.

In his post, titled “Avatar: An Epic Nail House Textbook,” Li draws a comparison between the tree where the Na’vi live and the homes of people who resist eviction—known in China as “nail houses” because of the way they stick up out of would-be construction sites (see articles, with video, on the subject here and here).

Like the Na’vi, China’s nail house residents are often asked to abandon their homes for little or nothing in return. Chinese real estate developers, like the company in the film, are typically quasi-governmental organizations, backed by the rhetoric of progress and armies of hired thugs that can be brought in when negotiations fall through.

“The developer sees the tree as an illegal building, its residents as rabble rousers who don’t support municipal development and aren’t willing to sacrifice for the greater good,” Li writes.

The post has been viewed more than 200,000 times and attracted nearly 2500 comments, the vast majority supportive, since he put it up Monday.

A nail house in Chongqing

Others have jumped on the idea, including The Beijing News, which called the film “a nail house parable,” and twenty-something literary star Han Han, who defended the film against charges its plot is weak: “For audiences from other places, barbaric eviction is something they simply can’t imagine–it’s the sort of thing that could only happen in outer space and China.”

So what lessons does the film hold for people in China facing eviction? “Communication is worthless,” Li writes. “You can only fight fire with fire.”

Luckily for Chinese developers, their opponents don’t ride gigantic, flesh-eating animals.

–Josh Chin

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