In China, perhaps even more than in Britain, a man’s home is his castle.
So when 38-year-old Shen Jianzhong was faced with a mob of thugs trying to evict him, he asked himself what his hero, Bruce Lee, would do.
The answer, according to a video that has attracted more than two million hits on the Chinese internet, is turn to kung fu.
For 20 years, Mr Shen had been practising kung fu, teaching himself Bruce Lee’s system in his courtyard home in Bazhou, Hebei province.
Working in a local gym as a fitness coach, he is also the holder of a world record, at least according to an association in Hong Kong, for the most press-ups in a minute using a roller. “I am now training to break the record for most press-ups on a balance beam,” he said.
At the end of October, Mr Shen was able to put his kung fu into action. For six months, a property developer had been trying to get his hands on Mr Shen’s house.
“They called it a remodelling project, to turn our village into a town,” he said.
“They wanted to tear down the whole street, and promised we would get a new house of the same size in two years, as well as rent to cover the interim.
But I heard of people in a neighbouring village getting a much better deal, so we refused to sign.”
At first, the property company stuck up posters warning of dire consequences for any families who held out. Then, Mr Shen said, when 70 of the 100 households had left, the threats escalated.
“This mob of thugs would block the street most days. They would pick on the women, threatening to kill their kids. Then people started tossing bricks through windows and letting off fireworks at night. Some people got beaten on the street.”
On October 29, as Mr Shen went to work and his wife popped out for a packet of instant noodles, a mob of “30 to 50 men” materialised at their front door.
“My wife tried to close the door, but they pushed it back and she tripped over. That is how the fight started,” said Mr Shen.
With a flurry of kicks and punches, he and his 18-year-old son, a fellow kung fu devotee, set about the attackers, rendering seven of them near unconscious in the hallway.
“It was self defence. I really cannot remember what kung fu skills I used.
It was quite messy. Only seven people were injured because the rest were scared and stayed outside. Some of them ran away,” he said.
When the police arrived, however, they were little help, insisting that since the thugs were unarmed, it was Mr Shen and his family who were in the wrong. They urged the family to sign the contract.
Instead, the Shens posted their homemade video online, where it has gone viral as a rare David versus Goliath moment in the bleak fight against China’s avaricious property barons.
They then fled, on the evening of November 21, to Beijing. Upon arriving in the capital, however, Mr Shen’s son was arrested by the police, who said they would charge him with assault.
“I do not regret the fight, but I am worried about my son,” said Mr Shen.
“I think they are trying to fit up him up with some crime. I am concerned that my actions will end up hurting him,” he said, acknowledging that officials may try to emotionally blackmail him into signing over his lease.
As the Telegraph interviewed Mr Shen, however, his phone rang. It was, he said, a man named Zhou Jin, who claimed to be a member of the Central Military Commission, which oversees the People’s Liberation Army.
“He said he had seen my plight and was outraged. He said I should not give any interviews to the media and he would come and collect me in his car this afternoon,” said Mr Shen.
An attempt to contact Mr Zhou on the number he provided failed, but perhaps Mr Shen’s bravura has won him a powerful ally.
Additional reporting by Valentina Luo
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