Chinese authorities have begun investigating allegations that Zhang Yimou, one of China’s best-known film directors, has seven children in violation of strict family planning rules, which could result in a fine of £17 million.
Online reports surfaced this week that Zhang, who dazzled the world in 2008 with his Beijing Olympic ceremonies, “has at least seven children and will face a 160 million yuan fine,” said the website of the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece.
An unnamed official at the Wuxi Municipal Population & Family Planning Commission said “based on the current policies and regulations, an investigation is currently being carried out”, according to the report.
Zhang, 61, once the bad-boy of Chinese cinema whose films were sometimes banned at home while popular overseas, has since become a darling of the Communist Party, despite long being a subject of tabloid gossip for alleged trysts with his actresses.
Users of China’s lively social media lined up to criticise Zhang and drew distinctions between how the elite and ordinary people are treated.
“However many children a person has is their basic right, but in a twisted society, basic rights have become a privilege,” Beijing resident Liu Weiling, who works for a media com- pany, wrote on Sina Weibo.
“Why is China unable to win the world’s respect?” asked author Christopher Jing.
“Rich people with groups of mistresses, old celebrities changing wives, Zhang Yimou getting so many privileges. Four women and seven kids, if this was an ordinary person they would have killed you or fined you an unreasonable amount of money, but he is fine … he is no better than ordinary people, such an unfair world will never gain respect.”
Zhang’s credits also include A Simple Noodle Story, an adaptation of the Coen brothers’ 1984 movie Blood Simple, and Under the Hawthorn Tree, a love story set in China’s decade-long, ultra-leftist Cultural Revolution.
Zhang’s latest project, a film to depict wartime Nanjing under Japanese occupation, starred British actor Christian Bale in a leading role.
There are signs that China may loosen the one-child policy, introduced in the late 1970s to prevent population growth spiralling out of control. The policy has long been opposed by human rights and religious groups but is also now regarded by many experts as outdated and harmful to the economy.
Last December, authorities in southern Guangdong said they were investigating a family for having given birth to octuplets through in-vitro fertilisation, a case that sparked intense public debate about China’s one-child policy and how wealthy families were able to circumvent the rules.
The one-child policy was meant to last only 30 years and there are now numerous exceptions to it. But it still applies to about 63 per cent of the population. The rules limit most urban couples to one child and allow two children for rural families if their firstborn is a girl. Exceptions are made for ethnic minorities, but wealthier Chinese circumvent the rules by having their children abroad.