By Gloria Riviera and Kaijing Xiao
BEIJING–Chinese Family Planning authorities are investigating one of the country’s top film directors and the architect of the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics, Zhang Yimou, for brazenly violating China’s one-child policy.
Officials in Wuxi, the hometown of his current wife, the former actress Cheng Ting, say only they are looking into whether Zhang fathered seven children from two marriages and two additional extra-marital relationships. That would mean Zhang has fathered six children over the legal limit. He could be facing steep financial penalties.
Zhang’s most recent film, ”The Flowers of War,” starred the American actor Christian Bale and was the Chinese selection for best foreign film at the 84th annual Academy Awards. He is the recipient of numerous overseas cinematic awards.
The charges spotlight long-simmering tension over the belief held by many in this country of over 1.3 billion people that the famous, wealthy and high-ranking government officials are excused from the binding rules enforced by the government to limit population.
Online outrage over the Zhang case honed in on the issue.
On China’s microblog, Weibo, a user identified as Ningba wrote, “According to the rules in China, Zhang Yimou will get a free pass because special cases will be specially handled! Chinese characteristics!”
China’s one-child policy was enacted in 1979 as a way to curb exploding population growth. Initially it was announced as a one-generation policy but it has endured, despite growing popular opposition. Under the policy the majority of citizens in urban areas are allowed a single child. Those in rural areas are at times allowed a second child if the first-born child is a girl. Recently, couples who are both only children of only children have also at times been allowed to have a second child.
But for years couples across economic lines have found ways around the restriction. Couples with enough wealth simply pay the fine, which can vary depending on hometown province. Known as the “social fostering or ‘maintenance” fee it has been determined based on annual disposable income for urban residents in the year of the child’s birth. With six additional children and a significant income from a series of successful films, Zhang could by some estimates be facing a fine of $3.5 million to $26 million or more.
Either way, the idea that a citizen would be penalized to such an extreme for having a family is still an anathema to the majority of westerners. At root, the disbelief and anger in both the west and in China has to do as much with China’s perceived disregard for global opinion as it does the violation of an individual’s right to procreate.
As one Weibo user wrote under the name Christophe-Kim, “Why doesn’t China had the respect of the world? Look at officials with their mistresses…at Zhang Yimou enjoing his privilege: four women, seven children! If a regular citizen breaks the one child policy, he will be heavily punished with a fee as heavy as a mountain. But Zhang Yimou is still fine. An unfair society will never be respected.”