Outrage Over Famous Chinese Director Zhang Yimou's Extra Kids Privilege

Chinese government's propaganda posters on one child policy. Photo taken by @kattebelletje CC: AT-NC

Propaganda posters from the Chinese government on its one-child policy. Photo taken by @kattebelletje CC: AT-NC

Famous Chinese film director Zhang Yimou has apologized for violating China's one-child policy, admitting that he has three children with his current wife.

Reports surfaced online earlier this year in May that he is father to at least seven children, but as some of the children are from previous marriage and relations and that the implementation of one-child policy is through the control of woman's body, the father usually can be excused from the law. As the latest report indicated that Zhang has three children with his current wife, he was forced to acknowledge publicly that he has broken the family planning law. 

Zhang began his career in China on rocky footing, with some of his early films in the 1980s being banned in China for taking on sensitive subjects, but he has since won many awards and become close with authorities. He was picked to direct the opening ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Zhang's apology comes as China plans to relax its one-child policy, allowing couple's to have a second child if at least one of the parents is an only child. Current policy only allows couples to have two babies if both mother and father are only children. 

The change, announced last month, is the most significant relaxation of its population control regime in nearly three decades. However, cases like Zhang's and others have fueled concerns that reproduction rights in China are a privilege enjoyed only by celebrities and the wealthy because they are able to afford the fines. Their extra children enjoy full legal rights, but women who cannot afford to do so have been forced to have abortions. Such inequality is a source of public outrage over the privileges of the rich and powerful.

According to the law, people who breach the one-child policy have to pay a social-compensation fee based on their annual income. Calculating what Zhang would owe, Chinese state newspaper People's Daily put the potential fines at up to 160 million yuan (about 26 million US dollars), basing the figure on Zhang’s 2004 income as reported by the media, which amounted to 80 million yuan (12.8 million US dollars).

A historical author, Wu Gou, criticized Zhang on popular microblogging site Sina Weibo in a post titled “The issue obviously exposes cynicism of China’s elites”:


These elites with more influence than common people know that family planning has violated humanity and human rights, but they have never dared to speak out against it and push for reform. Instead, they consent to the family planning authority and choose to bear extra children stealthily [without openly confronting the unreasonable policy].

As Zhang's early films touched upon many social problems, he was loved by grassroots movements. However, in the last two decades, his films were made to target larger markets and lost their edge. Lawyer Young Lewis wrote on Weibo that Zhang has become uncritical of his privileged position and has betrayed the common people:


People give Zhang a lot of support, but he defers to dignitaries. When the government cracked down on his films years ago, the common people supported him. But then he abandoned people by making so-called blockbusters and Olympic Opening boondoggles.

Wang Xuming, the former spokesman of China's Ministry of Education, wondered how Zhang had managed to secure an exemption from the local household registration authority:


Zhang and his current wife's three kids were reportedly born out of wedlock. Some critics are questioning if the local household registration authority's standard for newborn registration is equal. Have they exempted Zhang from punishment? I want to gently ask Zhang how he had managed to secure an exemption from officials. How he managed to drag the household registration authority into dirty water?

As the right to reproduction is basic human right, Zhang also has his supporters. For example, in an interview with ifeng.com's reporter, economist Hu Shizhi suggested:

①生育是与生俱来的权利,张艺谋能逃脱计生,该为他们高兴。②该道歉的不是张艺谋,而是计生官员。 ③如果法律本身就是恶法,还机械地要求法律面前人人平等,就是在纵容恶。

1. We should be happy to see Zhang able to escape family planning because reproduction is an inherent human right. 2. Who should apologize is not Zhang, but family planning officials. 3. It would constitute wrongdoing if we were to stubbornly require equality before the law, which is itself illegal.

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