Top Chinese film director Zhang Yimou is facing a $164 million lawsuit after violating the country’s controversial one-child policy, a lawyer said Friday, prompting renewed debate around the rules.
Critics say China’s late-1970s family-planning law, which restricts most couples to one child, is selectively and sometimes brutally enforced, while the wealthy and well-connected are easily able to pay the fines levied for extra offspring.
But in recent days some users of China’s popular online social networks have directed their anger at the policy itself, rather than Zhang, with some hoping the attention heaped on his case may hasten the eventual demise of the law, which authorities have recently moved to relax.
The lawsuit was sent to the Intermediate People’s Court in Wuxi on Thursday, the hometown of Zhang’s wife.
Guo Chengxi confirmed reports that it demands a total of one billion yuan ($164 million) from the director of “Red Sorghum” and “Raise the Red Lantern”, half in compensation for public resources, and half in punitive damages.
“Right now, in China, this phenomenon of wealthy people having more than one child is very serious,” she said, adding they decided to take action against Zhang because he “represents a typical case” of an elite trying to skirt the one-child law.
Zhang, one of China’s best-known filmmakers and the director of the opening and closing ceremonies at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, had faced rumours for months that he had fathered as many as seven children with several different women.
Amid increasing pressure — including a Nanjing newspaper’s publication last month of a front-page “wanted” poster seeking information on his whereabouts — Zhang finally issued an apology on Sunday through his studio’s microblogging account.
He acknowledged that he has two sons and a daughter with his current wife, as well as another daughter with his ex-wife.
The one-child policy was put in place to control China’s booming population, and officials say it has been key to the country’s rising prosperity.
Fines for violators of the one-child policy are a significant source of income for China’s provincial governments.