BEIJING–One of China’s top movie directors has admitted having three children with his current wife, according to a studio media posting, apologizing after months of speculation he broke the country’s controversial family planning laws. Zhang Yimou, the maker of “Raise the Red Lantern” and “Red Sorghum,” has two sons and a daughter with his current wife, the Yimou Studio said in its verified account on Sina Weibo, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter. That would mean Zhang, 62, has a total of four children including a daughter with his ex-wife, potentially violating China’s one child policy. Zhang “would like to make a sincere apology to the public for the negative ramifications caused,” said the posting by Yimou Studio, which says it is affiliated to the director. The disclosure comes after months of speculation that he has seven or eight children by three or four women. Yimou Studio dismissed those allegations as “untrue” and threatened to hold the rumor-mongers legally responsible. “The false allegations have seriously affected the normal life of Zhang Yimou’s family and led to an egregious impact on society,” said the statement. “We are collecting and sorting out relevant evidence against the rumor-mongers and preserve the right to pursue their legal liability.” China has implemented its family planning law for over 30 years, which currently restricts most parents to one child, with exceptions including some rural families whose first child is a girl, ethnic minorities, and couples who are both only children. It has been at times brutally enforced, say rights groups, while officials say it has been a key element of China’s rising prosperity. Wealthy Chinese are able to have extra children by paying fines, in which case their offspring will have full legal rights, but women who cannot afford to do so have reportedly been forced to have abortions, provoking outrage over the privileges the rich enjoy. Government employees also face the risk of losing their jobs if they do not adhere to the policy. The ruling Communist Party said last month it would relax the regulations by allowing couples to have two children if one of the parents is an only child. Reaction to the Yimou Studio statement was mixed on Monday. “He obviously violated the law, yet he shamelessly claims their life was seriously affected,” said a comment posted on on Sina Weibo. But some argued having children was a human right and that it was time for the family planning policy to be shelved. “What is wrong with giving birth to children? Is it right to force pregnant women to abort their fetus?” said one user.
Family planning officials in the eastern city of Wuxi, where Zhang’s wife is registered as living, are investigating, reports in state-run media said.
Zhang was willing to cooperate with the investigation and “accept commensurate penalties” according to national laws, said the Sina Weibo posting. If found guilty of breaching the policy, Zhang could be fined around US$100,000, according to the per capita urban resident income in Wuxi and the number of children involved, the state-run Beijing News reported Monday. But the official news agency Xinhua said that Jiangsu, the province which includes Wuxi, fines violators five to eight times the couple’s joint income and said media estimates of the potential penalty ranged as high as 160 million yuan (US$26 million). Many of Zhang’s early films were banned in China but he has since become close to authorities and was picked to direct the opening ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
His most recent work, 2011’s “The Flowers of War,” starred Christian Bale and was a historical drama set during the 1937 Nanjing Massacre.