Zhang Yimou Admits to Defying China's One-Child Rule
UPDATED: The director's office has issued an open letter saying he has three children with his wife after rumors that he had fathered seven children with several women.
BEIJING – After much speculation swirled around him, Chinese director Zhang Yimou has admitted that he breached the country's one-child policy by having three kids with his wife, but he denied reports that he had fathered seven children with different women.
Zhang's office issued an open letter on its verified account on Twitter-style social media site Sina Weibo saying the director and his wife, Chen Ting, have two sons and a daughter, in breach of family planning rules, which limit couples to having one child.
The letter said that Zhang and his wife "sincerely apologize to the public for the harmful social effect caused." It added: "He would like to accept the investigation of the Wuxi family planning bureau and will fully cooperate with government departments and accept the punishment according to national regulations."
Media reports that Zhang, 62, fathered seven children with four different women spread widely in May, which triggered an investigation by the Health and Family Planning Commission of Wuxi, in the eastern province of Jiangsu. The officials sent a team to Beijing to look for Zhang, but failed to locate the director, prompting intense media and online speculation that they were going easy on him because of his reputation.
The letter posted on the social media site marked the first time Zhang, 62, responded to reports that the director of The Flowers of War, starring Christian Bale, fathered seven children.
Officials from the family planning office of Wuxi's Binhu district confirmed that the couple had sent representatives to the office to accept an investigation and that it was under way.
Earlier this year, the People's Daily newspaper, the ruling Communist Party's mouthpiece, reported that Zhang could face a fine of up to 160 million yuan ($26 million). People caught breaking China's family planning policy must pay a "social compensation fee" based on their annual income.
But Zhang's office also rejected reports that he had fathered more children. It said unidentified individuals with "ulterior motives" had sent people to follow Zhang's children and photograph them and that Zhang's office reserved the right to take legal action.
"They even fabricate and spread fake information, saying I have three or four women and seven or eight children, or many illegitimate children, or have given a 10 million yuan ($1.64 million) bonus for each child," Zhang said in the letter on Sina Weibo. He asked that his privacy be respected.
Known as China's one-child policy, the family planning rules limit most urban couples to one child and allow two children for rural families if their firstborn is a girl. The government introduced the policy in 1979 as a temporary measure to curb a surging population, but it is still in place despite being reviled by many citizens.
Last month, it announced that it would allow couples to have two children if one of the parents is a single child, the first substantial easing of the one-child policy in nearly three decades.
In May, Zhang was named artistic director of private film company Le Vision Pictures, and the production company has been running a daily shooting blog about his latest movie, Return, which he is currently shooting in Beijing and Tianjin with Gong Li and Chen Daoming.
Over the course of his career, Zhang has gone from being a banned director of art-house fare, like his directorial debut, Red Sorghum, to helming stirring nationalist epics, such as Hero, which earned him his rehabilitation.
He became more popular with the powers that be after his spectacular choreography for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics opening ceremony. His 2011 WWII epic Flowers of War was a big hit in China, but failed to make much of an impact overseas.
Other recent works include A Simple Noodle Story, an adaptation of the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple, and Under the Hawthorn Tree, a love story set during China's Cultural Revolution.
"Thanks for the interest in Zhang Yimou, and he will try to make more and better movies in return," concluded the letter issued on social media site Sina Weibo.