Chinese Director Zhang Yimou Embroiled in Controversy Over Country's One-Child Policy

Zhang Yimou
Nyay Bhushan

While Chinese law still limits families to a single child, various reports in the Chinese press allege the renowned director may have as many as seven children with four women.

Rumors that celebrated Chinese director Zhang Yimou is as prolific in the progeny department as he is behind the camera have sparked a raging debate in Chinese social media over the country’s one-child policy.

News outlet Southern Entertainment Weekly first reported Monday that sources close to Zhang had confirmed that the director has two sons and a daughter with actress Chen Ting. The director, 63, and Chen, 31, were married in 2011. Zhang previously had a daughter with his first wife Xiao Hua.

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Under the Chinese government’s family planning laws, couples are allowed to have just one child, except under special circumstances, such as if both spouses themselves come from one-child families, or if their first child has a non-inherited disease. In some rural provinces, where residents still rely on traditional farming practices, couples are permitted to have a second child if their first is a girl.

The revelation that Zhang may have rather wantonly flouted the rules has led to a wave of outrage on Chinese social media, with scores of Weibo users decrying the way the rich can often buy their way into, or out of, seemingly anything in contemporary China.

"Do money and power top the law? Can the rich just use money to solve everything and get what they want?" wrote one Weibo user.

According to a report on the Chongqing Evening News on Tuesday, people said to be close to Zhang and Chen confirmed that the couple had children born in 2000, 2004 and 2006, prior to their marriage. Chen is said to have met Zhang during auditions for his film The Road Home (1999), at which point she dropped out of the Beijing Film Academy as their relationship began.

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The Southern Metropolis Daily on Wednesday carried another story in which an “acquaintance” of Chen’s alleged that the actress once claimed Zhang had a son with another woman and two daughters by yet another – which would place the director six children over the legal limit. Chen reportedly said she was proud to have beaten out these other women for the director’s affections.

The most common penalty in China for breaking the one-child policy is a sliding fine pegged to the family’s income. One lawyer told online news outlet that he believed the successful director could be liable for as much as $26 million (160 million yuan).

As if Zhang's tabloid woes weren’t enough, the Southern Metropolis' news site also carried a report Wednesday detailing how yet another alleged affair with A-list Chinese actress Gong Li came between Zhang and his first wife Xiao Hua, leading to their divorce.

Numerous sources in the Chinese press also are carrying reports this week stating that Zhang will begin shooting his next film, Inmate Lu Yanshi -- based on the 2011 novel by Yan Geling, author of Flowers of War, adapted by Zhang in 2011 with Christian Bale in the lead – in late May. Awkwardly, Inmate Lu Yanshi will star Gong Li.