Not One Less might be one of Zhang Yimou’s lesser known films but news that the director may have to pay more than Rmb7 million ($1.15 million) in fines for breaking the one-child policy has the film title back in the headlines.
“Not one kuai less!” was how many Chinese netizens imagined the Wuxi family planning officials angrily repeating as they calculated the ‘social compensation charge’ that Zhang will have to will pay. The fine was set after he finally confirmed that he has two boys and a girl.
Jokes aside, Zhang’s case has raised serious questions about the one-child policy at a time when it is already undergoing wide debate.
When rumours of Zhang’s violation began early last year – when he was even alleged to have fathered seven children – the initial reaction was one of anger (see WiC193).
Here was another case of a person of influence using their connections to bend the rules, many people said.
The anger only grew in November when it emerged that the authorities in the eastern city of Wuxi – where Zhang’s wife is from – said they were unable to begin investigating the alleged breach because they could not find Zhang or his wife.
In response to such a ridiculous statement the Oriental Guardian newspaper ran a full-page “Wanted” poster for the 63 year-old director on its front page.
Feeling the pressure, Zhang made his first public statement on the issue on his Sina Weibo account shortly afterwards. He confirmed that he and Chen Ting had three children and apologised for breaking the law. But he insisted that he did not have any other children and that he and his wife were willing to cooperate with the authorities.
The next day officials in Wuxi announced they had launched an investigation.
Then public opinion began to turn. Three children, many argued, was not an excessively large family and, unlike other influential people, at least Zhang hadn’t gone overseas to have more children or hidden his family abroad.
So when state media quoted officials in Wuxi as saying Zhang’s fine would be Rmb7.48 million – calculated by a standard formula based on the family’s income in the year of each additional child’s birth – many thought it to be too much.
“This isn’t punishment, it’s blackmail,” one indignant weibo user wrote.
Another fumed: “This is shameless. A great patriot like Zhang shouldn”t be treated like this. He loves his country but his country didn’t love him back.”
But the Beijing News warned against Zhang and others in powerful positions “using their privileges as rights”.
“Laws are like water, there is one level for everyone,” the editorial insisted. “This paper hopes the authorities in Wuxi are allowed to enforce the laws of the land impartially.”
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