It’s normal to have more than one child—unless you live in China. The most well known film director in China, Zhang Yimou, was recently informed that for his excess two children, he would be fined over $1 million.
A contrite Zhang appeared on television before the news was announced, saying he was “totally wrong” for violating the Chinese regime’s one-child policy.
The $1.23 million fine given to Zhang and his 32-year-old wife Chen Ting is the highest ever recorded for a breach of the policy, according to an official announcement by authorities in eastern China’s Jiangsu Province on Jan. 9.
The family planning bureau of Binhu District of Wuxi City, Jiangsu Province, sent Zhang and Chen a decision letter requesting “unplanned birth fees” and “social maintenance fees” for them having three children during the time they were unmarried.
A Heavy Fine
The couple acknowledged giving birth to two sons and one daughter in 2001, 2004, and 2006, before they were married in 2011, according to an interview with Party mouthpiece Xinhua on Dec. 29.
According to China’s family planning regulations, the “unplanned birth fee”—71,928 yuan ($11,879)—was charged for their having a child out of wedlock, while the rest came under the rubric of “social maintenance fees,” assessed based on Zhang and Chen’s personal incomes three years before the births.
The fines for their second and third children were even double their annual incomes due to the “serious circumstances” surrounding them, the announcement said.
The couple is required to pay the fine within 30 days to avoid further punishment, authorities said.
Zhang appeared haggard in photos, and seemed to be under enormous pressure by the fines and public attention. He posted an open letter on the Internet on Dec. 1, apologizing for the “bad influence” that he and his wife’s violation of the one-child policy brought.
He confessed on television, too, saying, “It’s my fault for violating the policy. Although we had many reasons, my wife and I are wrong no matter what. I say that very sincerely.”
Zhang said he had attempted to keep the fact that he had three children secret for the last decade. “Every time that my children and I would go out together, we had to keep at least 200 meters distance,” Zhang said. “Sometimes, my kids saw me in public and ran to me, but I had to avoid them. We have never held hands in public for even a minute,” Zhang said to the cameras, with a mournful expression.
The public humiliation of the most famous film director in China has dominated online discussion and gossip forums in China. There have been votes online about “whether Zhang’s fine is too heavy or not,” attracting tens of thousands of voters on any given day.
Over 43 percent of respondents to the poll said they thought the punishment was “too heavy,” while 33 percent thought it “too light.” Another 12 percent thought it was “just right,” while 11 percent marked that they “don’t really care.”
Elsewhere, many netizens said they thought the one-child policy was unreasonable, and the heavy fines “ridiculous.” Some commentators suggested that Zhang emigrate from China, much like other wealthy Chinese who look abroad to raise their families.
Others wondered whether the money being fined Zhang would end up going into the pockets of some officials. “I don’t know where the money will eventually go to … but it’s not a good thing,” netizen Laodanan remarked. “Rich people will all leave China to other countries and have babies there in the future, which can only make China poorer.”