Fathering seven children in a one-child society: Famous director's kids spark big debate in China

Chinese director Zhang Yimou poses during the 12th Marrakesh International Film Festival on December 02, 2012 in Marrakesh

Zhang Yimou is famous for directing the films “Hero” and “Raise the Red Lantern.” Did you catch the extravagant opening ceremony for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing?

He directed that, too.

Mr. Zhang is also a prolific father, according to state media.

At least seven children with up to four women, a big no-no in a country that’s restricted most urban couples to one child for the past three decades. Yet in this scandal, Chinese social media sites are lighting up not about the one-child policy, but about what this says about the gap between China’s rich and poor.

"This is stirring up a lot of discontent among Chinese people," says Chinese cultural critic Zhu Da Ke, professor at Shanghai’s Tongji University. "It reflects an opinion many share, that in Chinese society people with power can do whatever they want and have as many kids as they wish, while poor people are deprived of all their rights."

The first indication that Zhang had broken China’s one-child policy reportedly came last year, when an actress who failed an audition for Zhang’s last film posted the information on the Internet. Chinese social media observer Jeremy Goldkorn says turning to the Internet for justice -- or revenge -- has become common in China.

"The Internet generally is really the only place that Chinese people can turn to if they feel they were victims of an injustice or if they feel the government is doing something wrong," says Goldkorn, "but there is a negative side to it. There is a sort of vigilantism that can be very nasty. It’s a kind of Kangaroo Court mentality.”

What’s left now of the Zhang Yimou scandal are Chinese internet users have taken to Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, to vent. A comment from one user echoed thousands of other comments on Zhang’s transgressions: “Rich people are above the law,” the user ranted. “The fact that Zhang Yimou had seven children is the epitome of China valuing money above everything else.”

About the author

Rob Schmitz is Marketplace’s China correspondent in Shanghai.

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