Embattled filmmaker Zhang Yimou is now facing a staggering fine of 7.49 million yuan (HK$ 9.59 million) for violating China's birth-control policies, local authorities said.
Zhang, one of China's most prominent film directors, and his wife Chen Ting “have three children, which is a violation of family planning laws”, the Family Planning Bureau in Wuxi’s Binhu District said on its official Weibo microblog on Thursday afternoon.
The message said that the bureau had informed the couple that they needed to pay a cash fine, or what it calls "social maintenance fees", of almost 7.49 million yuan, for the violation. This would be the largest fine handed down against any Chinese family since the one-child policy was introduced in the 1970s.
The bureau said it calculated the figure based on Zhang's and his wife's income in the three years prior to the birth of each of their children, in accordance with the law. The children are aged 12, 9 and 7 respectively. In total, Zhang made more than 3.58 million yuan in those three years while his wife had no income.
The couple had 30 days to pay the full amount of the fine, or they could ask for an administrative review, or launch a lawsuit challenging the decision.
In a previous interview with Xinhua News Agency, Zhang and his wife said that they gave birth to three children in the years of 2001, 2004 and 2006 respectively, but didn’t register their marriage until 2011, when they wanted to file household registration for the children.
Zhang described his "pains" of having to keep a distance from his family in public as the couple tried to hide their relationship and the children over the years, since they did not want the authorities to find out about the extra births.
Zhang, 62, has been under fire since May when rumours circulated online that he had multiple children, in violation of the family planning law. These rumours gave rise to fierce criticism against official inaction and perceived "privilege" from prosecution that Zhang enjoyed as a celebrity. They eventually prompted the authorities in Wuxi, where his wife is registered as a resident, to investigate and fine the couple.
Some commentators have also come to Zhang's defence, saying he had been made a scapegoat of the ridiculous one-child policy.
The bureau said it had sent nine investigation teams to several provinces and cities for an extensive investigation, as Zhang and his wife had not lived in Wuxi for a long time.
Watch: Director Zhang Yimou apologizes for violating China’s one-child policy