Chinese Director Zhang Yimou Faces Fine of $1.2 Million for Breaking One Child Policy

Chinese film director Zhang Yimou has apologized for breaking the country's one child policy on population control and he could face a fine of $1.2 million for having more children than permitted.

Zhang and his wife Chen Ting gave the interview to the government news agency Xinhua, apparently to clear up various versions of a story that has ignited a wave of public anger about celebrities who have more children than the policy allows.

Zhang is currently shooting his latest movie, Return, in Beijing and Tianjin with Gong Li and Chen Daoming.

In the interview, Zhang and Chen admitted to giving birth to two sons and one daughter in 2001, 2004 and 2006, respectively before they officially got married in 2011. They fell in love with each other in 1999.

"For me and my parents, we wish to have more children as in traditional views, they could bring more happiness," Zhang told Xinhua in the interview. He and Chen denied any abuse of privilege.

CHINA 2013 IN REVIEW: Box Office Swells, Hollywood Slips

A lawyer for the Binhu district health and family planning commission in the city of Wuxi, which investigated the case, revealed to Xinhua that Zhang's earnings in 2000, 2003 and 2005 were 3.6 million yuan ($590,000) annually.

An official with the commission in Binhu said the agency sent a letter to notify Zhang of the fine for the birth violations on Saturday (Dec. 28). The official, who requested anonymity, said the details of the punishment would be unveiled after getting feedback from the couple.

After calculations based on the combined household income, Zhang could be fined some 7.3 million yuan ($1.2 million), Li Wei, an executive partner of the Fada law office in Beijing, told Xinhua.

China's family planning policy was introduced in the late 1970s to rein in the surging population by limiting most urban couples to one child and most rural couples to two, if the first child was a girl. People who have more children than the family planning policy stipulates are usually fined.

"My father told me prior to his death that he hoped I could have a son to continue the family line and my mother also believed that with more children, they could have more companions," said Zhang.

Zhang admitted the wrongdoing and said he was ready to take any consequences.

"As a public figure, I and my wife must assist the sweeping investigations by the family planning authorities and also are willing to make a public apology," he said.

There have been reports that Zhang fathered as many as seven children from his two marriages and from relationships with other women in violation of the One Child Policy.

Chen said they delayed getting the marriage certificate amid worries that Zhang's identity could be exposed during that process.

Over the course of his career, the Hero director has gone from being a banned director of art-house fare, like his debut as director, Red Sorghum, to nationalist epics, such as Hero, which earned him his rehabilitation.

He further endeared himself to the authorities with his choreography for the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony.

His 2011 WWII epic Flowers of War featured Hollywood star Christian Bale, and while it was a big hit in China, it failed to make much of an impact overseas.

Other recent works include A Simple Noodle Story, an adaptation of the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple, and Under the Hawthorn Tree, a love story set during China's Cultural Revolution.

This week, the Chinese parliament officially approved the easing of the One Child Policy as part of a reform package, to allow couples where either parent has no siblings to have two children. The policy was imposed more than three decades ago to prevent overpopulation in the world's most populous nation.

The Chinese government has kept the One Child Policy because it said that population growth needed to be kept under control to allow the country to develop from a poor isolated country into the world's second-largest economy.

However, the country now faces major demographic hurdles, as the population ages quickly and the labour force starts to shrink. Too-strict enforcement of the rules, including forced abortions and sterilizations, have also made the policy extremely unpopular.

Family-planning officials reckon the reform will lead to two million additional births a year, raising the total number of annual births from seven million to nine million. The birth rate has fallen to about 1.5 since the 1990s, well below the replacement rate.