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Chinese movie director faces $164 million lawsuit for violating one-child policy

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Lawyers say Zhang Yimou proves that controversial law is "unfair to the poor"

Yimou Zhang
Yimou Zhang

Famed film director Zhang Yimou is facing a 1 billion yuan ($164 million) lawsuit for violating China's one-child policy, according to a report published today in China Daily. Zhang last week admitted to fathering three children with his wife and one child with his ex-wife, following speculation that he had fathered up to seven children with several women. In a statement released last week, the director of House of Flying Daggers and Flowers of War expressed his "heartfelt apologies" for violating the law, saying he and his wife were willing to cooperate with an ongoing investigation into the matter.

The suit against Zhang was filed on Thursday by two lawyers in the eastern city of Wuxi. The lawyers are seeking 500 million yuan for punitive damages and another 500 million yuan for "compensation for public resources." China Daily reports that the lawyers want to use Zhang's case as an example of China's unequal law enforcement, though it remains unclear whether the court will agree to hear the case.

"It's unfair to the poor and those who strictly follow the national policy."

First implemented as a population control measure in 1979, China's policy bars most urban couples from fathering more than one children, though critics have long accused authorities of selectively enforcing it against poorer families, while allowing wealthy couples to circumvent it through relatively small fines.

"The rich have become increasingly audacious by violating the family planning policy just because they are rich enough to pay the fine... and they take an extra share of resources from society," Jia Fangyi, one of the lawyers, told China Daily. In a statement, Jia added that the system is "unfair to the poor and those who strictly follow the national policy."

Zhang, who oversaw the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, has sparked widespread debate over the one-child law in China, with many using his case as an example of why it should be abolished. Last month, the Chinese government announced plans to relax the law, allowing for couples to have two children as long as one of the parents is an only child.

Authorities have yet to punish Zhang for his violation, though media reports suggest that he could face a fine of up to 160 million yuan ($26.3 million).