China probes reports of film director Zhang Yimou's seven children

BEIJING Thu May 9, 2013 12:00am EDT

Chinese director Zhang Yimou waves as he poses for the media during a news conference for his opening film ''Under the Hawthorn Tree'' at the 15th Pusan International Film Festival in Busan, about 420 km (261 miles) southeast of Seoul, in this October 7, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak/Files

Chinese director Zhang Yimou waves as he poses for the media during a news conference for his opening film ''Under the Hawthorn Tree'' at the 15th Pusan International Film Festival in Busan, about 420 km (261 miles) southeast of Seoul, in this October 7, 2010 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Jo Yong-Hak/Files

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese authorities have begun investigating reports that Zhang Yimou, one of China's best-known movie directors, has seven children in violation of strict family planning rules, which could result in a fine of 160 million yuan ($26.05 million), state media said on Thursday.

Online reports have surfaced that Zhang, who dazzled the world in 2008 with his Beijing Olympic ceremonies, "has at least seven children and will face a 160 million yuan fine," said the website of the People's Daily, the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece.

An unnamed official at the Wuxi Municipal Population and Family Planning Commission said "based on the current policies and regulations, an investigation is currently being carried out", according to the report.

It is unclear where Zhang's children were born, the report said, citing a worker at the Jiangsu Province Population and Family Planning Commission.

Both the Wuxi and Jiangsu Population and Family Planning Commission could not be reached for comment.

Zhang, 61, once the bad-boy of Chinese cinema whose movies were sometimes banned at home while popular overseas, has since become a darling of the Communist Party, despite long being a subject of tabloid gossip for alleged trysts with his actresses.

Zhang's newest project, a film to depict wartime Nanjing under Japanese occupation starred Hollywood actor Christian Bale in a leading role.

There are signs that China may loosen the one-child policy, introduced in the late 1970s to prevent population growth spiraling out of control. The policy has long been opposed by human rights and religious groups but is also now regarded by many experts as outdated and harmful to the economy.

Last December, authorities in southern Guangdong said they were investigating a family for having given birth to octuplets through in-vitro fertilization, a case that sparked intense public debate about China's one-child policy and how wealthy families were able to circumvent the rules.

The one-child policy was meant to last only 30 years and there are now numerous exceptions to it. But it still applies to about 63 percent of the population. ($1 = 6.1410 Chinese yuan)

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee, Additional reporting by Sally Huang; Editing by Michael Perry)