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It’s not a good time to be a celebrity here. World-famous award-winning director Zhang Yimou is under fire for having fathered three children from his current wife, all of them before they were married. It’s not the out-of-wedlock bit that has angered the authorities as much as the breach of the one-child policy. Ordinary citizens have to pay hefty fines and lose important rights if they have a second child, unless they belong to the many categories exempt from this rule. Film personalities are not included in those categories.

Initial reports of Zhang’s fecundity — he was reported to have seven children from different women — surfaced in May, but died down only to make headlines again now. Cynics see this as a publicity stunt for his upcoming film, Return. After being untraceable for a few days, the 62-year-old director issued a statement apologizing for having three — not seven — children from his current 32-year-old wife, and expressing willingness to pay whatever fine was imposed. The authorities have yet to work out the fine, calculated on the basis of the annual income of the parents. It could run into more than 100 million yuan.

Once considered a rebel, Zhang, the director of Red Sorghum and Raise the Red Lantern, is now very much part of the establishment. He was chosen to choreograph the 2008 Olympics opening ceremony. So his many children are being seen as just another example of the way powerful citizens get away with breaking laws. However, he has found some supporters who feel the one-child policy needs to be broken, never mind who does it.

Infamous act

Another celebrity was put down firmly by a judge last week. This diarist has earlier reported on the gang rape of a 23-year-old bar hostess, in which one of the accused, Li Tianyi, is the son of influential PLA artists, with his father bearing the rank of general. The five accused were convicted in September in a closed trial because four of them were minors. Seventeen-year-old Li received the harshest sentence of 10 years, as he was found to be the “instigator” of the crime and the “primary perpetrator” of violence. Moreover, he expressed no remorse unlike the three other minors. The accused appealed against the verdict, which was upheld last week.

Li’s defence had been two-fold: first, that he did not participate in the rape; and second, the girl was a prostitute. The court rejected both arguments. “As for the assertion about whether the victim was or was not a ‘bar hostess’ or a virgin,” that was a question of “individual privacy,” which “has no influence on the determination of the facts of the case,” said the court. After the verdict, the court’s spokesman said that Li had received a lighter sentence because he was a minor.

Li’s family mounted a full-fledged attack on the rape victim in the media. Online reactions to the verdict abused her for having blackmailed the teenagers into paying up by crying rape. Footage of the videos submitted to the court were leaked. A reporter described the footage as showing that right until the time she entered the elevator with the accused, the victim seemed to be intoxicated and happy to go along with them, including Li.

In court, Li read out a well-drafted statement: “Is it just because I am Li Shuangjiang’s son? If I admitted to doing something I didn’t do just to reduce my sentence a few years, I would wrong my parents, and wrong my family’s reputation. Is admitting to doing something I didn’t do called having the proper attitude?” Upholding both the verdict and the sentence, the judge addressed Li directly: “The passing of this kind of sentence has nothing to do with whose son you are.”