BEIJING - Top Chinese film director Zhang Yimou is facing a US$164 million (S$205 million) lawsuit after violating the country's controversial one-child policy, state media reported Friday, prompting renewed debate around the rules.
Critics say China's late-1970s family-planning law, which restricts most couples to one child, is selectively and sometimes brutally enforced, while the wealthy and well-connected are easily able to pay the fines levied for extra offspring.
But in recent days some users of China's popular online social networks have directed their anger at the policy itself, rather than Zhang, with some hoping the attention heaped on his case may hasten the eventual demise of the law, which authorities have recently moved to relax.
Two lawyers filed a lawsuit Thursday in the eastern city of Wuxi, the hometown of Zhang's wife, suing the director of "Red Sorghum" and "Raise the Red Lantern" for a total of one billion yuan (US$164 million), the government-run China Daily said in a front-page report.
"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," it quoted one of the lawyers, Jia Fangyi.
"It's unfair to the poor and those who strictly follow the national policy," he added in a statement.
The two lawyers are claiming 500 million yuan in "compensation for public resources" and another 500 million yuan in punitive damages, the China Daily said, adding that the court might not accept the case.
Zhang, one of China's best-known filmmakers and the director of the opening and closing ceremonies at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, had faced rumours for months that he had fathered as many as seven children with several different women.
Amid increasing pressure -- including a Nanjing newspaper's publication last month of a front-page "wanted" poster seeking information on his whereabouts -- Zhang finally issued an apology on Sunday through his studio's microblogging account.
He acknowledged that he has two sons and a daughter with his current wife, as well as another daughter with his ex-wife.