China on the hunt for Zhang Yimou

BEIJING - The Chinese authorities have been unable to locate Zhang Yimou, one of China's best-known movie directors, to investigate allegations that he has breached China's one-child policy.

In May, online reports surfaced that Zhang, who dazzled the world in 2008 with his Beijing Olympics ceremonies, had at least seven children and could be liable for a 160-million-yuan (S$33-million) fine.

The state media said then that the family-planning agency in the southern city of Wuxi - where Zhang's wife, 32-year-old actress Chen Ting, is from - was investigating the case.

Xinhua said the Wuxi Municipal Population and Family Planning Commission "has done everything possible to contact Zhang and Chen, and dispatched a work team that rushed to Beijing to look for Zhang, but there were no results, they could not find (him)".

Local family-planning officials said they had sent a dozen letters to the Beijing Film Group and the Guangxi Film Group to contact the director, Xinhua reported. According to Xinhua, a representative from the Wuxi commission said: "In fact, at this point, we have not received a satisfactory reply.

"No matter who is involved, illegal births will have to be dealt with in accordance with the law."

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

The government said last week that it would allow couples to have a second child if one of the parents was an only child. It was the most significant relaxation of its population-control regime in nearly three decades.

Demographer Zhai Zhenwu said the new policy would make an estimated 15 million to 20 million couples eligible for a second child.