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When the crowd bays for blood

By Raymond Zhou | China Daily | Updated: 2014-01-18 08:01

When the crowd bays for blood

Zhang Yimou fined 7.48 mln for birth violations

When the crowd bays for blood

Honor the past, live in the present 

Since family planning is enshrined in law in China, every citizen should abide by it. The law stipulates that anyone who violates it be punished with a monetary fine. It does not require that he apologize to the whole country. There is a difference between breaking the law and trampling on ethics.

It would have been unethical if Zhang had pulled strings and got his children hukou (household registration) with special permission from authorities, in which case the fault would have been with those who granted him the privilege. And it would have been disgustingly hypocritical if he had advocated draconian implementation of the family planning law while he himself secretly violated it. But he did neither.

He just wanted to have two more children than is legally allowed.

He could have easily done it by obtaining Hong Kong residency or moved his family overseas. For reasons I cannot fathom, he preferred to have the children born in China (the mainland) and stashed them away in a way uncomfortably reminiscent of Anne Frank. Just imagine China's foremost film artist keeping his family in the dark from the public for over a dozen years. Either the paparazzi were doing a terrible job or he was doing a terrific job hiding from them.

Violating the family planning policy is not like stealing from others. For one thing, Zhang did not have a bunch of kids and shove them to the state for financial support. He and his family are fully capable of raising them. More importantly, this law was first designed with a long litany of exceptions: Rural couples whose first child is a girl can have one more; ethnic groups are not bound by it; families who are willing to pay the penalty can have more, etc. In China today, an average couple has about 1.5 children, which roughly translates to two children for half of them and the other half having one child.

Family planning is a policy whose applicability is always being calibrated. There were times when its execution was rigorous and times when it was palpably relaxed. The new revision to allow couples to have one more child if either the husband or the wife is an only child is a sign of further loosening control of the policy. Experts are forever debating how fast the grip should be eased and when the system should be abolished all together.

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