Why is film­maker treated par­tially?

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Film di­rec­tor Zhang Yi­mou has re­sponded, through his stu­dio, to a rag­ing con­tro­versy. His stu­dio is­sued an open let­ter on Sun­day ad­mit­ting that Zhang had three chil­dren, two sons and one daugh­ter. Since he has vi­o­lated the fam­ily plan­ning reg­u­la­tion, his stu­dio said, he was will­ing to “co­op­er­ate with the gov­ern­ment agen­cies” and ac­cept any penalty they im­posed on him.

At first, one might take the in­ci­dent just as gos­sip ma­te­rial for tabloids, but a deeper look would re­veal that the mat­ter con­cerns so­cial jus­tice. Fam­ily plan­ning depart­ment of­fi­cials are of­ten known to deal with cou­ples vi­o­lat­ing the reg­u­la­tion with an iron hand, more so if they hap­pen to be ru­ral res­i­dents.

But in the case of Zhang, no ac­tion has been taken even six months af­ter a me­dia out­let re­ported that the di­rec­tor might have bro­ken the fam­ily plan­ning reg­u­la­tion by hav­ing more than one child. When the mat­ter was re­ported to the fam­ily plan­ning agency in Wuxi, Zhang’s home prov­ince of Jiangsu, the of­fi­cials re­sponded by say­ing they were “un­able” to find the di­rec­tor.

Does the lame ex­cuse sug­gest they are en­forc­ing the fam­ily plan­ning reg­u­la­tion se­lec­tively? Ev­ery­one in this age of in­for­ma­tion knows how ab­surd it sounds when some of­fi­cials say they are “un­able” to lo­cate a celebrity. Re­act­ing strongly to the Wuxi of­fi­cials’ re­sponse, many me­dia out­lets launched a “mis­sion” to find Zhang by pub­lish­ing re­ports on his where­abouts, with one news­pa­per even pub­lish­ing a “wanted” no­tice on its front page.

The re­ports, com­bined with the open let­ter from Zhang’s stu­dio, re­vealed another de­tail of the in­ci­dent: all of Zhang’s three chil­dren have got hukou (house­hold reg­is­tra­tion). Ac­cord­ing to the gen­eral prac­tice of house reg­is­tra­tion, a cou­ple have to sub­mit copies of their mar­riage cer­tifi­cate and “birth per­mit” to get hukou for their new­born. Zhang couldn’t have pos­si­bly had both pa­pers. So how did he get hukou for all his three chil­dren?

In con­trast to the way Zhang got hukou for his chil­dren, a 13-year-old girl re­port­edly at­tempted sui­cide in Wen­ling, Zhejiang prov­ince, in Au­gust be­cause she had no hukou and thus could not go to school. She is just one of the many un­der­priv­i­leged chil­dren who don’t en­joy any civic rights be­cause they can­not have a hukou for want of le­gal doc­u­ments. Al­though there are no ac­cu­rate data on such chil­dren, ex­perts and investigators es­ti­mate their num­ber to be in mil­lions.

This is not a judg­ment on hukou as a pol­icy, but the au­thor­i­ties do not ap­ply the norms equally on all cit­i­zens. Zhang’s case re­flects a dark side of our so­ci­ety — for or­di­nary peo­ple, the reg­u­la­tion is strict and un­mer­ci­ful, but for celebri­ties and other mem­bers of the priv­i­leged class, it is soft and can be eas­ily bent for con­ve­nience.

Celebri­ties, as an un­writ­ten norm, en­joy a lot more so­cial ben­e­fits than or­di­nary peo­ple. But that does not mean they are dif­fer­ent in the eyes of the law. The au­thor­i­ties should re­al­ize that if they bend reg­u­la­tions to please pow­er­ful fig­ures, they would only end up dam­ag­ing the cred­i­bil­ity and dig­nity of their de­part­ments.

But the worst part of such bi­ased ac­tion is the trav­esty of so­cial jus­tice. In the 1970s, US po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist John Rawls made the fa­mous re­mark: “Equal­ity is not to be achieved by wors­en­ing the po­si­tion of the least ad­van­taged.” China’s an­cient philoso­phers, too, crit­i­cized so­ci­ety for “ben­e­fit­ing the ad­van­taged at the cost of the dis­ad­van­taged”. Th­ese two dic­tums should serve as a warn­ing for law en­force­ment of­fi­cers in China, who are con­sid­ered the de­fend­ers of so­cial jus­tice.

Un­til now Zhang has not re­sponded to the con­tro­versy in his per­sonal ca­pac­ity. But his friend and TV star Liu Peiqi told the me­dia that “Zhang be­longs to the elite group” and “elites should have the priv­i­lege of hav­ing more chil­dren for the good of the State”.

Such strange and in­de­fen­si­ble com­ments re­flect the think­ing of the “elites”. They want the rich, the pow­er­ful and the fa­mous to be granted un­due priv­i­leges in ev­ery as­pect of life. Such voices, no doubt, will be con­sid­ered harm­ful when Chi­nese so­ci­ety makes eq­uity and jus­tice one of its top goals. The au­thor is a writer with China Daily. Email: zhangzhoux­i­ang@chi­nadaily.com.cn.

LUO JIE / CHINA DAILY

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