Why is filmmaker treated partially?
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: email@example.com.