Sex, Lies And Family Planning

Even in the west, the scandal would be juicy. During a Dec. 28 gala launch in Beijing for the Chinese state-run TV network's Olympics coverage, newscaster Hu Ziwei seized the microphone from her husband, celebrity sports anchor Zhang Bin, and publicly denounced him for an alleged affair. The video clip wound up on YouTube, and Chinese blogs exploded with gossip, naming yet another TV personality as Zhang's mistress and the mother of his illegitimate child. But the bloggers further alleged that Zhang's wife was also pregnant at the time of her outburst—and that makes the scandal doubly controversial. If true—and Zhang would not confirm or deny the rumor—it makes him one of a number of wealthy Chinese officials, entrepreneurs and celebrities who have flouted the country's family-planning regulations barring most urban couples from having more than a single child. Breaking that ban can result in penalties of up to $100,000, which most Chinese citizens can't afford. But the country's elite can pay it, or wiggle out of it, and do, fueling resentment at a time when the gap between the rich and poor in China has reached alarming proportions. "I feel very angry about it," says Liu Dalin, curator of a Suzhou museum devoted to the history of sex in China.

In fact, the one-child policy is a misnomer. Nine categories of Chinese citizens, including rural couples whose first child is female, can legally have more than one. That allows for loopholes, especially as population mobility has weakened enforcement. Government workers risk getting fired if they break the rules, but other wealthy city dwellers have multiple strategies for "extra births," including paying fees, hiring surrogate mothers and giving birth in Hong Kong or in foreign countries.

The government is especially sensitive about corrupt officials' abusing their ill-gotten wealth for extra kids. Between 2000 and 2005 in Hunan province alone (population: 66 million), 1,968 officials defied family-planning regulations, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. One senior parliamentarian had four mistresses and four children. Provincial authorities are now proposing to fine violators up to eight times the average per capita income as punishment. With so much at stake, the Zhang scandal is turning into much more than just another case of sex, lies and videotape.