05/09/2013 04:10 EDT | Updated 07/08/2013 05:12 EDT

Report: Chinese director investigated for allegedly fathering 7 kids despite 1-child policy

BEIJING, China - Authorities are investigating whether one of China's top film directors has fathered seven children in violation of the country's strict family planning laws, state media and a local official said Thursday.

Media reports circulated online this week that Zhang Yimou, who is also known as the architect of the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics, has seven children from his two marriages and from relationships with two other women.

"We are trying to confirm the online rumours," said a woman at the general office of Wuxi city's family planning committee, a department under the municipal government. The woman, who declined to identify herself as is customary among Chinese officials, said she couldn't reveal any other information until authorities had finished investigating.

Zhang, 61, could face a fine of up to 160 million yuan ($26 million), which is twice his estimated annual income, said the People's Daily newspaper, the Communist Party mouthpiece.

His latest film is "The Flowers of War," starring Christian Bale, about the Japanese army's rampage through Nanjing in 1937. His credits also include "A Simple Noodle Story," an adaptation of the Coen brothers' 1984 movie "Blood Simple," and "Under the Hawthorn Tree," a love story set in China's decade-long, ultra-leftist Cultural Revolution.

Zhang's Los Angeles-based agent didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Earlier Thursday, the website of the People's Daily, had quoted an unnamed official from Wuxi family planning authority in eastern Jiangsu province as saying they had begun investigating the reports. It said Zhang's second wife, a former actress, Chen Ting, was from Wuxi.

Known to many as China's one-child policy, the rules limit most urban couples to one child and allow two children for rural families if their first-born is a girl. The government introduced the policy in 1979 as a temporary measure to curb a surging population, but it is still in place.