Zhang’s China Rail Video Sparks Outcry a Year After Crash

Chinese Director Zhang Yimou
Zhang Yimou, Chinese director. Photographer: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

Three-time Oscar-nominated Chinese director Zhang Yimou said he was shocked by allegations of funding violations for a video he helped produce for the rail ministry, which is trying to burnish its image after a crash last year killed 40 people.

After a public outcry over the 18.5 million yuan ($2.9 million) the ministry paid in 2010 for the five-minute video, Zhang told state-run Xinhua TV he got an after-tax payment of 2.5 million yuan for the film, which showcases trains and railways across China. He provided advice and ideas and didn’t know how the rest of the money was spent, he said.

“If the government decides to take further action against the misuse of money, I will cooperate fully,” said Zhang, who directed the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony and films including “Raise the Red Lantern” and “Hero.”

Revelations about the video have reignited the public outcry to root out corruption at the ministry that was first sparked by last year’s fatal crash on China’s high-speed rail network. The National Audit Office disclosed the cost of the video and called for a probe of the production a month shy of the one-year anniversary of the crash.

“The promotional video is only a small thing in the ministry’s operations, but it’s a vivid example of” mismanagement, said Zhao Jian, a professor of economics at Beijing Jiaotong University, which focuses on railways. “The ministry should investigate it thoroughly to avoid such cases in the future.”

Two calls to the rail ministry’s media office went unanswered today. Two calls to Beijing New Picture Film Co., the production company for seven of Zhang’s movies, also went unanswered today.

Ousted Minister

Suspicions of corruption at the ministry were prompted in February last year when then-minister Liu Zhijun was ousted from office for “serious violations” of discipline. The State Council then said in December, in the findings of its probe into the July 2011 train crash, that Liu was among those who bear “primary leadership responsibility” for the accident.

The audit office, as part of its regular examination of the finances of government agencies, said in a report in June the awarding of the video contract broke rules because it was done without a public tender and that the final film “failed to achieve its goals.” In addition to the anniversary of last year’s crash, the report also came as China has increased planned rail investments to shore up economic growth.

The Beijing Youth Daily newspaper published an editorial on July 29 calling for greater public scrutiny of the rail ministry. A thorough investigation of the video would be far better for the ministry’s image than any promotional film, the newspaper said.

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