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A screen at a restaurant in Beijing shows Chinese film director Zhang Yimou, who is overseeing the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2022 Winter Olympics.FLORENCE LO/Reuters

The wife of Chinese film director Zhang Yimou said her husband’s role overseeing the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics had pushed his health to the limit, prompting both criticism and support from Chinese social media users.

Chen Ting took to China’s Twitter-like Weibo to describe the toll that the 71-year-old Oscar-nominee’s “self-harming” work rate had taken on his health and their family’s well-being, and how she was eager for the Feb 20 conclusion of the Games.

“From the beginning I did not support you becoming the chief director of the opening and closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics,” she wrote, adding that Zhang went through “unprecedented” hardships in 2008, when he held the same role for the Beijing Summer Olympics.

Chen, 40, wrote that Zhang’s work habits had caused him to sleep and eat little, work through illness, and forced him to take medication “just to be able to speak.”

“Every day I am afraid that he will suddenly fall down and be powerless,” Chen wrote.

It is unusual in China for a person in a position of power or privilege to complain publicly about their circumstances.

Chen’s post went viral on Weibo, racking up 649,000 likes and 28,600 comments.

Some users praised Chen and urged her to make Zhang rest well after the closing ceremony. Others criticized her for hurting China’s image during the Olympics, with some saying she should not complain about an honour bestowed upon Zhang.

“This is an undertaking Director Zhang Yimou is willing to strive for, it is the country’s honour and sense of mission … but you as a family member are saying these kinds of pretentious remarks,” commented user “Mowuxiaolang.”

Chen, who married Zhang in 2011 and has two children with him, did not direct her post at any institution. She said the Winter Olympics was “successful” thanks to China’s prosperity and the staff’s hard work but apologized for not understanding the “sense of mission” it entailed.

“So I’m sorry, I have no way to support (his decision) from the heart, behind each report of praise who can really understand what he paid? What he lost?” Chen wrote.

Zhang, who was nominated for Oscars for his films “Raise the Red Lantern”, “Hero” and “The House of Flying Daggers”, also oversaw the opening and closing ceremonies of Beijing’s 2008 Summer Olympics.

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