“State controlled media portray China’s leaders as living by austere Communist values they publicly espouse. But as scions of the political aristocracy carve out lucrative roles in business and embrace the trappings of wealth, their increasingly high profile is raising uncomfortable questions for a party that justifies its monopoly on power by pointing to its origins as a movement of workers and peasants. Their visibility has particular resonance as the country approaches a once-in-a-decade leadership change next year, when several older princelings are expected to take the Communist Party’s top positions. That prospect has led some in Chinese business and political circles to wonder whether the party will be dominated for the next decade by a group of elite families who already control large chunks of the world’s second biggest economy and wield considerable influence in the military.” Jeremy Page, ‘Children of the Revolution’, The Wall Street Journal, November 26, 2011
Let me illustrate this tale of Chinese hypocrisy, by reference to the family Bo.
Grandfather, Bo Yibo was a famous revolutionary, who helped lead Mao’s forces to victory and who was a founding member of The People’s Republic of China. He was purged by Mao during the Cultural Revolution, but was subsequently rehabilitated.
Bo Yibo’s son, Bo Xilai is currently Communist Party Secretary of Chongqing and a member of the Politburo. He is tipped for elevation to the Politburo standing Committee once President Hu Jintao is replaced by Xi Jinping in 2012.
Bo Yibo’s grandson, Bo Guagua is, as we would say in the southern United States, ‘somethin’ else.’
Bo Yibo appears to have led an exemplary life exhibiting an austerity of lifestyle appropriate for the Red Revolution. Even so, during the first few decades after Mao’s 1949 revolution, the children of the Communist chieftains lived privileged lives, growing up in walled compounds and attending elite schools, such as the Beijing No. 4 Boys’ High School, where Bo Yibo’s son, Xilai, and several other current leaders studied. Now families of China’s leaders send their offspring overseas at young ages, often to top schools in the United States, Britain and Switzerland, to make sure that they will later access the best Western universities.
Now one might think that such indulgence would be beyond the financial means of any leader in Communist China. The modest salary of a senior minister such as Bo Xilai, for example, is supposedly 140,000 yuan per annum, or $22,000. Somehow, these modest salaries multiply, perhaps by atheistic providence, into significant fortunes. For example, in 2010, the Chinese learned through their internet that the son of a former vice president of the country – and the son of a former Red Army commander – had purchased a $32.4 million harbor-front mansion in Australia. He must have saved extremely hard to make that sum out of a salary that borders on the poverty level in the United States!
This brings me back to ‘somethin’ else’, Bo Guagua, grandson of Bo Yibo. I have singled him out for attention because he is the princeling of all princelings, among the younger generation.
Bo Guagua grew up in a rarified environment, closeted in guarded compounds, driven around by chauffeurs, and schooled partly by private tutors and partly at the prestigious Jingshan school in Beijing. In 2000, his father, Xilai, then only mayor of the northeastern city of Darlian, sent his 12-year-old son to the British preparatory school of Papplewick, at a fee of $35,000. One year later, Guagua became the first person from mainland China to attend Harrow (annual fee of $30,930). Five years later, in 2006, by which time his father was China’s Commerce Minister, Guagua went to Oxford University to study PPE (annual cost $26,000). His current postgraduate studies at Harvard University run out at $70,000 per annum.
A question surely of relevance to China’s workers and peasants, is how Bo Xilai could dip into his supposedly shallow Communist Party pockets for $600,000 in education fees in foreign lands. How many Chinese peasants could emulate that remarkable financial miracle?
In the meantime, Bo Guagua has become a poster-boy for personal indulgence, at a time when his father is controversisally attempting to revive the revolutionary spirit of Mao Zedong:
“One evening early this year, a red Ferrari pulled up at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Beijing, and the son of one of China’s top leaders stepped out, dressed in a tuxedo. Bo Guagua, 23 was expected. He had a dinner appointment with a daughter of the then-ambassador, Jon Huntsman. The car, though, was a surprise. The driver’s father, Bo Xilai, was in the midst of a controversial campaign to revive the spirit of Mao Zedong through mass renditions of old revolutionary anthems, known as ‘red singing’. He had ordered students and officials to work stints on farms to reconnect with the countryside. His son, meanwhile, was driving a car worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and as red as the Chinese flag, in a country where the average household income last year was about $3,300.” Jeremy Page, ibid.
Is this a case of blatant intra-familial hypocrisy or what? No wonder Chinese censors are working overtime to filter out ’inappropriate’ news from the internet. Do I hear the clanking of chains as the Ghost of Mao Zedong rises from his grave to lead a new Red Revolution? Apparently, many of China’s princelings have their ears tuned for that sound. That is one reason they send their children to the West to prepare for the End of Days, when 600 million peasants march on Beijing to initiate a China spring.