In some ways, the rush to U.S. campuses by the party’s “red nobility” simply reflects China’s national infatuation with American education. China has more students at U.S. colleges than in any other foreign country. They numbered 157,558 in the 2010-11 academic year, according to data compiled by the Institute of International Education — up nearly fourfold in 15 years.
But the kin of senior party officials are a special case: They rarely attend state schools but congregate instead at top-tier — and very expensive — private colleges, a stark rejection of the egalitarian ideals that brought the Communist Party to power in 1949. Of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the supreme decision-making body of a Communist Party steeped in anti-American rhetoric, at least five have children or grandchildren who have studied or are studying in the United States.
Helping to foster growing perceptions that the party is corrupt is a big, unanswered question raised by the foreign studies of its leaders’ children: Who pays their bills? Harvard, which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition and living expenses over four years, refuses to discuss the funding or admission of individual students.
Grandchildren of two of the party’s last three top leaders — Zhao Ziyang, who was purged and placed under house arrest for opposing the military assault on Tiananmen Square protesters in June 1989, and his successor, Jiang Zemin — studied at Harvard.
The only prominent princeling to address the question of funding publicly is Bo Guagua, a graduate student at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. His father is the now-disgraced former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai, who, like Xi Jinping, is the son of an early revolutionary leader who fought alongside Mao Zedong.
Bo Guagua did not attend the seminar at Harvard’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, which focused on his family’s travails. But in a statement sent a few days later to Harvard’s student-run newspaper, the Crimson, he responded to allegations of ill-
gotten wealth. He said he had never used his family name to make money and, contrary to media reports, had never driven a Ferrari. Funding for his overseas studies, he said, came entirely from unspecified “scholarships earned independently, and my mother’s generosity from the savings she earned from her years as a successful lawyer and writer.”