Children of the Revolution – China’s ‘princelings,’ the offspring of the communist party elite, are embracing the trappings of wealth and privilege—raising uncomfortable questions for their elders. – By JEREMY PAGE
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 Xilai, with his son, at a memorial ceremony held for his father in Beijing, in 2007.
Grandfather, Bo Yibo — Helped lead Mao’s forces to victory, only to be purged in the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. Subsequently rehabilitated.
Son, Bo Guagua — Graduate student at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Father, Bo Xilai — Party secretary of Chongqing and Politburo member, likely to rise to the Politburo standing committee in 2012.
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.
The episode, related by several people familiar with it, is symptomatic of a challenge facing the Chinese Communist Party as it tries to maintain its legitimacy in an increasingly diverse, well-informed and demanding society. The offspring of party leaders, often called “princelings,” are becoming more conspicuous, through both their expanding business interests and their evident appetite for luxury, at a time when public anger is rising over reports of official corruption and abuse of power.
A Family Affair
A look at China’s leaders, past and present, and their offspring, often known as ‘princelings.’
State-controlled media portray China’s leaders as living by the 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-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.
“There’s no ambiguity—the trend has become so clear,” said Cheng Li, an expert on Chinese elite politics at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “Princelings were never popular, but now they’ve become so politically powerful, there’s some serious concern about the legitimacy of the ‘Red Nobility.’ The Chinese public is particularly resentful about the princelings’ control of both political power and economic wealth.”
The current leadership includes some princelings, but they are counterbalanced by a rival nonhereditary group that includes President Hu Jintao, also the party chief, and Premier Wen Jiabao. Mr. Hu’s successor, however, is expected to be Xi Jinping, the current vice president, who is the son of a revolutionary hero and would be the first princeling to take the country’s top jobs. Many experts on Chinese politics believe that he has forged an informal alliance with several other princelings who are candidates for promotion.
Among them is the senior Mr. Bo, who is also the son of a revolutionary leader. He often speaks of his close ties to the Xi family, according to two people who regularly meet him. Mr. Xi’s daughter is currently an undergraduate at Harvard, where Mr. Bo’s son is a graduate student at the Kennedy School of Government.
“Princelings were never popular, but now … there’s some serious concern about the legitimacy of the ‘Red Nobility.’ ”
Already in the 25-member Politburo, Bo Xilai is a front-runner for promotion to its top decision-making body, the Standing Committee. He didn’t respond to a request for comment through his office, and his son didn’t respond to requests via email and friends.
The antics of some officials’ children have become a hot topic on the Internet in China, especially among users of Twitter-like micro-blogs, which are harder for Web censors to monitor and block because they move so fast. In September, Internet users revealed that the 15-year-old son of a general was one of two young men who crashed a BMW into another car in Beijing and then beat up its occupants, warning onlookers not to call police.
An uproar ensued, and the general’s son has now been sent to a police correctional facility for a year, state media report.
Top Chinese leaders aren’t supposed to have either inherited wealth or business careers to supplement their modest salaries, thought to be around 140,000 yuan ($22,000) a year for a minister. Their relatives are allowed to conduct business as long as they don’t profit from their political connections. In practice, the origins of the families’ riches are often impossible to trace.
Last year, Chinese learned via the Internet that the son of a former vice president of the country—and the grandson of a former Red Army commander—had purchased a $32.4 million harbor-front mansion in Australia. He applied for a permit to tear down the century-old mansion and to build a new villa, featuring two swimming pools connected by a waterfall. (See related article.)
BO XILAI waves a Chinese flag during a concert with revolutionary songs in Chongqing on June 29.
Many princelings engage in legitimate business, but there is a widespread perception in China that they have an unfair advantage in an economic system that, despite the country’s embrace of capitalism, is still dominated by the state and allows no meaningful public scrutiny of decision making.
The state owns all urban land and strategic industries, as well as banks, which dole out loans overwhelmingly to state-run companies. The big spoils thus go to political insiders who can leverage personal connections and family prestige to secure resources, and then mobilize the same networks to protect them.
The People’s Daily, the party mouthpiece, acknowledged the issue last year, with a poll showing that 91% of respondents believed all rich families in China had political backgrounds. A former Chinese auditor general, Li Jinhua, wrote in an online forum that the wealth of officials’ family members “is what the public is most dissatisfied about.”
One princeling disputes the notion that she and her peers benefit from their “red” backgrounds. “Being from a famous government family doesn’t get me cheaper rent or special bank financing or any government contracts,” Ye Mingzi, a 32-year-old fashion designer and granddaughter of a Red Army founder, said in an email. “In reality,” she said, “the children of major government families get very high scrutiny. Most are very careful to avoid even the appearance of improper favoritism.”
For the first few decades after Mao’s 1949 revolution, the children of Communist chieftains were largely out of sight, growing up in walled compounds and attending elite schools such as the Beijing No. 4 Boys’ High School, where the elder Mr. Bo and several other current leaders studied.
In the 1980s and ’90s, many princelings went abroad for postgraduate studies, then often joined Chinese state companies, government bodies or foreign investment banks. But they mostly maintained a very low profile.
Now, families of China’s leaders send their offspring overseas ever younger, often to top private schools in the U.S., Britain and Switzerland, to make sure they can later enter the best Western universities. Princelings in their 20s, 30s and 40s increasingly take prominent positions in commerce, especially in private equity, which allows them to maximize their profits and also brings them into regular contact with the Chinese and international business elite.
In 2008, Bo Guagua invited Jackie Chan to lecture at Oxford—and sang with him on stage at one point.
Younger princelings are often seen among the models, actors and sports stars who gather at a strip of nightclubs by the Workers’ Stadium in Beijing to show off Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Maseratis. Others have been spotted talking business over cigars and vintage Chinese liquor in exclusive venues such as the Maotai Club, in a historic house near the Forbidden City.
On a recent afternoon at a new polo club on Beijing’s outskirts, opened by a grandson of a former vice premier, Argentine players on imported ponies put on an exhibition match for prospective members.
“We’re bringing polo to the public. Well, not exactly the public,” said one staff member. “That man over there is the son of an army general. That one’s grandfather was mayor of Beijing.” (New anti-nepotism laws should prevent more recurances of this sort of thing . . . )
Princelings also are becoming increasingly visible abroad. Ms. Ye, a fashion designer, was featured in a recent edition of Vogue magazine alongside Wan Baobao, a jewelry designer who is the granddaughter of a former vice premier.
But it is Bo Guagua who stands out among the younger princelings. No other child of a serving Politburo member has ever had such a high profile, both at home and abroad.
His family’s status dates back to Bo Yibo, who helped lead Mao’s forces to victory, only to be purged in the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. Bo Yibo was eventually rehabilitated, and his son, Bo Xilai, was a rising star in the party by 1987, when Bo Guagua was born.
The boy grew up in a rarefied environment—closeted in guarded compounds, ferried around in chauffeur-driven cars, schooled partly by tutors and partly at the prestigious Jingshan school in Beijing, according to friends.
In 2000, his father, by then mayor of the northeastern city of Dalian, sent his 12-year-old son to a British prep school called Papplewick, which according to its website currently charges £22,425 (about $35,000) a year.
About a year later, the boy became the first person from mainland China to attend Harrow, one of Britain’s most exclusive private schools, which according to its website currently charges £30,930 annually.
In 2006, by which time his father was China’s commerce minister, Mr. Bo went to Oxford University to study philosophy, politics and economics. The current cost of that is about £26,000 a year. His current studies at Harvard’s Kennedy School cost about $70,000 a year.
“’The children of major government families get very high scrutiny,’ says the granddaughter of a Red Army founder.”
A question raised by this prestigious overseas education, worth a total of almost $600,000 at today’s prices, is how it was paid for. Friends said that they didn’t know, though one suggested that Mr. Bo’s mother paid with the earnings of her legal career. Her law firm declined to comment.
Bo Guagua has been quoted in the Chinese media as saying that he won full scholarships from age 16 onward. Harrow, Oxford and the Kennedy School said that they couldn’t comment on an individual student.
The cost of education is a particularly hot topic among members of China’s middle class, many of whom are unhappy with the quality of schooling in China. But only the relatively rich can send their children abroad to study.
For others, it is Bo Guagua’s freewheeling lifestyle that is controversial. Photos of him at Oxford social events—in one case bare-chested, other times in a tuxedo or fancy dress—have been widely circulated online.
In 2008, Mr. Bo helped to organize something called the Silk Road Ball, which included a performance by martial-arts monks from China’s Shaolin temple, according to friends. He also invited Jackie Chan, the Chinese kung fu movie star, to lecture at Oxford, singing with him on stage at one point.
The following year, Mr. Bo was honored in London by a group called the British Chinese Youth Federation as one of “Ten Outstanding Young Chinese Persons.” He was also an adviser to Oxford Emerging Markets, a firm set up by Oxford undergraduates to explore “investment and career prospects in emerging markets,” according to its website.
This year, photos circulated online of Mr. Bo on a holiday in Tibet with another princeling, Chen Xiaodan, a young woman whose father heads the China Development Bank and whose grandfather was a renowned revolutionary. The result was a flurry of gossip, as well as criticism on the Internet of the two for evidently traveling with a police escort. Ms. Chen didn’t respond to requests for comment via email and Facebook.
A Home Fit for a Princeling : A $32.4 million harborside mansion in Sydney
Asked about his son’s apparent romance at a news conference during this year’s parliament meeting, Bo Xilai replied, enigmatically, “I think the business of the third generation—aren’t we talking about democracy now?”
Friends say that the younger Mr. Bo recently considered, but finally decided against, leaving Harvard to work on an Internet start-up called guagua.com. The domain is registered to an address in Beijing. Staff members there declined to reveal anything about the business. “It’s a secret,” said a young man who answered the door.
It is unclear what Mr. Bo will do after graduating and whether he will be able to maintain such a high profile if his father is promoted, according to friends. He said during a speech at Peking University in 2009 that he wanted to “serve the people” in culture and education, according to a Chinese newspaper, Southern Weekend.
He ruled out a political career but showed some of his father’s charisma and contradictions in answering students’ questions, according to the newspaper. Asked about the pictures of him partying at Oxford, he quoted Chairman Mao as saying “you should have a serious side and a lively side,” and went on to discuss what it meant to be one of China’s new nobility.
“Things like driving a sports car, I know British aristocrats are not that arrogant,” he said. “Real aristocrats absolutely don’t do that, but are relatively low-key.”
—Dinny McMahon contributed to this article.
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The article went, : “About a year later, the boy became the first person from mainland China to attend Harrow, one of Britain’s most exclusive private schools, which according to its website currently charges £30,930 annually.”
This is extreme WASTE. The ‘Chinese Commie Way’ would be to LEARN the skills needed to open such a private school then OPEN (perhaps an Imperial themed?) AND with Chinese architectural characteristics) the same in China offering the courses a £224.25 or £309.30 annually (this is still 10,000 to 12,000 Yuan, no small sum . . . ) – THEN be among the first crop of students attending even if 5-10 years LATE/too old for class. As for the $32.4 million dollar home, lets say that so long as ANY Chinese COMRADE citizen is homeless or lives in a hovel or shack, NOT A SINGLE APPARATCHIK HAS THE RIGHT to live in, or own a home ON FOREIGN LAND that is worth a few apartment blocks capable of housing THOUSANDS. Where is the intrepid spirit of the Long March? Marxist law China going soft, corrupt and wasteful? A corridor of development in the Eastern Coastal states makes for no more than 10% of China’s landmass, and does not prevent 90% of China’s population being looked down upon by the rest of the world from terrible lives (not starvation bad but coarse-bad) and living conditions while other so-called comrades live in luxury AND worse still, in foreign countries.
Should China’s capital be renamed ‘Bling-jing’? – CNN Asia Business Analyst, Ramy Inocencio – March 12th, 2012 03:04 PM GMT
Hong Kong, China (CNN) – If you look at China’s annual National People’s Congress, now in session, you might think this country is one of the richest in the world.
The NPC’s 75 richest legislators – from a total of 3,000 – had a net worth of more than $90 billion in 2011. To put that in perspective, that’s more than half of Greece’s latest bailout of some $170 billion.
Zong Qinghou is the NPC’s richest member and China’s second-richest man, with a net worth of nearly $10.8 billion in cash and assets. If you’ve been to China, you’ve likely eaten or drunk something his company, Wahaha Group, manufactures.
The firm’s red-and-white distilled water bottles are ubiquitous – sold on the grounds of the Forbidden City in Beijing to the altitudes of the Chinese Himalayas in Tibet.
Along with food and drink, the five richest NPC legislators have shown that China’s automobile and real estate industries are the sectors in which to make billions.
For more perspective on their wealth, compare NPC’s six dozen richest members to U.S. politicians. This group earned more than the net worth of the six hundred top politicians and lawmakers of the United States.
That includes President Barack Obama, his Cabinet, the 535 members of Congress, along with nine members of the Supreme Court. Their average declared net worth in 2010 was just $4.8 billion – a pittance compared to the NPC’s $90 billion.
Even the richest person in the U.S. Congress looks a modest earner compared with the NPC’s wealth. Representative Darrell Issa of California has a maximum net worth estimated at $700 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. If he were in China’s NPC, his ranking would fall forty notches.
The NPC is not the only major political meet-up happening in Beijing right now. The CPPCC – the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – is also in full swing. The 70-odd richest legislators in this government advisory body, similar to the NPC, had a net worth of more than $100 billion in 2011.
And they’re apparently not afraid to flaunt the bling they can buy with those riches.
One legislator from an ethnic minority, often poorer than their Han Chinese counterparts, clutched an $800 Burberry handbag on the way to a CPPCC meeting this week. The Chairman of Evergrande, one of China’s biggest property companies, sported a $950 black Hermes belt – with a golden H. And another lady legislator cradled a Marc Jacobs bag on the way to this week’s work. Retail price? $10,000.
The annual per capita income for a Chinese citizen stands at about $2,400.
With images like those – which have gone viral on the web – many critics are wondering just how representative the “people’s” congress is of the people.
The answer? Perhaps not so much.
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Retire all plutocrats whatever their ages, they already are rich and have no need for power (a dangerous combination). And institute a Capitalism with Socialist Caps system at USD$20 million.
Utopia – Capitalism with Socialist Caps on Personal Wealth – US$20 Million – http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=36665503866
Nobility with whatever privileges or privileged access (but specifically not wealth) is fine for the endowment of values and the ethos in a sea of faceless, but when their wealth is at an extreme level, they are no longer leaders but glaring symbols of excess, especially in a country that is supposed to be RED, as in Marxist red. In Marxism, the extreme wealthy, even those worth 20 million would be unacceptable (much less 100s of millions or billions) and in the 1960s-1970s the entire crop of leaders worth as much as today or even those 20 million worth would be rounded up, their wealth confiscated and sent to be re-educated if not shot. I personally advocate confiscation to a limit of 20 million with no imprisonment and not any punishment, even letting them continue their businesses BUT any profit gained above 20 million in personal asset there on, should be directed to the various redistribution or aid schemes, or simply to fund any and ALL medical treatment/education/housing at a a quantum of anything more than 10% of yearly savings payable by the patient needing medical-treatment/education/housing, these plutocrat businesses. With owners and directors or stockholders etc.. still limited to 20 million per individual – the excess profits will pay for everything else in costs that everyone else who can’t save 10% of their salaries, 1 billion people maybe cannot afford . . .
A bureaucrat should not be worth more than SME level (2-10 million), the best form being that the Bureaucat’s job is the ONLY JOB they hold not with all kinds of businesses on the side that will occupy their time instead of them looking after the nations – thats what bureaucrats are for, not to look after their businesses.
Try the Capitalism with Socialist Caps system at USD$20 million, starting with the political structure in ENTIRETY and then later society again, though not by killings, but perhaps citizen option to redistribute wealth MARXISM style or self expulsions by giving up Chinese citizenship with 3 times the ceiling – as that wealth is China’s and not to be taken away to another country. Chairman Mao would approve.
Especially those who profit from monetised debt or other shadowy non-real-goods economic manipulations must be singled out. Real goods producers can be lower on the audit list, though Quality Control looks to be a serious problem in China for non-edible goods and for edible goods, potentially a disaster dependant on the producer’s sense of scruples (Chinese manufacturer’s agriculture industrialists’ scruples are not too bad, but as the ‘factory floor’ viability of China shifts to even poorer regions, cost cutting or short cuts could create VERY SERIOUS problems – try for 100% organic and stick to that, good thing that China has already prevented GMO rice, the Chinese could be the last ‘unmutated’ (from eating GMO rice or GMO foods, mutations are possible) human beings on the planet.
At the same time, consider the issue of soft power and perhaps even the formalisation of the Royal Institution which will further educate about wealth vs. civiliational and moral values. Just look at those other Royals traipsing around creating a buzz, Oman, England, Japan etc.. China needs this sort of pathos, much like the flesh (civilisational values) without poison (material wealth) of the Fugu Puffer fish via a state formalized Noble ethos (with privileged access or certain immunities to reasonable limits) as well once extreme plutocracy is disallowed, and by the above issues the poison of Capitalism has near destroyed Japan and now infects China and has subverted many of the leaders . . .
While China may have just introduced the toughest laws against nepotism worldwide, a new problem in the form of the plutocracy (specifically plutocracy that also is in politics and holding power to create loophole laws that can be taken advantage of – the regular plutocracy however, especially the type that produces REAL GOODS aren’t any major issue unless the Socialist Caps are refused, but the worst are the monetised debt or fiat/speculator types, as bad for China’s reputation as the plutocrat politicians, though not as dangerous . . . ) looks set to take over as the no.1. troublemaker and most ‘ethics subversive‘ danger for China’s internal political structure. The potential corruption that saw the China fall in the Opium Wars can occur again when a country with 1 billion below the poverty level, are headed by plutocrat politicians none can identify with (at least they are not nepotists as well thanks to new laws) and effectively out of touch with the reality away from the developed coastal areas.
This is already punctuated with occasional chengguan trouble or if the as West reports is true, dozens of unreported riots. If all thats needed is the dismantling of extreme wealth (leaving USD$20 million for any single family or extended family, is still an exceptional amount in China btw) to harmonise so many oppressed and impoverished in China, there will be no harm in going back to basics as in the Cultural Revolution Era (no prisons or beatings, just simple redistributions DIRECT to the worst off – I’m not talking about billionaires giving money to those upper middle class types very comfortable . . . so the outrage among billionaires themselves will not be as bad . . . ), the current state of affairs if as reported is disgraceful and Capitalist to a shameful level.
China needs to GET SERIOUS.