Are the sins of the father being visited upon the son? The Bo Xilai saga swirling through the top echelons of Chinese politics has reached the manicured lawns of Harvard, where Bo’s son, Bo Guagua, is enrolled in the Kennedy School of Government. Guagua has attracted significant media attention of late, most of which has centered on his lifestyle – he was rumored to own a Ferrari and in other ways live much better than the son of a corruption-fighting civil servant should reasonably expect – as well as questions surrounding how he and his family had been able to afford his education at Harvard, Oxford and the prestigious Harrow School in London.
Bo Guagua responded to these and other issues in a statement to The Harvard Crimson, the school’s newspaper:
My tuition and living expenses at Harrow School, University of Oxford and Harvard University were funded exclusively by two sources—scholarships earned independently, and my mother’s generosity from the savings she earned from her years as a successful lawyer and writer.
The statement itself is worth reading. Just as revealing, however, are the comments. Numbering well over 1200 – and growing – they appear to come mostly from Chinese citizens. Some are written in Mandarin, others in broken English. The comments predominantly condemn Guagua, but it is the extent of the vitriol directed towards him and his family that is worth noting. Given his father’s alleged corruption – Bo Xilai and his family are reportedly worth hundreds of millions of dollars – Bo Guagua has become a lightning rod for many Chinese who feel he symbolizes the sense that the game is rigged, that privilege matters more than merit, and that top officials are looting the country’s treasure.
Bo Xilai rose by appealing to Chinese resentment of corrupt elites, and encouraged a revival of Mao-era leftist ideology. But like many authoritarian populists around the world, Bo was more interested in exploiting the possibilities of a corrupt system than in overturning it. The bitter rage and disappointment of his betrayed leftist allies now mixes with the fear and anger of those who saw him as an aspiring dictator and practicing thug.
For young Guagua, there is really no way forward unless he is willing to fork over any of his parents’ stolen assets that he retains. In any case, he should keep a low profile and stay out of China. He cannot explain himself; there is nothing to explain.