Kennedy School Student Entangled in Chinese Scandal

Bo Guagua, a student at the Harvard Kennedy School, has captured the attention of international media following the political downfall of his father, a former Communist Party leader, and the arrest of his mother for the alleged murder of her son’s mentor.

Bo Guagua’s father, Bo Xilai, was removed from his position as Party secretary of China’s Chongqing municipality in March and then ousted from the Politburo—China’s most influential political body—the following month. The reasons for his rapid downfall are not entirely clear, but include allegations of corruption and overextension of power.

At the root of much of the publicity surrounding the younger Bo is his connections with the late Neil Heywood, a British businessman who lived in China until his death last fall. Bo’s mother Gu Kailai, wife of Bo Xilai, was arrested for Heywood’s murder earlier this month.

Heywood is thought to have served as a mentor to the younger Bo by helping him gain admission to Harrow—a prestigious English secondary school—and Oxford University. Chinese authorities said that the family’s relationship with Heywood soured following “a conflict over economic interests,” according to a report in The Daily Mail.

While he was a student in England, Bo Guagua’s behavior came under scrutiny as reporters examined rumors of his father’s corruption. Many questioned how the family could afford to underwrite the private education and glamorous social life of their son, who was well known for throwing lavish parties and driving a red Ferrari in Beijing.

As the controversy heated up in recent weeks, Bo Guagua has removed himself from the public eye. His last clear public communication followed his father’s removal from his position as party leader last month.

“My personal desire is to focus on my studies and be left out of the political intrigues,” he wrote in an email to The Times of London.

He was believed to be residing in his Cambridge apartment as recently as Tuesday, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. Some reports have speculated that he will seek asylum in the United States after he receives his degree from the Kennedy School next month.

Bo Guagua could not be reached for comment.

Kennedy School Professor of Practice Emeritus Marvin Kalb said that the recent stir in the media over the family indicates growing political tensions in China.

“Clearly Bo [Xilai] was someone who challenged the assumptions of the party and the timetable of the party,” Kalb said. “The people in power looked upon him as someone who was who challenging their authority.”

He added, “What you’re looking at is a [potential] change of direction of the Communist Party.... I believe the traditionalists at this point will end up winning the day. The man who represented a fundamental threat to their power and their style has been purged.”

—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can be reached at jworland@college.harvard.edu.

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