Photo of Jailed Chinese Politician Bo Xilai and His Son Leaves a Puzzle

Father's Day photo in question. Image Source: Guagua Bo

Father’s Day photo in question.
Image Source: Guagua Bo

Beijing, China (GVO) – Bo Guagua was born into an elite Chinese Communist Party family. His father, disgraced top official Bo Xilai, was only a few years ago a rising political star who promoted far-left Maoist policies and led a strong-arm crackdown on organized crime in Chongqing.

On Father’s Day, June 21, of this year, Bo Guagua changed his profile photo on Facebook to a childhood snapshot in which his father teaches him Tai Chi beside a lake. Some would consider it pretty normal for a son to miss his father on the special day.

Coincidentally, on the same day, party-affiliated Beijing Times dismissed the younger Bo as the “deceitful second generation of a government official” (坑爹官二代) in a widely circulated article published on the newspaper’s official WeChat account.

The article, titled “Father’s Day: Let’s talk about the ‘deceitful second generation of a government official”, mocks the children of corrupt politicians:

Today is Father’s Day. Some people can only greet this day enclosed by four walls [in jail] or in exile, dwelling on the “father’s love” and wealthy life of the past. These people share the same characteristic — deceitful.

Without any public comments from Bo Guagua to go on, Chinese netizens were left to figure out the exact motivations behind his Facebook photo change. As to the Beijing Times’ commentary, a number of overseas Chinese media outlets speculated if it implies the next round of authorities’ anti-corruption campaign would target the children of corrupt officials.

During his time in power in Chongqing, Bo Guagua’s father Bo Xilai staged campaigns “praising red communism and striking criminal gangs” — including arranging people to sing red songs, showing propaganda films on local TV channels and arresting some gang-affiliated officials– as well as promoted the concept of a “red GDP.” Local people advocated the campaigns in that strengthens the public security, but some suspected Bo Xilai were purging dissident subordinates from the Party.

Covered by his family’s glory, Bo Guagua has enjoyed more privilege than most ordinary Chinese. He attended the prestigious Harrow School in England, and later studied at Oxford University and Harvard University. In 2009, he was nominated as one of “Ten Outstanding Chinese Young Persons” in the U.K. His luxurious life overseas — clubbing, partying even as his father faced trial, and allegedly driving a red Ferrari (although details of this story are conflicting) — has frequently been fodder for public gossip.

In an address at Peking University in May 2009, Bo Guagua responded to the perception that he has a sense of superiority due to his elite family. Below is an excerpt of a report by mainland China media Southern Weekly:

Again, his family has been an unavoidable topic at the address. A student asked, “Although everyone is born equal, you have been able to study abroad as a child and can receive military training with the help of your father, these experiences are unimaginable things for average people.”

“Theoretically speaking, there is no absolute equality,” Bo responded, “If I were born with a physical defect unlike everyone else, people have various ranks, opportunities and fortune…But I believe that what a person obtains is equivalent to their loss; everything balances out. On the surface, I can get more love, but I also am the target of much resentment.”

He also reminisced about his family’s past: “During the Cultural Revolution, my family suffered too much — my grandpa was jailed for 22 years when my 17-year-old father was also jailed for 5 years. My mother was merely 8 or 9 years old, she was insulted when walking on the streets. I have never met my grandma because she was beaten to death during the Cultural Revolution. So many people only see the superiority and the fame, but they ignore the hardship [of our family]…

After the former chief of Chongqing police bureau Wang Lijun unsuccessfully attempted to seek asylum in the local U.S. consulate on February 6, 2012, Bo Xilai was investigated by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and removed from his position on the Central Politburo Standing Committee. On September 22, 2013, he was sentenced to life in prison for several charges of abusing power and bribery. One year earlier, on August 20, 2012, Bo Guagua’s mother Gu Kailai was convicted of murdering an English businessman in a hotel in Chongqing and received a suspended death sentence.

Since then, Bo Guagua has been keeping a low profile. The latest photo of him shows him clutching several shopping bags in some luxurious stores on Fifth Avenue in New York last December.

On Twitter-like Weibo, TV program producer Xiang Shuaijun showed more sympathy for Bo’s situation than Beijing Times:

The father is forever the father, whatever he was, a so-called political figure, now he has been put in prison. The son is forever the son, he has lived a care-free life, now he is living overseas suffering hardships. Time passes by, the circumstances of life change. Love remains, the heart is unchanged.

Written by Patrick Wong for Global Voices Online.