I’m currently reading a delicious, dishy book called Crazy Rich Asians (affiliate link). The title accurately describes Kevin Kwan’s novel, which chronicles the romantic entanglements and over-the-top lifestyles of several obscenely wealthy young Asians.
What if one of these entitled Asians — instead of flying around Asia on a private jet, or spending six figures on haute couture in Paris — matriculated at an elite law school? And what if he came not from a distinguished family with vast private wealth, but from the union of a disgraced former leader of the Chinese Communist Party and an allegedly murderous mother?
We’re about to find out. Bo Guagua, the prominent playboy “princeling,” is heading for Columbia Law School….
How many law students have their enrollment make the pages of the New York Times?
The youngest son of Bo Xilai, the former senior Communist Party official now awaiting a criminal trial, has enrolled at Columbia Law School and is expected to begin studies this fall, according to a family associate and a person from Beijing with high-level contacts.
The son, Bo Guagua, is a prominent figure in the third generation of an aristocratic Communist Party family. He earned an undergraduate degree from Oxford and a master’s degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and he has been living in the United States since he completed that degree in May 2012. His exploits since his Oxford days have fascinated many Chinese, and photographs of him at parties with his arms draped around young women have circulated widely on the Internet. He was known to have driven around Cambridge, Mass., in a Porsche.
Critics of law school seem to think that nobody should enroll, but Bo is a good candidate. It’s better for him to be in the United States than in China right now, and his parents could use a child with legal training:
Mr. Bo had been interested in pursuing a law degree in the United States even before the downfall of his father [Bo Xilai], who was removed from his position as party chief of the municipality of Chongqing in March 2012, as a scandal involving a dead British businessman unfolded. Last year, a Chinese court decided that Mr. Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, would serve a suspended death sentence — equivalent to life in prison — for murdering the businessman, Neil Heywood.
[Bo Xilai] was put under house arrest in March 2012, after being dismissed from his Chongqing post, and he was later moved to a formal detention center. Last week, prosecutors in Jinan, the capital of Shandong Province, charged him with bribe-taking, corruption and abuse of power. The trial is expected to take place soon.
If this were a made-for-television movie, Bo Guagua would get that law degree, return to China, and vindicate his parents in a court of law. But that’s not likely to happen here. As Chen Guangcheng put it, “The fundamental question the Chinese government must face is lawlessness. China does not lack laws, but the rule of law.”
The murder trial of Bo Guagua’s mother was not a model of due process, and observers don’t expect much more from the trial of his father. According to the Telegraph, “[p]olitical analysts say a guilty verdict and a lengthy jail term [for Bo Xilai] are forgone conclusions.
And Bo Guagua himself could be in danger in China too, according to the Los Angeles Times:
Hu Ping, an exiled political commentator based in New York, said recently that he believed Bo may have struck a deal that would shield his son Bo Guagua from scrutiny.
“If the old man doesn’t accept his crimes, they’ll go after his son,” Hu wrote in the Human Rights in China Biweekly this month. “Bo Xilai has to cooperate with the authorities to make sure his son can avoid trouble.”
Given all this, it’s probably wise for Bo Guagua to be in law school in the United States. As noted in the South China Morning Post:
Professor Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, professor of political science at City University of Hong Kong, said: “This in the eyes of ordinary people is a rather logical choice given the fact that his mother is in prison and his father will likely serve a prison sentence. Staying outside China will probably give him a better environment to pursue his academic studies, and it can also be speculated that with both parents in person the family would need someone to manage the family’s financial assets outside the country.”
Speaking of financial assets, how is Bo Guagua footing the big bill at CLS? Not clear, according to the Times:
It is unclear how Mr. Bo will pay for his three-year education at Columbia, which has one of the most expensive law schools in the United States. The law school’s Web site says tuition is $55,916 for the coming academic year, and total charges are $60,234 once other fees are included. Living costs are listed as an additional $22,561. It is also unclear how Mr. Bo paid for his Oxford and Harvard tuitions, though he said in a letter last year to The Harvard Crimson that the tuition and living expenses at those universities and at Harrow, an exclusive British boarding school that he attended, were paid for through scholarships and money that his mother had earned as a lawyer.
We reached out to Bo Guagua for comment through his Columbia email address; we have not yet heard back from him. We also reached out to the law school. A CLS spokesperson stated, “Unfortunately, applicable law and University policy prevent us from offering any comment on our applicants and students.”
One current student at Columbia Law School did comment to the South China Morning Post, expressing optimism about Bo’s reception at CLS: “Bo Guagua has his family’s financial resources at his back, but that’s not unusual for Columbia students. I think my classmates would resist the temptation to judge him based on his parents’ troubles.”
Let’s hope this is correct. Regardless of his parents’ alleged transgressions, Bo Guagua appears to be guilty of nothing other than some hard partying. Let he who is without a walk of shame cast the first stone.
Hopefully Bo Guagua won’t be unduly distracted by having his father on trial and his mother in prison. Making it through 1L year is hard enough as it is.
(Documents relating to Bo Guagua enrolling at Columbia Law School, along with links to the extensive news coverage, appear on the next page.)