Bo Guagua’s Corner

Bo Guagua’s Corner

(Bo Guagua: Reuters)

On July 29th China Current received confirmation from a student at Columbia that Bo Guagua has been admitted to the law school there.


Bo Xilai, the disgraced former Party Secretary of Chongqing  has been indicted for accepting bribes, corruption and abuse of power. On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, all eyes have focused on his son, Bo Guagua, who appears to have been accepted into the Juris Doctor program at the Columbia University School of Law.

Bo Guagua is well-known among Chinese people not only due to his father’s former prominent position in the Chinese Communist Party, but also for the lavish lifestyle that he pursued at Oxford and Havard. Following his graduation in 2012 from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, the public turned their attention to what might happen next to Bo, as his United States student visa due to expire. China Current emailed the U.S. Department of the State and Columbia University in order to ask for an official comment on Bo Guagua’s situation. In reply to CNC on July 31st, an official of the State Department declined to comment and Columbia provided no valuable information.

Bo Guagua’s Oxford 

On July 29th the Cherwell, a student newspaper at Oxford, published a front-page article entitled “Bo Guagua enrols at Columbia Law School“. The article reads : “Bo Guagua continues studies in America, in a move interpreted by many as a sign that he is unlikely to ever return to China.”

Looking back on Guagua’s life at Oxford, an Oxford student from Wadham College recalled, “Guagua tried to buy the Oxford Union presidency. He paid out of his own pocket for Chinese students to buy Union membership on the day before the election, but the Union did not allow new members to vote.”

One former Oxford Student commented “I’ve also heard rumors that he was buying membership to the Union for Chinese students, and that he was inviting Union Chinese members out for very expensive dinners and drinks and then taking them all to vote for him in some sort of ‘organised tour’. Basically buying votes”. A former Cambridge Student who was a senior member of the Cambridge Union Society told CNC: “I think he was running for Librarian, but he lost the vote. There were rumors that he was buying Chinese students’ membership to the Union to get them to vote, but friends of mine were skeptical as to whether that was the full truth. He was certainly heavily encouraging them to vote for him though.”

Meanwhile, a former Oxford student who ran on the same slate as Guagua at the Oxford Union has talked about how he (Guagua) came across as a “nice guy.” He said that he had been impressed by Guagua’s sense of duty towards China, and that Guagua had often talked of returning to China to help the country develop. The student expressed reluctance to talk further about the issue, mentioning that he pitied Guagua’s current situation. 

From some students’ perspectives, everything that Bo Guagua did was merely part of his strategy to become president of the Oxford Union. 

“Bo Guagua constantly bought students things, everything from an umbrella when it rained, at one end of the scale, to lifetime membership of the Union,” a former Oxford student said to another well-known Oxford newspaper, The Oxford Student.

During his time at Oxford it was not uncommon to find mention of Guagua on The Oxford Student’s gossip columns, and he appeared twice in the newspaper’s Top 50 Oxford student celebrities. Bo Guagua was also known for driving a Ferrari around Oxford. He attended extravagant parties and neglected his school work, leading to the disapproval of his tutors at Balliol College and his subsequent suspension. Some Chinese diplomats, friends of Bo Xilai, went to visit the Master of Balliol College, and tried to persuade him to cancel the suspension, but their request was denied. Guagua spent his suspension year at the Randolph, one of Oxford’s best hotels.

“Mr. Bo has not been expelled from Oxford or Balliol,” said the Senior Tutor and Academic Registrar of Oxford’s Balliol College, Nicola Trott, in her reply to Chinese media’s enquiries in 2009. “He has however been required to spend a year away from the University, and to return to sit his final examinations in summer 2010.” Bo Guagua eventually graduated from Oxford with a degree in PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics).

The Utopia in New York 

The young Bo already holds degrees from two very demanding and expensive universities: he went to Oxford University for his undergraduate studies and graduated last year from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government with a master’s degree in Public Policy.

Only a year and three months after his graduation, explosive news reached the public. The news first broke last Monday, when Chinese journalist Vincent Ni posted a screenshot of Columbia University’s online student directory, showing Bo Guagua’s profile and personal details. The reference to Bo Guagua has subsequently been removed from the website, but the New York Times confirmed his enrollment, citing “a family associate and a person with high-level contacts in Beijing”. Current law school students at Columbia University also told China Current that many of them searched and found Bo Guagua’s profile through the student directory, before it became unavailable to the public. The university declined to comment on the removal of these references to Bo.

It seems, then, that Bo Guagua is on his way to earning yet another degree – from the fourth best and also the most expensive law school in the United States, according to the US News and World Report. The three-year program will cost Bo Guagua at least $180,000 (or approximately 1,200,000 RMB) in tuition fees, not including another $63,000, the estimated costs of living in New York, the most expensive city in the country. Some wonder where Bo Guagua obtains his funding from, with his mother Gu Kailai sentenced to a suspended death penalty and his father facing trial.

Despite the uncertainties, Bo Guagua has already generated heated discussion among his future classmates. Columbia University has a large number of Chinese international students, as well as a very active association of Chinese student and scholars. One current Columbia Law School student from China, who asked to remain anonymous, said that he expects Bo Guagua to keep a low profile at Columbia. “I don’t think he will join the Chinese student association, and I don’t want to speculate on his personal choice”, he said. “I hope he can accomplish what he comes here for and just be himself.”

Attending this three-year law program will shield Bo Guagua from his family’s legal troubles; his father Bo Xilai has just been charged with bribery, abuse of power and corruption. Bo Guagua’s new student orientation at Columbia University could coincide with Bo Xilai’s trial, which should take place in September. It is unclear whether Bo Guagua will return to China for the trial – reports by Reuters and The New York Times provided contradictory accounts of Bo Guagua’s plans regarding his father’s trial.

A Chongqing government official, who was studying for a postgraduate degree in England while Guagua was studying at Oxford, told China Current: “I think Guagua is extremely smart, and his behaviour is no different from that of the sons and daughters of other Party officials.”

Beijing, China: China Current Beijing Station   

Cambridge, England: China Current International Centre    

Madison, USA: China Current North America Station  

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