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Bo Xilai

Chinese Communist "princeling" Bo Xilai, expected by many to take a key leadership position in the leadership transition of 2012, was expelled from the Communist Party in September after a career that saw him as Mayor of Dalian City, Minister of Commerce and Party Chief of the Chongqing municipality. His wife Gu Kailai received a suspended death sentence in August 2012 for murdering British business partner Neil Heywood. 

Princeling pair's photos spark romance talk

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 February, 2011, 12:00am

It looks like a match made in political heaven.

Photographs mysteriously distributed on the Web show the heirs to two of the country's most powerful families embracing and teasing each other, apparently while on a trip to Tibet last year.

A romance between them is said to be blossoming.

The couple, Bo Guagua and Chen Xiaodan, are third-generation members of what many see as communist China's aristocracy. There is talk of an unprecedented marriage between 'princelings'.

Bo, 23, is the son of rising Communist Party star Bo Xilai and grandson of revolutionary veteran Bo Yibo, one of the 'eight immortals' who held high office at the founding of the People's Republic in 1949 and continued to wield political influence into the 1990s.

Chen is the daughter of one of the mainland's most influential bankers, Chen Yuan, and granddaughter of another of the 'eight immortals', Chen Yun .

The photographs - which according to some reports numbered about 400 - were distributed last week through internet message boards and the Twitter social media website by someone using the name 'UBCcaizi' (caizi translates as gifted scholar). By yesterday, most had disappeared from the Net.

Writing on Web portal Baidu's photo-sharing pages, UBCcaizi - who is registered as male but whose profile image is of Chen - claimed to have copied the photographs from the couple's Facebook accounts.

Some show Bo and Chen hugging or walking arm in arm against picturesque backdrops.

One shows them laughing while Chen attempts to clamber onto Bo's back. In another, Bo leads Chen as she rides a pure-white yak at the edge of a wide lake.

Others show a column of four-wheel drive vehicles, purported to be a security escort that followed the pair during the Tibetan tour.

Many of the shots are of relatively high quality and well composed - suggesting they were taken either by a professional photographer or keen amateur.

Bo Yibo was the last surviving 'immortal'. He died in January 2007 - a month before his 99th birthday.

Bo Xilai's stock is high following a successful drive to stamp out corruption in Chongqing, and he is widely tipped for high-level promotion when the next set of state leaders are selected next year.

He is reported to view himself as a guardian of the country's 'red' heritage, and regularly leads party meetings in singing revolutionary songs.

Bo Xilai has had statues of Mao Zedong erected and text messages of Mao quotes sent to millions of Chongqing mobile phone users.

Chen's grandfather, Chen Yun, who died in 1995, was a constant thorn in the side of the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping , who launched the mainland's economic transformation drive following the Cultural Revolution.

Her father is chairman of the China Development Bank and a former central bank deputy governor. The so-called 'princeling' class of descendants of the mainland's top leaders have been the subject of intense speculation among internet users because of their perceived position of privilege and power.

They have acquired a reputation for high living, and critics question why some have been awarded political posts their personal qualifications do not merit and why a high proportion of them study overseas at expensive and exclusive private schools or universities.

Bo Guagua studied at Harrow, an elite British boarding school, before studying philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University's Balliol College.

This is not the first time his private life has sparked interest - photographs of him embracing Western female classmates while partying in Britain have previously been circulated online.

He is studying for a master's in public policy at Harvard University in the United States, where Chen is an MBA student.

Chen first came to public attention five years ago when photographs were circulated on the internet of the then 18-year-old student attending the highly exclusive Crillon Ball in Paris - one of the highlights of the French capital's social calendar.

Dressed in a glamorous maroon strapless gown and diamond necklace, she was pictured on the arm of a dashing bachelor and looked the picture of an aristocratic socialite.

Another 'red princess' followed in her footsteps in 2009, when Jasmin Li, granddaughter of Jia Qinglin, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), stepped out into the same ballroom.

However, critics have expressed more concern about some princelings being parachuted into high office than about their high living.

Eyebrows were raised in September 2009 when Mao Zedong's grandson, Dr Mao Xinyu, was made a general of the People's Liberation Army.

Mao Xinyu, who was 39 at the time and an armchair commentator with negligible military experience, was the youngest person to have been elevated to such a high rank in the PLA.

He is also a delegate to the CPPCC, and has expended most of his efforts at its meetings championing proposals to honour his grandfather.

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