My Take

China’s elite question capitalist values yet send their children to study at Western universities

The nation has its own tertiary institutions – some of them renowned – so why do top leaders prefer Harvard or Oxford for their offspring?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 May, 2016, 2:27am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 May, 2016, 2:27am

I am often mystified by the nation’s top leaders’ propensity to question Western and/or capitalist values while sending their children or grandchildren to study in Britain and America’s most prestigious – and expensive – universities.

President Xi Jinping (習近平) recently reminded teachers at the Communist Party’s elite training institutes – whose job it is to train the next generation of communist officials – not to spread “Western capitalist values” or bad-mouth state policies. This followed pledges by mainland education authorities to redouble efforts to limit the use of foreign textbooks in universities to stem the infiltration of “Western values”.

Early this year, at a gathering of university heads, including those of Peking and Tsinghua universities, Education Minister Yuan Guiren (袁貴仁) urged the schools to exert tighter control over the use of imported textbooks “that spread Western values”.

If they are so worried about the influence of foreign textbooks, why do officials from Xi downwards keep sending their offspring to top Western universities? To be fair, many parents in China dream of sending their children to study in the US. There are now 300,000 mainland students in America, up from 50,000 in 2000. It’s the single largest foreign ethnic group on American campuses. But unlike most other mainlanders, the red princelings usually end up not at state universities or colleges but the most elite institutions like Harvard and MIT.

Xi’s own daughter, Xi Mingze, went to Harvard, which also schooled the grandchildren of Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽) and Jiang Zemin (江澤民). Bo Guagua, son of the disgraced Bo Xilai (薄熙來), studied at Harvard, Oxford and Harrow.

Jasmine Li went to Stanford University. Her grandfather is Jia Qinglin (賈慶林), who was a member of the Politburo Standing Committee between 2002 and 2012. Wen Ruchun (溫如春), the only daughter of former premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶), also went to Harvard. The list goes on and on.

I can think of no greater way of contaminating your children with “Western influence” than schooling them at Harvard or Cambridge for four years. I wouldn’t think twice, though, of sending my children to Peking or Tsinghua universities.

Malia Obama is going to Harvard. You don’t see her father, the US president, sending her to a Chinese university. Tsinghua is currently ranked 25th and Peking 41st in QS World University Rankings.

My humble plea to our nation’s leaders: take more pride in your own universities. And promote them by gracing them with the studious presence of your children.