Princelings put their political views aside to remember Chen Xiaolu
Hundreds gather at a private club in Beijing to commemorate outspoken soldier and businessman ‘respected for his personality and pursuit of freedom’
Hundreds of princelings, retired officials and entrepreneurs have gathered at a private club in Beijing to remember Chen Xiaolu, the influential son of one of Communist China’s founding marshals.
Chen, who died in late February after a heart attack at the age of 71, was the youngest son of Marshal Chen Yi, who fought alongside Mao Zedong in the civil war.
The younger Chen was one of China’s most prominent princelings – descendants of revolutionary leaders – and was known for speaking his mind, especially challenging Beijing’s selective amnesia over the Communist Party’s dark history.
Princelings from across the political spectrum attended the commemoration, which was held on Friday but made public on Saturday, when pictures of the event were circulated online.
With their extended network of political and business elites, princelings are still considered to be highly influential in China.
The gathering was held at a club owned and named after insurance tycoon Chen Dongsheng, who is married to Mao Zedong’s granddaughter Kong Dongmei.
Among those attending was Major General Luo Yuan, who is known for his nationalist views and loyalty to the party. He would not be drawn on Chen’s outspoken criticism of the party, but said he admired his approach to life.
“He was a very genuine and kind person,” said Luo, who is also a princeling. “He also had a very simple lifestyle – I think that was something he learned from his family, from Marshal Chen.”
Luo also went to Chen’s funeral on Hainan Island in early March, and once wrote a poem for him.
Also at the gathering was Zhou Xiaochuan, former governor of the People’s Bank of China who retired earlier this month. Zhou, who is also a princeling, went to the same high school as Chen.
Retired official and reform-minded princeling Ma Xiaoli – who openly protested against a Mao-era performance that was restaged at the Great Hall of the People in 2016 – also attended.
“Regardless of their political views, many princelings were there for their shared childhood memories and the friendships of their fathers,” said Wu Wei, one of Chen’s former government colleagues who was at the Beijing club.
“He was respected for his personality and his pursuit of freedom.”
Chen was a soldier, like his father, and joined the Research Office for Political Reform under the party’s Central Committee in 1985, where he worked with Wu. He was tasked with pushing for political reforms under late liberal leader Zhao Ziyang, and helped draft a bold report delivered to the party congress in 1987 that called for deeper political reform of the party and the government.
He left when the office was dismantled in 1989, following a purge of liberal cadres in the aftermath of the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing on June 4 that year.
Chen, who was a Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, made headlines when he issued a public apology in 2013 for the torture and persecution of his teachers during the decade of violence and upheaval set off by Mao.
In his later years Chen was a businessman, and outside China he attracted media attention mostly for his ties to Anbang – the troubled Chinese insurer which at the height of its global expansion bought New York’s landmark Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Chen was listed as one of its early directors on company registry records, when it was a modest car insurance firm. In a statement on social media in early 2015, he said he was an “adviser” to the company and held no shares.
Anbang was taken over by the government last month, as China moves to rein in financial risks that threaten to trip up the economy. Its former chairman and friend of Chen, Wu Xiaohui, went on trial in Shanghai this week, charged with illegal fundraising, fraud and embezzlement. He has contested all the charges and the court has yet to deliver its verdict.