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The Puzzle Surrounding a Father's Day Photo of Jailed Chinese Politician Bo Xilai and His Son

Bo Guagua changed his profile picture on the Father's Day. From Bo Guagua's Facebook.

Bo Guagua changed his profile picture on the Father's Day. From Bo Guagua's Facebook.

Bo Guagua was born into an elite Chinese Communist Party family. His father, disgraced top official Bo Xilai, was only a few years ago a rising political star who promoted far-left Maoist policies and led a strong-arm crackdown on organized crime in Chongqing.

On Father’s Day, June 21, of this year, Bo changed his profile photo on Facebook to a childhood snapshot in which his father teaches him Tai Chi beside a lake. Some would consider it pretty normal for a son to miss his father on the special day.

Coincidentally, on the same day, party-affiliated Beijing Times dismissed the younger Bo as the “deceitful second generation of a government official” (坑爹官二代) in a widely circulated article published on the newspaper's official WeChat account.

The article, titled “Father's Day: Let's talk about the ‘deceitful second generation of a government official”, mocks the children of corrupt politicians:

今天是父亲节,一些人只能待在「四面高墙」或是异国他乡,追思昔日的「父愛如山」和富贵荣华。这群人有共同特点─坑爹。

Today is Father's Day. Some people can only greet this day enclosed by four walls [in jail] or in exile, dwelling on the “father's love” and wealthy life of the past. These people share the same characteristic — deceitful.

Without any public comments from Bo to go on, Chinese netizens were left to figure out the exact motivations behind his Facebook photo change. As to the Beijing Times‘ commentary, a number of overseas Chinese media outlets speculated if it implies the next round of authorities’ anti-corruption campaign would target the children of corrupt officials.

During his time in power in Chongqing, Bo's father Bo Xilai staged campaigns “praising red communism and striking criminal gangs” — including arranging people to sing red songs, showing propaganda films on local TV channels and arresting some gang-affiliated officials — and promoted the concept of the “red GDP.” Most local people viewed the campaigns as strengthening public security, but some suspected Bo Xilai was using them to purge the dissident subordinates from the Party.

Bo has enjoyed more privilege than most ordinary Chinese. He attended the prestigious Harrow School in England, and later studied at Oxford University and Harvard University. In 2009, he was nominated as one of “Ten Outstanding Chinese Young Persons” in the U.K. His luxurious life overseas — clubbing, partying even as his father faced trial, and allegedly driving a red Ferrari (although details of this story are conflicting) — has frequently been fodder for public gossip.

In an address at Peking University in May 2009, Bo responded to the perception that he has a sense of superiority due to his elite family. Below is an excerpt of a report by mainland China media Southern Weekly:

家世再度成为现场无法回避的话题。一位同学问:“虽然说人人生而平等,但是像你可以从小到外国去深造,还可以在父亲的帮助下去部队锻炼,这些都是普通人不敢想象的。”

“从理论上来讲,没有绝对平等”,薄瓜瓜回应说:“我要是生下来就缺胳膊断腿,那也是不一样的,人和人有不同的地位,不同的机会,而且运气是不一样的……但是我相信人的得和失最终是平等的,万事都是平衡的。表面上我可以得到更多的爱,但是同时我也得到很多的恨。”

他还主动回忆家史:“在文革的时候,我的家庭饱受风霜,我爷爷一生坐了22年牢,我的父亲当时才17岁,也坐牢5年,我的妈妈当时才八九岁,一出街头就要被人辱骂。我也从来没有见过我的奶奶,因为在文革时候就被打死了。所以好多人只看到优越,看到好的,没有看到磨难……”

Again, his family became an unavoidable topic at the address. A student asked, “Although everyone is born equal, you have been able to study abroad as a child and can receive military training with the help of your father, these experiences are unimaginable things for average people.”

“Theoretically speaking, there is no absolute equality,” Bo responded, “If I were born with a physical defect unlike everyone else, people have various ranks, opportunities and fortune…But I believe that what a person obtains is equivalent to their loss; everything balances out. On the surface, I can get more love, but I am also the target of much resentment.”

He also took initiative to reminisce about his family’s past: “During the Cultural Revolution, my family suffered much — my grandpa was jailed for 22 years when my 17-year-old father was also jailed for 5 years. My mother was merely 8 or 9 years old, she was insulted when walking around streets. I have never met my grandma because she was beaten to death during the Cultural Revolution. So many people only see the superiority and the fame, but they ignore the hardship [of our family]…

After the former chief of Chongqing police bureau Wang Lijun unsuccessfully attempted to seek asylum in the local U.S. consulate on February 6, 2012, Bo Xilai was investigated by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and removed from his position on the Central Politburo Standing Committee. On September 22, 2013, he was sentenced to life in prison for several charges of abusing power and bribery. One year earlier, on August 20, 2012, Bo Guagua’s mother Gu Kailai was convicted of murdering an English businessman in a hotel in Chongqing and received a suspended death sentence.

Since then, Bo has been keeping a low profile. The latest photo of him shows him clutching several shopping bags while shopping in luxurious stores on Fifth Avenue in New York last December.

On Twitter-like Weibo, TV program producer Xiang Shuaijun showed more sympathy for Bo's current situation:

父亲永远是父亲,无论其曾经是所谓的高官显要,而今是所谓的监牢囚徒。儿子永远是儿子,无论其曾经是无忧无虑的欢乐,而今是海外漂泊的艰辛。岁月流转,世事沧桑。爱依旧,心不改。

The father is forever the father, whatever he was, a so-called political figure, now he has been put in prison. The son is forever the son, he has lived a care-free life, now he is living overseas suffering hardships. Time passes by, the circumstances of life change. Love remains, the heart is unchanged.

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