China's 'royal romance' stirs online gossip

Jet-set lifestyle of 'princelings' provokes mixture of admiration and outrage
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The Independent Online

In the nearest thing that China could ever get to fevered gossip about impending royal nuptials, an apparent romance between two grandchildren of "immortals" who led the 1949 Chinese Communist revolution appears to have gripped the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Photographs of Bo Guagua and Chen Xiaodan, third-generation members of China's revolutionary elite, have spread rapidly online. Images show them touching prayer wheels, riding yaks and visiting holy lakes during a holiday in Tibet – generally acting like a happy young couple. But the prospect of two "princelings" getting together has proved intriguing.

His tuxedos and her Oscar de la Renta dresses are a million miles from the combat fatigues favoured by their grandparents, who were key founding members of the People's Republic of China in 1949. But their youthful romance and stylish looks are inspiring the young in the new China – a very different place after three decades of reform and opening up.

Bo Guagua, 23, is the son of Bo Xilai, a major figure in the Communist Party who oversaw China's entry into the World Trade Organisation in 2001, took on Peter Mandelson during trade negotiations with the EU and now runs the world's biggest metropolitan area, Chongqing, as his own personal fiefdom. Bo Xilai is the son of revolutionary veteran Bo Yibo, one of the "eight immortals" who held high office and whose name still causes knees to tremble among high officialdom in Beijing.

Bo Xilai has engaged in a highly public crackdown on organised crime in Chongqing and he is tipped for greater things in the senior leadership, although some believe his high profile could work against him in a government that is focusing on getting rid of the personality cults that have caused many problems at senior levels during the 60 years of Communist rule.

Bo Guagua went to school at Harrow, then at Balliol College in Oxford, where he studied politics, philosophy and economics while attempting to become head of the Oxford Union. Online photographs of him wearing a slightly crumpled tuxedo and vigorously socialising have fascinated and appalled people in China. Now he is doing a Masters in public policy at Harvard University.

Chen Xiadan is also studying at Harvard, for an MBA. Her father Chen Yuan is chairman of the hugely influential China Development Bank and a former deputy governor at the central bank. The China Development Bank angered many people this week when it said that it would only take Harvard or MIT graduates for its internship programme.

Chen Xiaodan is also the grandchild of one of the "eight immortals", Chen Yun. She has featured in photographs of debutantes' balls, such as the Crillon Ball in Paris.

The pictures have run on Twitter, Facebook and Chinese social networks. But not everyone is enthusiastic about the match, or at least about the air of privilege surrounding the photographs.

"Isn't it ironic?" wrote the online critic Zhou Shuguang. "The grandchildren of our founding Communist Party leaders using Facebook, which is banned by their grandparents? They were spoiled by the advantages of the resources provided by their grandparents."

Scholar Wen Kejian said in an online posting: "It's their right to fall in love or not, Red plus Red is fine with me, and their own taste in beauty is their own business. But please don't waste public resources on this."