Princelings and the revolution

The new red icons…

Princelings and the revolution

Wan Baobao: the Paris Hilton of the East?

For many in China, the only thing better than being a revolutionary hero, is being the son or daughter of one.

After all during the Deng Xiaoping era, these so-called ‘princelings’ – the offspring of senior Party officials – went abroad to study. Many then came home to start successful businesses or run state companies.

The ‘Red descendants’ are back in vogue in the Chinese media – although this time it’s the grandkids that are getting the attention.

Meet Bo Guagua and Wan Baobao, two twenty-somethings with a status closer to that of pop icons.

Wan is the granddaughter of Wan Li, former Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. Well-known for partying with celebrities, she has emerged as a Chinese Paris Hilton.

Like the American heiress, Wanprofesses to be a jewellery designer. She has her own line too – Bao Bao Wan Fine Jewellery.

As a career choice it doesn’t quite seem to embody the family’s revolutionary legacy. In an interview with, Wan reveals that much of her youth was spent in Zhongnanhai (the central headquarter of the Communist Party) with her grandparents.

At the age of five, she was attending dinners with high-powered officials from foreign countries and flew on her grandfather’s government jet. She moved to the US when she was 16, to “study French literature and photography”.

“I was very homesick when I first moved to the US, crying to my mother everyday. In hindsight, I was a bit capricious at the time. From having 10 servants – I never had to peel an apple myself – to doing everything on my own. But now that I think about it, that’s how life is supposed to be.”

Wan counts Bo Guagua – three years her junior – among her childhood friends. Like Wan, Bo has an impressive family pedigree. His grandfather Bo Yibo was one of the eight elders of the Communist Party. They’re known as the ‘Eight Immortals’, although all eight are now dead.

But his father Bo Xilai is still going, as the party chief of Chongqing. He also sits on the ruling Politburo.

Bo junior is now studying at Oxford University on a full scholarship. In May, he was named one of the 10 most outstanding Chinese youngsters in the UK by a Chinese youth organisation.

Bo is precocious and has already published a book of musings, titled Uncommonwealth. The Chinese media describes it as “a critique of the blind pursuit of fads”.

Still, that doesn’t seem to stop him spending a considerable amount of time on Facebook, the social networking website. And the evidence is that the young man has been enjoying all the standard pursuits available to an Oxford student, with more than 1,500 Facebook ‘friends’ a testament to his sociability. A couple of his Facebook photos have caused a particular stir – and been widely circulated among Chinese internet users. One shows Bo topless at a party. The other shows him at what appears to be a ball, with tie undone and arms wrapped around two Sloaney-looking ladies. Very Brideshead Revisited.

Netizen critics consider the images a disgrace to the family’s revolutionary heritage. But his fanbase retorts that it’s only normal for a lad of his age. And despite the public scrutiny, Bo is proud of his lineage: “I’m honoured to be a member of my family and I never try to hide it, but I hope people won’t see me with bias,” says Bo. “Very often I need to work harder than others in order to get recognition.”

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.