Bo Guagua Graduates From Harvard

With his parents embroiled in China’s biggest political scandal in decades, Bo Guagua accepted his diploma at Harvard University’s Kennedy School on Thursday. From The Wall Street Journal:

Bo, 24 years old, appeared at ease as shook the hands of faculty and walked across the platform during commencement for Harvard’s Kennedy School, where he earned his master’s in public policy during the ceremony at John F. Kennedy Memorial Park. Bo is the son of Bo Xilai, the ousted party chief of Chongqing, China, and his wife Gu Kailai, who is under suspicion in China over the killing of a British businessman.

After the ceremony, Bo, wearing a black gradation robe and crimson hood, declined to comment to The Wall Street Journal.

“I’d just like to have my own day today,” he said, as he walked with two friends and joined a group of others to chatting outside the commencement tent.

Slate’s William J. Dobson details the decade-long link between the Chinese Communist Party and Harvard University, looking beyond the educations of “princelings” such as Bo Guagua to call attention to a much less publicized but far more important training program for future party leaders:

A little more than 10 years ago, the Chinese Communist Party embarked on an ambitious effort to give its public officials the training, skills, and expertise they need to govern in the increasingly complex situations that test an authoritarian regime’s resilience. Carefully vetted officials—a selection of some of the regime’s rising stars—were sent abroad to study in specially designed programs at some of the world’s finest universities. The first crop was sent to Harvard. Today, Chinese authorities have expanded the program to include Stanford, Oxford, Cambridge, the University of Tokyo, and others. A year ago I met with Lu Mai, the head of the China Development Research Foundation, who oversees the program. “This was a big decision,” he told me. “We have already sent more than 4,000 [officials]. I don’t know any other country that sends on that scale.”

The Harvard curriculum, specially designed for this program, resembles a midcareer executive course. Housed at the Kennedy School’s Ash Center—the same graduate school Bo Xilai’s son attended—Harvard faculty teach Chinese officials leadership, strategy, and public management. Some of the lectures are given by big-name Harvard professors, including Roger Porter and Joseph Nye. Although the classes are restricted to Chinese officials, these party members have ample opportunity to mix with the school’s faculty and general student body. Borrowing from the case-study method made famous at the university’s business school, the coursework zeroes in on specific topics such as U.S. policy and government, how the media operates, negotiation strategy, and even social media. The classroom work is supplemented by site visits to places like the Massachusetts State House, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and larger institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations. Besides its main leadership program, which lasts eight weeks, Harvard runs more tailored courses, too. One is focused on crisis management. Another is entirely devoted to the Shanghai municipal government. A new energy program will bring together executives from the China Southern Grid Power Corporation. “The goal is to help the Chinese government work in this environment of globalization,” says Lu. “To catch up.”

Harvard may be a competitive institution, but it’s nothing compared to being selected by the party’s Central Organization Department—the highly secretive body that is in charge of making all party appointments across China and chooses the handful of officials sent abroad to study each year. (The department’s work is done almost entirely in secret. It is housed in an unmarked building less than a mile from Tiananmen Square. A phone call from the Organization Department shows up on your phone as a string of zeroes.) The officials selected can vary: They include municipal officers, mayors, provincial governors, all the way up to central government vice ministers. It’s worth remembering that in a country as populous as China, even a very junior official can have a portfolio that affects millions of people. What they all have in common is that they distinguished themselves as comers. Lu sits proudly when he tells me more than half of the officials sent to Harvard receive a promotion not long after they return to their duties at home, although he admits, “We don’t know if it’s because of the training or because they are already so good. But we try to claim it is because of the training.”

May 24, 2012 9:28 PM
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