International students can pay as much as $71,000 a year to attend Harvard Kennedy School

Story highlights

Bo Xilai's son Bo Guagua in the spotlight over lavish student lifestyle

Questions have been raised over where China's top cadres find their money

Bo Xilai once championed revival of 'red culture' and pushed efforts to bring back Maoist slogans

Sources say images of Bo Guagua partying have not played well in China

CNN  — 

With a father who is a toppled Communist leader and a mother accused of murder, the son, Bo Guagua, is now under scrutiny over reports of a lavish student lifestyle that have raised questions about where China’s top cadres find their money.

Photographs of him bare-chested with his arms around female students at an Oxford college party and urinating against a college fence have gone down badly in China, where his father, Bo Xilai, has been accused of corruption and stripped of his political post.

Bo Xilai reacted furiously to questions about his 24-year-old son’s lifestyle last month.

“A few people have been pouring filth on Chongqing and me and my family,” Bo said at the time. “They even say that my son studies abroad and drives a red Ferrari. Sheer rubbish! I feel really furious. Sheer rubbish!”

Despite the denials, rumors over his son’s allegedly flamboyant college lifestyle have added to the woes of the former Chongqing kingpin who promoted a revival of ‘red culture’ and pushed efforts to bring back Maoist slogans.

While Bo family friends have defended Guagua’s college record and behavior, one family associate told CNN there was little sympathy in China for what many regard as the typically spoilt offspring of the Communist Party elite.

“He (Bo Guagua) had tried to explain himself, saying the pictures showed him attending school parties which encouraged students to socialize and let their hair down,” the source said.

“One picture showed him with an unbuttoned shirt and his arms around foreign students. He said it was quite normal there, but no one in China would buy that. Here 90% of people do not get the cultural differences.”

The source added that the images had not played well in China, where Guagua’s antics have been grist for the country’s gossip-hungry microblogs.

“Many Chinese admire and support Bo Xilai, but few like Bo Guagua,” the source said.

What does Bo scandal mean for China?

A fellow student at the Harvard Kennedy School – where the cost for the average international student the school puts at $71,000 a year – told CNN that Bo skirted attendance requirements at the college, making his first appearance at one seminar class on its final day when he was scheduled to make a presentation.

“Let me tell you how we’ve been going about this all year,” the seminar’s instructor said to Bo, explaining the class’s protocols since he had not attended previous classes, the student recounted.

“He more than anyone else that I know really pushed it to the boundaries,” the student said. “Not attending seminars, not getting any feedback.”

The student described Bo’s presentation as “slapdash and put together at the last moment.”

The seminar’s instructor declined to comment, citing student privacy policies.

Bo was one of 21 students awarded a research grant from the school’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation for the current academic year.

A school spokesman declined to say how many students competed for the grant which is awarded on “the quality of the proposal, the research focus, and travel requirements.”

Harvard Kennedy School spokesman Doug Gavel said he could not comment on specific students, citing privacy concerns.

The family friend told CNN that reports about Bo’s lackluster university record and rich-kid lifestyle were “one-sided and a bit unfair”.

“He may have committed indiscretions in public, but he is not the spoiled brat who thinks of nothing but a good time,” the source said. “Let’s remember that he had done some fund-raising for the victims of the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. The same year, he promoted the Beijing Olympics in his school.”

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The family friend said Bo Guagua had been a smart and thoughtful child.

“He learned calligraphy at a very young age and was a good writer in Chinese and English,” the source said. “He published his writings in a paperback in 2005 when he was still in his late teens.”

The family friend told CNN that far from receiving miserable grades, Bo Guagua’s performance at Oxford had been creditable, receiving a 2:1 grade.

“It’s probably equivalent to an A minus which by Oxford standards is pretty good; and to the think he was handicapped by the problems of adjusting to a very different place and culture. He was in his early teens when he moved overseas to study,” the source said.

While there has been speculation that Bo Guagua may seek asylum in the U.S. in the light of his parents’ problems, the US agency that oversees asylum requests, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, “can neither confirm nor deny that someone has filed a request,” according to spokesman Chris Bentley.

“As far as we know, there’s nothing to those reports; he remains at school at Harvard,” Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, told a press conference in Washington last week.

Bo Guagua did not respond to emailed requests for comment.