Asia Briefing: Offspring of the elite finds Ivy League a tough transition

Leadership’s children in America’s most prestigious universities

One of the major irritations among ordinary Chinese about what they perceive as abuse of privilege by senior Communist Party members is the way the leadership's children seem to land in America's most prestigious universities, such as the Ivy League colleges, without apparently breaking a sweat and on a bureaucrat's supposedly paltry salary.

There are numerous stories about how easily Bo Guagua, the son of purged Communist leader Bo Xilai, sailed through Oxford, then the Kennedy School of Government and is now at Columbia Law School in New York – no mean feat for a man whose mother is in jail for murder and whose father is locked up for life for corruption and abuse of power.


By the end of 2012, 2.64 million Chinese students had gone abroad to study, and 1.09 million returned to find their fortune.

Of the offspring of the “Eight Immortals”, the country’s most prominent revolutionary leaders, seven went to Ivy League colleges in the US – three to Harvard, two to Columbia, one to Cornell, one to Princeton and one to Yale – while four went to Stanford, which doesn’t count as Ivy League but is clearly a prestigious educational address.


President Xi Jinping’s daughter Xi Mingze, is at Harvard, while premier Li Keqiang’s daughter is also said to be studying in the United States.

But all is not well in these leafy environs, it seems. One in four Chinese students attending Ivy League universities drop out, according to the 2013 Overseas-returned Graduate Recruitment Report, cited in the Southern Metropolis Daily.

And of those who do graduate, a growing number choose to look for work in China.

Half of the returning graduates cited "economic conditions" as the main obstacle to staying overseas, followed by saturated overseas employment markets and poor social skills, which accounted for 38.9 per cent and 33.6 per cent respectively.

Language barriers

The students were doing fantastically well in China but found the Ivy League hard to adapt to, especially the language barriers and the different education system.

The government is keen for young scholars to keep studying overseas as they can make a major contribution to China’s development, according to government officials.

"Chinese overseas-educated scholars will continue to play a vital role in promoting the country's transformation into an innovation-driven economy in the next three decades," said vice-chairman of the Western Returned Scholars Association, Wang Huiyao, in an interview with Xinhua.