Red faces at Chinese university that booked wrong Rothschild

Tsinghua University mistook Oliver Rothschild for a member of the banking dynasty

When Oliver Rothschild turned up in Beijing with a plummy accent, the assured air of an international financier and oozing upper-class charm, the head of one of China's top universities was smitten, and sensed a fat donation in the offing.

However, the businessman in question was not a scion of the illustrious banking family which emerged from the Judengasse in Frankfurt in the 18th century to become financiers to Europe’s royal houses and at one point the richest family in the world. Instead it emerged that Oliver Rothschild is a corporate adviser from Finchley in north London.

It appears to be a story of mistaken identity, with a bit of selective truthfulness, rather than fraud, but Qiu Yong, president of Tsinghua University, quoted on the college's website, believed him to be "a core member and chief asset manager for the Rothschild family, a global financial investor, an entrepreneurial strategist and a philanthropist".

Mr Rothschild had made a number of visits to China, the university claimed on its website, during which "he met with many high-profile Chinese entrepreneurs and government officials".

However, China's Economic Observer revealed his true identity, and a representative of the British branch of the Rothschild Group wrote to the newspaper that Oliver Rothschild was not descended from Mayer Amschel Rothschild, and not involved in any of the family's businesses.

Since then, Tsinghua University – alma mater of President Xi Jinping and his predecessor Hu Jintao – has admitted its error.

“There was negligence in terms of screening. However, I have no doubt of our president’s good intention, that he wishes to make Tsinghua University better through broad social resources and support,” Tsinghua vice-president Yang Bin told the China News Service, promising better vetting in future.

The Rothschild name is one to conjure with in China, due in part to Song Hongbing's book The Currency War, which is part conspiracy theory, part nationalist tract, and has sold over half a million copies.

Mr Song claims the Rothschilds have orchestrated pretty much every historical event in the past 200 years, and has been criticised as an anti-semitic rant in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion mode.

The Rothschild name is also attached to the wine business. In 2014, it emerged that more than half of the bottles of Château Lafite, the flagship wine from the Domaines Barons de Rothschild, sold in China are fake. There are apparently more cases of the €9,000 Château Lafite 1982 swishing around in China than were ever produced.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing