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Voting with Their Feet: Children of High-Level CCP Officials Choose to Live Abroad

FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, stands with other Chinese leaders to watch a parade as Communist Party celebrates its 70th anniversary in Beijing, Oct. 1, 2019.
FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, stands with other Chinese leaders to watch a parade as Communist Party celebrates its 70th anniversary in Beijing, Oct. 1, 2019.

A recent article by an outspoken Chinese sociologist has gone viral on Beijing’s tightly-controlled social media, sparking debates about the children of China’s privileged class who choose to live overseas.

Zheng Yefu, a retired sociology professor from China’s prestigious Peking University, wrote that although the Chinese Communist Party maintains its grip on power in order to better serve the ruling elite, their children are choosing to “vote with their feet,” taking-up permanent residence in western countries.

Exactly how many children of China’s Communist Party leaders choose to live overseas is unknown, but there have been several high-profile children who have sought degrees in top tier American universities.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s only daughter, Xi Mingze, was educated at Harvard. Two of the party’s last three top leaders, former President Zhao Ziyang and Jiang Zemin, had grandchildren who attended Harvard. Jia Qinglin, a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s highest ruling organ, had a granddaughter at Stanford. The now disgraced former Chongqing party star Bo Xilai, is the father of Bo Guagua, who had attended the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

The Washington Post reported that at least five of the nine members of the last Politburo Standing Committee have children or grandchildren who studied in the United States.

The Washington-based Migration Policy Institute noted in a report that affluent and educated elites are the main force driving emigration from China to the U.S.

According to a report from the China-based wealth research firm Hurun Research Institute, more than a third of rich Chinese “are currently considering” emigrating to another country, for better education systems elsewhere and to flee the country’s polluted cities and strict government, as well as protecting their wealth.

Voting with their feet

Zheng Yefu, a long-time critic of Communist Party policy, wrote that China has spent billions of dollars to “maintain stability,” in order to “safeguard the country created by the great Communist Party.”

Zheng argued the effort is mainly aimed at protecting the country’s privileged class and passing those economic and political advantages on to their children.

Yet, he noted, the children of a number of Communist Party leaders seem to be indifferent to the idea of inheriting their parents’ political power. They have voted with their feet and moved to western countries, particularly the U.S.

“They don't love the power, they love America,” Zheng concluded.

He pointed out there are several reasons for this change of mind from their fathers and grandfathers, including a worsening environment for freedom of speech and movement, and a general dissatisfaction with the previous generation’s way of seizing and maintaining power.

He also noted that after China’s opening up in 1978, people have the chance to go abroad more freely. Benefiting from that policy, some of these elites decide to stay in western countries after comparing the two ways of life.

'They can't change China'

China observer Zan Aizong told VOA that one of the reasons that these elites decide to emigrate is that they feel they have no way to change China.

“If China has democracy, constitution, the rule of law, human rights and universal value, then although there’re problems, they could stay and try to fix it. But if they see there’s no way to change the current status, they would just give up. Vote with their feet,” Zan told VOA.

Rights activist Hu Jia said that there’s another reason: if they choose to stay and fight for their positions in the party, there are huge risks involved.

“For the second or third generation reds, if you lose in the power struggle, you are going to lose everything. Compare that to your opportunity to live a peaceful life in a free and democratic environment,” he said. “So for some, they choose to stay away from the mess.”