By ANDREW JACOBS and DAN LEVIN
After a pampered childhood in the walled compounds of the Chinese capital, he was sent off for schooling in England, where he developed a reputation as an academically indifferent bon vivant with a weakness for European sports cars, first-class air travel, equestrian sports and the tango.
Mr. Bo’s flamboyance, a staple of social-media gossip in China in recent years, became another liability for his father, Bo Xilai, who faces charges of corruption and abuse of power, and his mother, Gu Kailai, accused of murdering a British businessman who was also close to the young Mr. Bo.
Although Communist Party insiders say it was Bo Xilai’s populist reign in the southwestern municipality of Chongqing that ultimately brought him down, Bo Guagua’s high living clearly irritated party leaders, who named the son, a 24-year-old student at Harvard, in the official statement describing the reasons for his father’s fall from power.
One former government employee with party ties said the leadership tolerated a certain level of corruption among top officials or their relatives as long as it was kept out of public view. He said Mr. Bo’s collegiate antics, splashed across the Internet, were emblematic of an ambitious, cocksure family who often ignored the party’s conservative standards of public behavior.
The resulting buzz also drew unwanted attention to other so-called princelings, who often leverage their bloodline for financial gain but generally seek to avoid publicity lest it damage the party’s image of self-sacrifice and asceticism. Asia Pacific Watch
“If you’re discreet, they look the other way,” the former government employee said. “But Guagua’s behavior was striking by the standards; urinating against a fence at Oxford, kissing foreign girls — it all goes down bad in China.”
Mr. Bo is also tied to Neil Heywood, whose mysterious death in a Chongqing hotel room last November appears to have led to the Communist Party’s biggest political upheaval in decades. Asia Pacific Watch
Mr. Heywood reportedly mentored the adolescent Mr. Bo and later helped him land a spot at the elite Harrow School in North London. It is unclear how close the two were in recent years, but China’s state media have suggested that there were shared business interests and a “conflict” that led his mother to commit murder.
As his parents remain in detention, Mr. Bo is finding that the family name that served him so well has become something of a millstone. Given the continuing corruption investigation that could implicate him, he is unlikely to return to China anytime soon.
“I think the options for him look pretty bad,” said Roderick MacFarquhar, a China expert at Harvard who has written about the purges that dot contemporary Chinese history. Asia Pacific Watch
The details of Mr. Bo’s life were remarkably public. He appeared on a Chinese talk show to discuss his family and allowed himself to be photographed partying bare-chested and with young women.
A short-lived relationship with Chen Xiaodan, the granddaughter of another Communist Party pioneer, became fodder for the public after the pair was photographed vacationing in Tibet, trailed by a sizable police escort. Asia Pacific Watch
His celebrity stood in marked contrast to the lives of other descendants of revolutionaries. Xi Mingze — the daughter of Xi Jinping, presumed to be China’s next top leader — also attends Harvard, but under an assumed name, and she does not have a Facebook account.
Last month, a few days before he lost his job as party chief of Chongqing, Bo Xilai was forced to respond to questions about how his modest government salary could support his son’s tuition and expensive tastes. He called the accusations “sheer rubbish,” and insisted that Mr. Bo had won full scholarships, although he did not address the allegations in detail. “A few people have been pouring filth on Chongqing and me and my family,” he told reporters. “They even say my son studies abroad and drives a red Ferrari.” Asia Pacific Watch
But Mr. Bo does study abroad, and American officials say he arrived in a red Ferrari last year to pick up the American ambassador to China’s daughter for a date. Classmates at Harvard say they have seen him driving around in a Porsche.
Mr. Bo has lately been staying out of public view, having changed his Facebook account to make it much more private, and he declined to answer questions last week as he left his apartment in Cambridge, Mass. Those who know him say he has been studying for final exams while coping with his parents’ troubles.
In interviews, many of his friends rejected the notion that he was a playboy or a poor student, and they described him as exceedingly generous. He is quick to pick up a bar tab, they said, and he liberally handed out tickets for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “His concern for China and its people is deep-rooted and real,” said one friend in China who spends time with him during his frequent visits home. “He’s a big thinker. When he gets drunk, he talks about important things.” Asia Pacific Watch
Mr. Bo was largely shaped by his years in Britain. When he arrived, at age 12, he failed to get into Harrow, a boarding school with $45,000 annual tuition at the time. Although he told a Chinese magazine in 2009 that he spent a year studying for the Harrow entrance exam, Mr. Heywood, an old Harrovian, told friends he used his influence to land Mr. Bo a place at the school.
Mr. Bo became the first Chinese citizen at the 500-year-old institution, and by most accounts, he flourished. He took up fencing, became president of the equestrian club and developed proper English manners. Asia Pacific Watch
In 2006, he arrived at Oxford’s Balliol College, known for its lumbering lawn tortoises and its illustrious alumni, including Aldous Huxley, Adam Smith and Herbert Asquith, a British prime minister who once described Balliol men as having “the tranquil consciousness of an effortless superiority.”
Oxford administrators dismissed the idea that Bo Xilai’s stature as a rising political star played any role in his son’s admission. “That kind of stuff just doesn’t happen,” said Ruth Collier, Oxford’s head of information. “If this young man won a place at Balliol, he got in on his merits.”
Mr. Bo pursued a degree in politics, philosophy and economics, and embraced a more public profile, appearing in the Chinese version of Esquire and earning the Big Ben Award as one of the top 10 young Chinese in Britain.
According to a friend from his Oxford days, Mr. Bo became known for his “professional socializing,” which included organizing a Silk Road ball for the Oxford Union, the university’s premier debating society. Mr. Bo tapped into his extensive connections by arranging an appearance by the actor Jackie Chan and financial sponsorship from a minibus manufacturer in Liaoning Province, where his father had served as governor. Asia Pacific Watch
He also demonstrated some of his father’s political drive when, in his second year, he ran for union librarian, a post equivalent to vice president. It was an all-consuming effort, friends say, and Mr. Bo broke with the tradition of low-key politicking by actively canvassing for votes on Cornmarket Street, a pedestrian boulevard in an area surrounded by Oxford colleges. He also ruffled some feathers, according to several Oxford students, by asking Chinese students to join the union so they could vote for him. The campaign was unsuccessful. Asia Pacific Watch
While adept at throwing memorable parties, Mr. Bo was struggling with his coursework. After the union campaign, his professors forced him to take a set of exams known as “penal collections.” He failed, several students said, and was suspended for a year. Barred from using campus facilities, he moved into the Randolph, a Victorian Gothic hotel where he continued to hold parties, though a friend said they were more subdued. Asia Pacific Watch
His family was not pleased. Using their connections, they reportedly sent a group of emissaries, including the Chinese ambassador, to plead Mr. Bo’s case to the master of Balliol, one faculty member said. Expulsion, it was explained, would cause his family grave embarrassment.
Although the request was denied, Mr. Bo was allowed to take his final exams a year later and passed with respectable marks, “much to people’s surprise,” one professor said. Mr. Bo’s tutors remained unimpressed and refused to write him recommendations for his application to Harvard. Asia Pacific Watch
But Mr. Bo was admitted to the John F. Kennedy School of Government, where tuition and living expenses can cost $90,000 a year. Administrators do not disclose information on scholarships and would not comment on whether Mr. Bo’s family connections played a role in his admission. But a spokesman said the school considers a “holistic” approach to applicants, weighing factors like leadership potential and a commitment to public service.
Although one classmate described Mr. Bo as academically lackadaisical, others suggested that he had become more serious about his studies. Last year, he helped organize a China trip for Kennedy School students that included a visit to Chongqing. “From my interactions with him, leaving aside all the gossip, he is a smart lad,” one professor said. “He seems to be a typical British public school product: smart, headstrong and self-confident.” Asia Pacific Watch
Despite the flashes of bravado, friends say that Mr. Bo is acutely aware that in China, the benefits of an illustrious family name can also be a detriment. His grandfather Bo Yibo was a revolutionary hero, but that did not shield him from the purges that sent him and much of his family to jail. “I have never met my grandmother because she was persecuted to death during the Cultural Revolution,” he said in a speech at Peking University in 2009. Asia Pacific Watch
In a interview that year with Youth Weekend, a state-run Chinese newspaper, he reflected on the other challenges of his pedigree. “When I do well, it is naturally through my own efforts. When I do wrong, I should bear the consequences and do not want the blame to fall on my parents,” he said. “Although I am fully aware that my father is a good man, I do not wish to live under his shadow.” Asia Pacific Watch