President Xi’s daughter dilemma

Aug 1, 2023
The historic architecture of the iconic Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

China and the U.S. are not mates. These two massive nations bristle over Taiwan, snarling like dingoes protecting their territory, with China threatening “catastrophic consequences” in case of a dust up.

Then there is the question of human rights, with the US accusing China of genocide in its treatment of the Uyghur people in the northwest Chinese province of Xinjiang. Quick as a flash, China responds with charges of US hypocrisy and points at America’s own rather dismal record over human rights, income inequality, gun violence and so on. No chance of a few beers at the local for Xi Jinping and Joe Biden to sort it all out. And let’s ignore the nuclear toys outside, just in case the discussion gets out of hand. It’s all not neighbourly, of course, so it’s unlikely that Biden would pop over the fence to borrow Xi’s lawnmower and grab some of Mrs Xi’s delicious buns for lunch.

So it’s curious that The President of China and his wife decide to send their daughter, Mingze, to university in the United States. Politicians having been despatching their children to prestigious centres of learning for ages, so there is nothing unusual in this. Chelsea Clinton, daughter of the former president Bill Clinton and Hillary, took her first degree at California’s garden of learning, Stanford University. And in the extroverted culture of America her arrival on campus was a media event. One commentator described her entry as “flamboyant” with attending media crews, White House aides and so on. Of course, the First Family pressed Stanford to provide Chelsea with a “normal” educational experience despite the circus that accompanied her arrival. And why Stanford? One wonders whether Beijing University was on the Clinton play list as they mulled over Chelsea’s educational future.

Mingze Xi, on the other hand, attracted no publicity when she came to Harvard. Indeed, her stay at the University was marked by an absence of hype and public comment. Australian born, Harvard Professor Ross Terrill, taught her but has offered no further observations. Even the all-knowing ChatGPT is stumped. A query about Xi Mingze’s time at the university offers a bland: “It’s possible that this person is not a public figure or that any information about her time at Harvard University, if it exists, is not widely known or documented.” Not only is there very limited commentary but there are very few photos of her in the public realm. And of course, these pictures of an attractive young woman may simply be a stand-in to represent the Premier’s daughter. Is she actually Mingze or not?

Many other notable Chinese have attended American universities, a flow that is largely from the PRC to the United States and seldom in the reverse direction. As many thousands of young Chinese have made this voyage for a long time the fact that some become figures of influence when they return to China is not surprising. From the West’s point of view part of the attraction of educating young Chinese students (apart from the revenues to the education sector) is that they will import Western democratic values to China on their return. Some have called this “democracy by osmosis” but like most simple ideas in politics it doesn’t have much support.

A topic of endless fascination among political academics and the commentariat is who actually pulls the strings of government? And whoever they are what is their pedigree? In the United Kingdom the finger is generally pointed at the sandstone universities and their feeder schools, while others like to implicate the various private clubs in London and their associated networks. But history has shown that knowing that someone who is highly placed went, for example, to Eton and Cambridge, can be a misleading indicator of their political sympathies. The British spy ring, nicknamed the Cambridge Five because of their common ancestry from Cambridge University, shovelled classified information to the Soviet Union for many years. All were highly respected with senior positions in the British Government. London’s Athenaeum Club and Reform Club were favourites of several of these chaps. While publicly endorsing the policies of the government at the time their real passion lay with Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx.

In China the identity of the puppet masters is a lot murkier. One of Premier Xi’s close advisors is Wang Huning. Wang has an imposing academic and political background that has been well documented by Griffith University’s Haig Patapan and Yi Wang. Interestingly Wang spent about 6 months as a visiting professor in the United States. Did this endear him to the American way? Well, not exactly, as he reflects in a book he wrote on his experiences there.

Where is Mingze, Premier Xi’s daughter, in all this? Rumours strongly suggest that she has moved back to Boston, the home of her alma mater. Should there be a brawl between the U.S. and China what will Xi do? As the Americans might say; “Go figure.”

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