Chinese puzzle: who gets to study in US
Question: What do Deng Zhifang, Huang Bing, and Bo Jieying have in common?Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Answer: All are children of high Chinese officials, and all are enjoying what in China is a scarce and highly sought after privilege - education in the United States.
Deng Zhifang is the son of China's most powerful man, Deng Xiaoping. He and his wife live in a university apartment while he studies for a PhD in physics at the University of Rochester, N.Y.
Huang Bing is the son of China's foreign minister, Huang Hua. He is an undergraduate student studying liberal arts at Harvard University.
Bo Jieying is studying for a PhD in biology at Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass. She is the daughter of Bo Yibo, former chief of China's State Economic Commission and a member of the Communist Party's recently set up Advisory Commission.
These three are among what most experts agree is a noteworthy number of children of high Chinese officials with permission to study outside China. Some even are supported by the government.
The entrance of such special students is just one facet of an influx that has resulted in nearly 9,000 Chinese students in the US this year. Selecting them, as well as the proper areas for them to study, has sometimes been difficult for Chinese authorities. Still the number of students in the US has grown by 2,000 to 3,000 a year since 1978, when only 200 arrived.
The US State Department and private educational organizations that keep track of arriving students have difficulty establishing how many are related to high officials. The number has been sufficient to cause difficulties for China. To combat any impression of special favor, the government published last spring a directive barring any more children of high-level officials from overseas study.
Nepotism is a sensitive issue in Communist China, where rigid bureaucracies sometimes slow progress through regular channels. The use of special family, financial, or personal connections has been a common method of ''going through the back door.''
Students like Deng, Huang, and Bo appear to be unaffected by the current crackdown. So many children of high-level officials had already left to study overseas that an American analyst compares the move to ''closing the barn door after all the horses have run out.'' There are likely to be ways of getting around the new rules, he adds.
The scramble to gain Chinese government sponsorship for study abroad is understandable because many of the winners are expected to be promoted. As a US official put it, they are ''the cream of the crop'' - either mid-level technocrats or the most successful and most talented of recent Chinese university graduates.
The US is training more Chinese students than any other Western nation. More than 4,000 (about one-half) of the Chinese students in the US are paid for by the Chinese government. That's about the same number sent under Chinese sponsorship to study elsewhere, such as in Western Europe and Japan.
Many of the others in the US are supported by their own families, often overseas Chinese living in Asia or the United States. Some may be at least partly supported by American schools.
Most of the first to come were older, less impressionable persons who had received their undergraduate education before the Communists won power in 1949. Some were younger graduates who had been trained before the Cultural Revolution closed down China's universities in the late 1960s. They tended to have deep family and professional ties in China, rendering them less likely to defect.
But in the years immediately ahead, students who entered and graduated from Chinese colleges after they were reopened in 1978 are expected to make up a bigger proportion of Chinese students in the US.
This younger generation of students is expected to be more impressionable and more likely to defect, since professional, political, and personal ties with China are fewer.
So far no officially sponsored Chinese student or scholar has been granted political asylum in the US. There is very little opportunity for them to stay on in some other capacity, since their J-1 visas for exchange visitors are very difficult to change.
The number of privately funded students from China who have changed their visas to stay on runs into several hundred over the last three to four years, according to a State Department official.