Liu lives more frugally than many of his princeling peers and makes a point of demonstrating that he can easily mix with peasants and rural cadres. He loves to golf but avoids visiting any of Beijing's luxurious golf courses because that would clash with his revolutionary ideals. (And it would hurt his carefully constructed image.) He confines himself to belting balls against a net he has erected on the roof of his villa, which was allocated to him when he was in the People's Armed Police, China's internal security force.
Over the last year, Liu has marshaled his family's prestige and gambled his future by challenging what he sees as the corruption, inequality, and hypocrisy of the Communist Party and the PLA. As I reported in April in Foreign Policy, Liu described the army beset by a disease of "malignant individualism" where officers follow only orders that suit them, advance on the strength of their connections, and openly sell their services at "clearly marked prices."
Some Chinese netizens see parallels between the ideals that Liu has both publically and privately fought for, and those that motivated the Libyan people to overthrow Qaddafi. When confronted with the thought of losing the regime his father helped establish, however, Liu instinctively identifies with the predicament of the dictator -- rather than the people he brutalized.
Zhu's internal report mentioned "family members;" but Liu focused only on the children. Liu's only son is developmentally disabled, excluding him from college. His sister, Liu Ting, was educated at Harvard and runs the Asia Link Group, a lucrative consultancy that helps foreign businesses cut through the opaque bureaucracy responsible for China's tightly restricted aviation airspace.
Whatever Liu's motivations, Chinese officials responsible for counterintelligence share his concerns. "Yes, this is something we worry a lot about," says a security official. (When pressed, however, the official said he may yet send his own daughter overseas for college for a more open-minded education.) High-ranking officials are struggling to reconcile the need to maintain the ideological purity of the collective while giving their own children, some of whom are among the 1.4 million Chinese who were studying abroad as of the end of 2011, the chance for a better life.
In recent years, as internal stresses have grown, the Party has increasingly blamed the West for China's domestic instability. In the 1950s, Chairman Mao seized on U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles's concept of China's "Peaceful Evolution" -- wherein the children of Chinese leaders would want more freedom, a path that could lead to democracy -- to claim that Western leaders had a strategy to erode the ideological integrity of China's leading families, over the course of several generations. After the Tibet riots in 2008, the phrase returned to prominence the pages of the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party.
The People's Daily printed the phrase "Western hostile forces" only twice in 2007. In 2009, however, the year of the bloody Xinjiang riots, it used the phrase 16 times. In 2011, when fear of revolutionary contagion was at its height, the phrase-count jumped to 21; In February, days after the Egyptian people forced then-President Hosni Mubarak to step down, a Chinese security chief warned of "schemes of some Western hostile forces attempting to Westernize and split us." In mid October 2011, after Mubarak had appeared in court in a steel cage, and NATO forces and Libyan rebels were closing in on Qaddafi, President Hu Jintao sounded the alarm about nefarious Western forces -- the first time he is known to have used the phrase."International hostile forces are intensifying the strategic plot of Westernizing and dividing China," Hu said in a speech to party leaders, not published until this January.
The Maoist Internet platform Red Flag published some of Zhu's report last November. A classified section, which deals directly with lessons for China, has been seen by Foreign Policy. It says Chinese children educated in the West are at risk of being "infiltrated by hostile forces" and must, therefore, be strictly screened and monitored before returning to important work.
"When employing those with experience of studying or working in the West we must first examine their political stance," wrote Zhu. "Those who have a question or problem of politics should be strictly banned from service no matter how talented and capable they are." Zhu wrote that all returnees need to be urgently "investigated ... as soon as possible to check whether they have been ‘peacefully evolved' by the West." Only with such vigilance, Zhu insists -- to the point of treating the children of the Party as potential traitors -- can China avoid the disastrous road of privatization and Westernization dressed up as "reform." (Chinese who have studied abroad, including princelings, are screened before taking significant government positions, but Zhu recommends the process be far more rigorous.)
Zhu's report seemed to resonate among China's leaders, at least those whose children have not lived overseas. "There were a few ministry and provincial level leaders who rang me directly or reached me through other channels," said Zhu, in the March interview. "Some believed my warning was excellent; others felt it did not go far enough."
Liu told his officers in February that Western brainwashing of Chinese children was part of a much larger ideological struggle: amorphous enemy forces had precipitated the Arab Spring and then turned their "spears" towards China. "We must not change our beliefs," he said. "Once we lose our pursuit and veneration of long-term common ideals we have lost our flag and lost our spirit, even lost our nation." Zhu and Liu both believe the Party should return to the "serve the people" ethos of the early Maoist era. It's an uphill battle that Liu may no longer be in the position to fight.