In some ways, the rush to U.S. campuses by the party’s “red nobility” simply reflects China’s national infatuation with American education. China now has more students at U.S. colleges than in any other foreign country. They numbered 157,558 in the 2010-11 academic year, according to data compiled by the Institute of International Education — up nearly fourfold in 15 years.

But the kin of senior party officials are also a special case: They rarely attend state schools but congregate instead at top-tier — and very expensive — private colleges, a stark rejection of the egalitarian ideals that brought the Communist Party to power in 1949. Of the nine current members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the supreme decision-making body of a Communist Party steeped in anti-American rhetoric, at least five have children or grandchildren who have studied or are currently studying in the United States.

And helping to foster growing perceptions that the party is corrupt is a big, unanswered question raised by the foreign studies of its leaders’ children: Who pays their bills? Harvard, which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition and living expenses over four years, refuses to discuss the funding or admission of individual students.