In the early morning of July 1, 2021, buses full of Party members drove to Tiananmen Square. They are descendants of the communist revolutionaries who have ruled the country since 1949. As the economy accelerated in the early 1980s, they accumulated countless perks for themselves and their families, as Desmond Shum explains in his book red roulette† It is a rare and memorable exposition on the corrupt fundamentals of Chinese business.
Desmond Shum (Shanghai, 1968) He grew up in Shanghai and Hong Kong, and studied in the United States. As an entrepreneur, he developed the Airport Cargo Terminal and was closely involved with the Bulgari Hotel in Beijing. He was a member of the CPPCC, an advisory body of the Communist Party of China. In 2014, he participated in pro-Beijing rallies against the paratrooper movement in Hong Kong. Later, he already participated in demonstrations for the transition to democracy. His ex-wife Whitney Doan disappeared in 2017 and is under house arrest.
Organizing your accounts was a strange thing from the outside. Many companies had no idea what their turnover was. They grew up so fast that they couldn’t keep up. The management was full of bragging,” the somewhat stoic Shum says via a video link from his London apartment.
Shum receives interview requests from all over the world. No wonder, because it’s the first time a Chinese businessman has offered a behind-the-scenes look. People do not dare to speak. But this is the real China. I want people to better understand how the Chinese Communist Party works.”
Pervasive corruption and nepotism
The entrepreneur grew up as a poor gunman in Shanghai and Hong Kong. When Deng Xiaoping opened the doors to the outside world of China, Shum had the opportunity to study in the United States and pursue a career in business. Money was littering the boards in China’s new, open economy. Shum entered the rank of extremely wealthy, a class previously reserved for the red elite.
In the decades before current President Xi Jinping came to power, corruption and nepotism were rampant. Anything was possible and nothing was too crazy. “We came from nothing, and if we didn’t draw anything out of our lives, it wouldn’t matter. So why not go for it?” Shum writes.
But the higher you climb, the harder it is to fall. The only way to break this trap is to build relationships and that is exactly the essence of Chinese business. “You’re doing business in a gray area,” Shum explains. “In every Chinese law, the last sentence is an escape clause. So they can enforce the law however they want. That’s why you should always be attached to a political force.”
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