(p. B1) To build a logistics hub next to Beijing’s main airport, Desmond Shum spent three years collecting 150 official seals from the many-layered Chinese bureaucracy.
To get these seals of approval, he curried favors with government officials. The airport customs chief, for example, demanded that he build the agency a new office building with indoor basketball and badminton courts, a 200-seat theater and a karaoke bar.
“If you don’t give this to us,” the chief told Mr. Shum with a big grin over dinner, “we’re not going to let you build.”
Mr. Shum recounts the conversation in a memoir that shows how the Communist Party keeps business in line — and what happens when businesspeople overstep. Released this month, “Red Roulette: An Insider’s Story of Wealth, Power, Corruption and Vengeance in Today’s China” shows how government officials keep the rules fuzzy and the threat of a crackdown ever-present, . . .
. . .
(p. B4) . . . Mr. Shum’s book has come out just as the future of China’s entrepreneurs is in doubt. The government has cracked down on the most successful private enterprises, including Alibaba Group, the e-commerce giant, and Didi, the ride-hailing company. It has sentenced business leaders who dared to criticize the government to lengthy prison terms.
. . .
“The party has an almost animal instinct toward repression and control,” Mr. Shum wrote in the book. “It’s one of the foundational tenets of a Leninist system. Anytime the party can afford to swing toward repression, it will.”
. . .
“Only in times of crisis does the party loosen its grip, allowing more free enterprise and more freedom,” Mr. Shum wrote. “China’s growing economy presented the party with an opportunity to reassert its dominance.”
. . .
Many businesspeople have managed to move at least part of their assets abroad, he said. Few make long-term investments because they are too risky and difficult. “Only idiots plan for the long term,” he said.
. . .
To win a green light for the airport logistics hub, Mr. Shum dined with officials nearly every day for a few years, downing one bottle of Moutai, the famed Chinese liquor, at each meal. His employees brought officials fine teas, ran their errands and looked after the needs of their wives and children.
One employee accompanied so many people to so many sauna trips that his skin started peeling off, he wrote.
The top airport and local district officials changed three times during the project’s span. Each time, Mr. Shum’s team had to restart the ingratiating process.
For the full commentary, see:
Li Yuan. “An Insider To Money And Power In China Tells All.” The New York Times (Friday, Sept. 24, 2021): B1 & B4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the same date as the print version, and has the title “An Insider Details the ‘Black Box’ of Money and Power in China.”)
The book discussed in the commentary quoted above is:
Shum, Desmond. Red Roulette: An Insider’s Story of Wealth, Power, Corruption, and Vengeance in Today’s China. New York: Scribner, 2021.