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Red Roulette

An Insider's Story of Wealth, Power, Corruption, and Vengeance in Today's China

A unique and incendiary memoir from an entrepreneur who rose to the highest realms of power and money in China and whose wife was disappeared, Red Roulette reveals the truth of what is happening inside the country’s wealth-making machine.

After the Communist Revolution, Desmond Shum’s grandfather was marked as belonging to a “black category” that included former landlords and rich peasants—meaning the Shums would be stigmatized and impoverished. As Desmond was growing up, he vowed his life would be different.

Through hard work and sheer tenacity Shum earned an American college degree and returned to China to establish himself in business. There, he met his future wife, the highly intelligent and equally ambitious Whitney Duan who was determined to make her mark within China’s male-dominated society. Whitney and Desmond formed an effective team and, aided by relationships they formed with top members of the red aristocracy, vaulted into China’s billionaire class. Soon they were developing the massive air cargo facility at Beijing International Airport, and they followed that feat with the creation of one of Beijing’s premier hotels. They were dazzlingly successful, traveling in private jets, funding multi-million-dollar buildings and endowments, and purchasing expensive homes, vehicles, and art.

But in 2017, their fates diverged irrevocably when Desmond, while residing overseas with his son, learned that his now ex-wife Whitney had vanished along with three coworkers.

This is both Desmond’s story and Whitney’s, because she cannot tell it herself.

Photograph by Jonty Davies

Desmond Shum, who was born in Shanghai and raised in Hong Kong, developed the largest air cargo logistics facility in China, the Beijing Airport Cargo Terminal. He also led the development of the Bulgari Hotel in Beijing. In addition, starting in the early 2000s, he was an early pioneer of philanthropy in China, gifting extensively both domestically and internationally. Desmond holds a Bachelor's degree in Finance and Accounting from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States, and is a graduate of the joint-EMBA program of Northwestern University (US) and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. 

“Powerful and disturbing…The Chinese government will not be happy with this book. Desmond Shum lifts the curtain behind the supposed Chinese economic miracle, portraying government leaders driven by corruption, conflict of interest, and greed. Rarely has anyone in modern China been brave enough to violate its oppressive code of silence and give an honest firsthand account of what really goes on in the corridors of power. Shum breaks all the rules so we can see it for ourselves and it’s not pretty.”
—Bill Browder, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Red Notice

Red Roulette is everything those who follow China have been waiting for:  a deeply personal epic that reveals the idealism, ecstasy, and avarice of post-Deng Xiaoping China…There simply isn't another inside history of today's Chinese leadership like this one.  If it spawns a new genre of Chinese personal histories—as I hope it will—Red Roulette will remain the classic of its category.  Desmond Shum’s book is riveting, moving, and dangerous.”
Matt Pottinger, former U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor

“Desmond Shum’s Red Roulette gives us a rare inside peek at the cossetted Chinese elite who parlay their connections with Politburo members into billions. This is a world of Chateau Lafite, Rolls Royces, and $100 million yachts, where friendships are strictly transactional.  Although the book can be fun and gossipy, it's also poignant, and, ultimately, we come away with rich insights into the workings of the Chinese Communist Party and the billionaires it has spawned.”
Barbara Demick, author of National Book Award Finalist Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea and Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town, and former Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times