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Red Roulette

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

About The Book


In the headline-making and bestselling tradition of Bill Browder’s Red Notice comes a unique and incendiary memoir from an entrepreneur who rose to the zenith of power and money in 21st century China and whose wife was disappeared - and then mysteriously reappeared four years later on the eve of Red Roulette’s publication and global media coverage about it.

As Desmond Shum was growing up impoverished in China, he vowed his life would be different. Through hard work and sheer tenacity, he earned an American college degree and returned to his native country 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 China’s Communist Party, the so-called Red Aristocracy, he 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, travelling 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 living overseas with his son, learned that his now ex-wife Whitney had vanished along with three co-workers.

In Red Roulette Desmond Shum pulls back the curtain on China’s ruling elite and reveals the real truth of what is happening inside China’s wealth-making machine. This is both Desmond’s story and Whitney’s, because she has not been able to tell it herself.

About The Author

Photograph by Jonty Davies

Desmond Shum, who was born in Shanghai and raised in Hong Kong, was part of a private equity team that invested in the first NASDAQ-listed Chinese technology firm, and he later undertook investments in technology, finance and real estate in the Greater China region. He 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. He is an Honorary Trustee of Tsinghua University and he's a Henry Crown Fellow of The Aspen Institute.   

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (September 7, 2021)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781398509900

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Raves and Reviews

'The book China doesn’t want you to read.'


'Powerful and disturbing…The Chinese government will not be happy with this book....Rarely has anyone in modern China been brave enough to violate its oppressive code of silence and give an honest first-hand account of what really goes on in the corridors of power.'

– Bill Browder, author of Red Notice

'The book is full of fabulous titbits... It was a period of so much scheming that the Beijing Hotel employed two full-time coordinators to stagger guests so as to prevent inconvenient encounters. It’s this level of detail on Beijing’s inner workings that has clearly spooked the communist high command. Shum’s recollections are still deeply embarrassing for the Chinese Communist Party, making this memoir a singular, highly readable insider account of the most secretive of global powers.'

– Cindy Yu, Spectator

'The machine was right to be worried. Large scandals of the recent past are revisited in Red Roulette… [The book] details an elite China built on secrets and fear, in which family ties are one of the only reliable bonds of trust.'

– David Rennie, The Economist

'Red Roulette pulls back the curtain on the sordid world of the Communist aristrocracy: how they operate, what drives them and what it means to rise and fall in their regime.'

– Juliet Samuel, Daily Telegraph

'Offers a rare peek into the luxe lifestyles of China’s elites…a vivid portrait.'

– Washington Post

'A rare alternative to China’s tightly controlled, state-sponsored narratives. In his book, Shum poses an urgent question: "What type of system allows for extra-legal kidnappings of the type that befell Whitney Duan?"'

– Bloomberg

'Red Roulette was already shaping up as a must-read account of corruption at the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party. But the sudden reemergence last week of Whitney Duan, Shum’s former wife, four years after disappearing into apparent arbitrary detention in Beijing, has made the book a news story.'

– Politico, China Watcher

'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 US Deputy National Security Advisor

'A rare inside peek at the cossetted Chinese elite who parlay their connections with Politburo members into billions. This is a world of Château 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, former Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times

'Gripping…sensational…rich, nuanced, and helped change my mind about much that I thought I understood about China.'

– David Barboza, The Wire

'A deliberative, slow-building, suspenseful narrative that reveals numerous insights about the mechanics of power and greed… Observers of contemporary Chinese affairs, consistently intriguing and murky territory, will find much to interest them here. A riveting look inside "the roulette-like political environment of the New China".'

– Kirkus (starred review)

'Students of Chinese politics and business will appreciate Shum’s personal narrative of China’s turbulent economic rise; this book deserves a wide audience.'

– Library Journal

'[The book that shows] why China’s billionaires are disappearing off the streets. Is this outspoken tycoon the next target to fall?'

– 60 Minutes (Australia)

'One of the very few insider accounts we have of how things get done at the top in China... It’s also very well written... And it would make a tremendous movie about wealth, power and oppression in China. It’s a shame that, thanks to that same power and oppression, no one in Hollywood will ever have the guts to make it.'

– Foreign Policy

'A memoir that shows how the Chinese government keeps business in line - and what will happen when businesspeople overstep... Red Roulette shows how government officials keep the rules fuzzy and the threat of a crackdown ever present.'

– New York Times

'Shum knew he was picking a fight with the CCP the minute he decided to write Red Roulette and is aware he is now a marked man - he has reviewed his will and made sure his affairs are in order. "This is my David and Goliath fight," he says. "Except it’s Goliath times a million."'

– Sunday Times

'Red Roulette is quickly shaping up to be the new must-read among observers of Chinese elite politics... A vivid portrait of the splashy lifestyles of China’s business and political elites... Shum deploys his piquant sense of detail and offers a rare glimpse into the webs and knots of China’s political and business royalty.'

– Diplomat

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