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Book Rec: Red Roulette by Desmond Shum

Updated: Jul 7

“The Chinese Communist Party functions like the Mafia; it has its own code of omertà.”

Having lived in China for 4 years, when a friend recommended Red Roulette, I was immediately drawn in. As an expat living in Shanghai, I wasn’t privy to the secret, and sometimes seedy, workings of society’s elite. The power, the corruption and how quickly one may rise… and fall were just rumors, never confirmed. But Desmond Shum’s memoir reveals the inner workings of Beijing’s government, the meteoric rise of Chinese entrepreneurs and the real-life fear of losing guanxi (relational power). Not to give anything away, but if you’ve ever wanted an inside look, this book is fascinating on so many fronts. Dive in and let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Discussion guide below for your Red Roulette book club!

Book cover of Red Roulette with title, author and a pink dragon on the cover.

Book Jacket

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, 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.

Red Roulette Discussion Guide

  1. What were your prior ideas about Chinese business and culture before reading this memoir?

  2. How does Shum’s rag-to-riches story compare to others? How do his extreme riches change the storyline?

  3. Even amid their rise in wealth and power, Whitney and Desmond deal with the universal struggle of infertility. How is Whitney’s behavior toward her doctors influenced by her background? Do you think her actions in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York impacted her treatment?

  4. What do you think of Whitney’s, and ultimately Desmond’s, outlook on marriage? Would you consider a marriage partner in the same way? Why or why not?


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Jan 10
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

My next read!!


Jul 21, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Love an inside look into China!

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