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, limiting their role…

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