Inside the Red Mansion

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 April, 2008, 12:00am

Inside the Red Mansion

by Oliver August

John Murray, HK$148

The title and cover of this book hint at the seediness the author encountered 'on the trail of China's most wanted man'. But readers may still be startled by the portrait the former Beijing bureau chief of The Times newspaper paints of the country in which late Communist Party leader Deng Xiaoping proclaimed it is glorious to be rich. In writing about Lai Changxing, Oliver August sloped into brothels, bars and boardrooms to tease out the story of the man who went from being an illiterate ditch digger to import and property baron to the mainland's richest man. But his fortune wasn't to last. Accused by the Communist Party of corruption and fraud, Lai fled Xiamen in 1999 for Vancouver, where he fought extradition to the mainland and, his prominent lawyer argued, a bullet to the back of the head. By the time readers meet Lai, however, they should be aware that he is simply a metaphor for a China gunning for gold in a race it started late. One of the book's strengths is in the characters August employs to show how Lai was a product of a system that encouraged bribery and applauded excess. Who or what was in the red mansion? Prostitutes handpicked to pleasure officials.


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