This is sort of an investigation of Lai Changxing, a Chinese smuggler tycoon from a few years back. By the time you're done, you've explored corruption in modern Chinese life. There might not be a way to become a tycoon in China except through corruption. When it was convenient for officials to take money from Lai, they did. Later, when it was no longer convenient, they screamed for his head. Meanwhile a service economy thrives, providing luxuries to the rich, with the assumption that the customers are crooks. When Mao wanted influence in the cities, he dealt with gangsters. When the mainland wanted to get Hong Kong under control, they dealt with gangsters. Payoffs are everywhere.
This makes the book sound grim and strident. But really, it's wander-ish
and exploratory. In many places, it's funny.