“Money Machine: A Trailblazing American Venture in China” by Weijian Shan

Weijian Shan Weijian Shan

Delving into the world of banking and corporate takeovers, Money Machine tells the real-life story of how a US-based company took control and turned around a struggling Chinese bank in the early 2000s, when China was starting to open up its banking sector.

While a partner at the Hong Kong office of US-based private equity firm Newbridge Capital in 2002, Weijian Shan is offered a chance to purchase a controlling stake in Shenzhen Development Bank, based in Shenzhen across the border from Hong Kong, but with branches across China. It is an unprecedented opportunity, but one with significant risk and uncertainty since the bank had some serious issues such as a high rate of bad loans and inadequate capital.


Money Machine: A Trailblazing American Venture in China, Weijian Shan (Wiley, February 2023)
Money Machine: A Trailblazing American Venture in China, Weijian Shan (Wiley, February 2023)

Not your normal Western banker or finance professional, Shan’s youth in China included several years as a laborer during the Cultural Revolution, which was the subject of his memoir Out of the Gobi, before then writing about how he helped rescue a troubled South Korean bank in Money Games. Money Machine is the third book by Shan, who was a well-connected former academic and investment executive before moving to private equity.

Finance and banking professionals will find the book captivating as Shan provides a front-row seat to how the whole deal unfolded through offers, counteroffers, and negotiations, while also providing abundant details of such things as net asset values, nonperforming loans and convertible bonds. Along the way, readers get a glimpse of a China just beginning to open up its economy after entering the WTO in 2002 and about to enjoy a massive economic boom that would last throughout the 2000s and 2010s. At times, the book gets very technical, though the prose is clear enough that it is not too difficult to understand what is going on.


Of course, there is a reason why foreign institutions hardly venture into the Chinese banking system as Shan goes through what seems like a labyrinthine corporate marathon. Shan and his fellow executives meet with numerous officials and regulators at different levels of government, obtain approvals from numerous bodies, while encountering unexpected reversals and regulatory changes. And this is only during buying the bank, as Shan and his team then face the task of turning around the institution and making it viable while shedding billions of dollars in non-performing loans and trying to convince customers not to take their deposits and leave for other banks.

Over several years, Shan and his team engage in corporate restructuring and manage to succeed in steering the bank upward, though they then face serious problems with raising further capital and undertaking share reforms. Despite encountering setbacks and reversals that can be frustrating, Shan powers ahead with an even-handed approach while displaying little rancor. Without giving away what eventually happens, it is fair to say that Shan and his firm end up doing quite well from the purchase and ownership of the bank.

Money Machine is a unique look at banking, private equity, and doing business in China, especially in navigating the layers of bureaucratic and political officialdom that are essential to getting things done.

Hilton Yip is a writer based in Taiwan and former book editor of Taiwan’s The China Post.