So was Xu richly rewarded for his initiative? He was rewarded with bills: $120 million in all in Xu’s estimation, forcing him to sell his decadent home in Hong Kong and spend all of the intervening years paying his lenders back. You see, General Ji was jailed in 2001 for his involvement in a massive smuggling ring in the city of Xiamen—so the cabal of officers that set Xu up for the task was no longer around to see that he was compensated.
Beijing did pay for the $20 million value of the carrier—but argued that it couldn’t cover other costs because he lacked receipts. Apparently, invoices—or fapiao in Mandarin—don’t come standard with bribes paid to Ukrainian businessmen. And, as one quickly learns in China, you always need the official fapiao.
So if there’s a moral to the story of the Varyag, it’s not to expect too much gratitude for your good deeds . . . and always keep the receipt.
Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring. This piece first appeared several years ago and is being republished due to reader's interest.