Illustrations: Ruohan Wang



How two lottery-crazed bank clerks cooked up China’s biggest bank robbery of all time

Published in
28 min readDec 4, 2019


HHandan is an industrial city of three million people in northern China, about a two hour bullet train ride from Beijing. Pollution from coal-burning factories regularly fills the sky and blots out the sun. On April 16, 2007, the fuzzy, grey star had just set, and the bustling streets cast further into darkness, when police detectives arrived at the Agricultural Bank of China. Nervous employees led them to the vault. They didn’t have the keys to open it, so officers broke through the heavy steel door.

When detectives entered the vault, they were stumped by what they found — or rather, what they did not find. There were no tasered guards with their hands bound: Round-the-clock watchmen had worked their shifts without incident. The vault itself showed no sign of forced entry: The 60-centimeter-thick, steel-plated walls were intact. Security cameras and trip alarms operated normally.

Bank officials struggled to explain why they had waited hours to call the police. A lot of money was unaccounted for.

And the suspects had left behind only one piece of physical evidence: a bag full of lottery tickets.



David Gauvey Herbert
Writer for

Journalist. Brooklyn. Writing: Businessweek, The Atlantic, The Atavist Magazine, Quartz and others.