Tai-Pan, James Clavell



(Asian Saga #2)

Author: James Clavell

First Edition:  Atheneum, 1966

Original language:  English


The novel opens with the British seizure of Hong Kong after the first Opium War.  Long and sweeping, covering the lives of many characters, the book focuses on Dirk Struan, the Tai-Pan, the most powerful trader in Asia and head of the Noble House.

The book covers the first year or so after the British seizure of Hong Kong and how the island changed and grew.   The story follows Struan’s attempts to solidify his power, the importance of Hong Kong, and perpetuate his family’s hold on the Noble House and its place as the largest and most powerful trading house in the continent.


“’Joss’ was a Chinese word that meant Luck and Fate and God and the devil combined.”

“Empires are built by young men, Culum.  They’re lost by old men.”

“He long ago had learned a basic law of survival: Bring your enemy to battle only on your terms, never on his.”

“Save a man from dying, then you yourself are responsible for him for the rest of the man’s life.  That’s fair.  Because you interfere with the will of the gods , you must be prepared to assume their responsibility.”

“He knew that his father was right- it wasn’t money that was important.  Only the lack of it.”

“The point of money is to use it.”

“Now I know that love is like the sea, sometimes calm and sometimes stormy; it’s dangerous, beautiful, death-dealing, life giving.  But never permanent, everchanging.  And unique only for a short span in the eyes of time.”

“Fair wind, open sea, and safe harbor.”

“How else can you dominate joss?  If you smile when you lose, then you win in life.”

“How difficult it is to love someone and live with someone over years.”



Another fantastic book by Clavell.  Yes, all 700+ pages of it.   Struan was an amazing character that readers can sympathize with, understand, and even admire.  I loved his open-mindedness about the Chinese people and their customs, his love for Mai-mai, as well as his children, especially Culum.

However, Struan is not the only compelling character.  Brock was interesting and you could either love or hate him, the same goes for Robb and Culum.  You just had to hate Gorth and love Orlov.  The female characters were also really extraordinary: I adored Mai-mai and her spunk, as well as Mary and Ah Sam.

I loved the description of the initial building of Hon Kong.  The descriptions of Chinese culture and customs was really fascinating, as were the different reactions to them from westerners. Even though it was a long book, it was a fast read, full of action and wonderful description.  However, the beginning is a little slow, and the story doesn’t really get going until after about 200 pages- but if you can get through those, you will be happy that you did, because the book is really wonderful.

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Old Hong Kong in Pictures:

English: Liberation of Hong Kong in 1945 after...

English: Liberation of Hong Kong in 1945 after the Second World War. Picture taken at the Cenotaph in Central, Hong Kong. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

View Of An Old Village, Kowloon Peninsula, Hon...

View Of An Old Village, Kowloon Peninsula, Hong Kong [c1946] Hedda Morrison [RESTORED] (Photo credit: ralphrepo)

Hong-kong, from Kow-loon.

Hong-kong, from Kow-loon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)