60 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on April 29, 2004
Unlike many of the previous reviewers, I have no particular connection to Asia or an extensive knowledge of Chinese history, rather I am merely a fan of exciting stories and great writing and if the novel is full of interesting facts, then all the better. Tai-Pan fits the bill.
It is an engaging story about the European community in China just after the British have taken control of Hong Kong. It centers on Dirk Struan, a manipulative, shrewd, and charismatic man who happens to be the most powerful trader in Asia. There is intrigue, violence, romance and tragedy, but this all adds flavor to the epic story of how the British controlled their first stronghold in Asia. Clavell does an amazing job of creating realistic characters and incorporaring facts about the time period and his knowledege of the culture. Despite being a fictional account of this era, I learned a great deal about China, British trade and sailing in the 1800's.
I would recommend this book to everyone who enjoys historical fiction or just great writing and good stories. Further, this book is at least as good as Shogun and is a critical component of the Asia Saga, so it is a must read for people who enjoy Clavell's other books.
79 of 86 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2005
The first time I read Tai Pan was in college 30 years ago. I picked it up reluctantly, despite a strong recommendation from a friend, because it was about China and Hong Kong about which I had little interest. But I read it nonetheless and was absolutely transfixed. I've just finished reading it again at age 54 and can heartily still recommend this book.
This is the story of the founding of Hong Kong as told through the fictional characters of Dirk Struan, his son Cullum, their arch-enemy Tyler Brock and many others. Dirk Struan is the Tai Pan (supreme leader) of the Noble House, the largest and strongest of the China traders. Tyler Brock is his sworn enemy since Struan first served aboard an English man-of-war and experienced the lash from Brock's hands as a "powder monkey" at Trafalgar aboard the 110-gunship Royal Soverign.
Clavell uses Struan as the embodiment of the best virtues of the English system with her rule of law and the Chinese system. Brock, while not without redeeming qualities, reflects some of the worst features of the English system. Struan is receptive to the virtues of the Chinese culture while remaining a patriotic Englishman.
Struan has acquired many of the habits of the Chinese including bathing 2-3 times a day (as opposed to the rest of the English who believe that bathing renders one susceptible to the "flux") wearing light cloths and boots, and many others. He takes a Chinese concubine, May-May, and has children by her. His eldest half caste son, Gordon Chen, from a previous concubine plays a major role as well.
Struan is no saint, particularly when viewed from the perspective of the 21st century, or for that matter even when viewed from the perspective of his own time. But he is one of the most intriguing fictional characters you're likely ever to come across. This book was first published in 1966 so the idiocy of PC had not yet reared its ugly head. And this book pays little heed to the silly PC concerns of our time and is correspondingly refreshing.
If you like your characters strong, raw, unadulterated, and realistic and love a great story line this book will not disappoint. My only misgiving about the book was that it had to end at 732 small-print pages. The good news is that the book Noble House, though it takes place 120 years later does continue the saga of the Noble House and provide the follow-up on the characters that you come to know and love in Tai-Pan.
39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 1999
I just finished reading Tai-Pan for the second time. The first time I read it was nine years ago. At that time I was sure it was one of the best epics ever written. Now with nine more years of wisdom I am convinced. Clavell writes a fascinating tale of ruthless men and women in 19th century Asia. The dialogue is at times witty and the ending is the best I have ever read. I am now faced with the grim task of trying to find another book to read that comes close to the grandeur of this novel.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2003
Despite being overshdowed by it's suposedly better books in the Asian Saga, Tai-Pan is the best novel Clavell wrote. Having read all of the series more then once I can truly say that Tai-Pan is far better then Noble House and even Shogun. It's Clavell's shortest book(except King Rat) but still has all the magnificient plot lines. Dirk Struan is the Perfect Hero. He is not perfect but his power is felt even by the reader. Despite sevrel reviews that said that Clavell shouldn't have written in pidgin this from gives credabilty to the novel. The ending is Clavell's best, it is the perfect soultion and the book ends still in a climax. Tai-Pan is captiviting from the start and the 732 pages flow by as if they were just a few. I give this book 10 stars out of 5. A MUST READ
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 1997
This thoroughly enjoyable historical novel captures the atmosphere of China and Hong Kong in the mid 1800's. Dirk Struan, hero of this adventures, is a strongly written character who you can't help admiring and cheering on. I loved the way Clavell weaved together a compelling story with such descriptive details and historical facts that advance our understanding of characters and events. Because of this book, I read Jonathan Spence's history "God's Chinese Son", which I also recommend. I can't recommend the novel strongly enough for fans of historical fiction
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2004
In our age of cultural decadence, political correctness, contempt for Western Civilization and the general destruction of the "hero" as an ideal - there stand a few voices that recall a time when Men still understood what honor and virtue meant, and acted upon it.
James Clavell's Tai Pan is a book to read for all those starving for a vision of life possibilities and for the hero within us. Dirk Struan is a man who should be every boy's Father once in their lives, and for those of us not fortunate enough to know a man like this, Tai Pan fills the void perfectly.
While not living by an expressed written philosophy, Tai Pan Dirk Struan is a man who stands for reason, individualism, science, objective ethics and free trade. In essense, Dirk is a Classical Liberal or Humanist in the true sense of the word.
The story itself is a brilliant one and I find myself reading the book again every few years to remind myself of what a man Clavell was and what a wonderful world he created for us to live in.
For those who believe that Clavell was a racist because he accurately transcribed what "Pidgin" (chinese-english lingo) sounded like, you are not reading the same book.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2001
Do not be discouraged by the book's seemingly overwhelming thickness. The pages will melt away down to the last word thanks to the riveting story and the realistic, enjoyable characters. Clavell has successfullly combined two things that I have never seen woven together so skillfully: grand setting and intricate story. The book takes place in newly acquired British Hong Kong, the Age of Sail is at its glorious peak, and the nations of Earth are converging on China with hopes of garnering a profit from one of the most isolated governments in the world. The story involves a prolific cast of characters, each one distinctly colorful with his or her own unique flavor and mannerisms. Clavell carefully chronicles subtle interactions between the characters, allowing the reader to feel very personally involved in the story. I expected many dull moments in book. Usually when authors try to combine big settings with detailed characters and events, the story gets either 1) stuck in endless details and minutae or 2) so generalized and impersonal that you might receive greater stimulation from Cliff Notes. This, however, was never the case in Tai-Pan. Every word and sentence and dialogue in the book is necessary and tantalizing. Each detail either develops a character or moves the plot or paints the setting. There's no "filler", in other words.
A novel of this scope that is wholly riveting and "fat-free" is a true gem. This was my first Clavell, and I look forward to some more of his work. Tai-Pan is an experience for the mind and the imagination.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
James Clavell began his Asian Saga with "Tai-Pan," and in doing so brought the Far East to life in an unparalleled fashion.
"Tai-Pan" tells the story of Dirk Struan, Tai-Pan ("Supreme Leader") of Struan's, more popularly known as the Noble House. First in everything (money, influence, panache, daring, etc.), the Noble House has tied its future to the rise of Hong Kong, which is "founded" in the book's first chapter.
Struan, who has founded the Noble House with the vast fortune he built as an opium smuggler along the Chinese coast (many of the trading houses in "Tai Pan" owe their fortunes to opium smuggling, although they euphemistically refer to themselves as "China Traders"), has used his influence in Britain and with certain Chinese figures to take Hong Kong for the British crown as a toehold in China. Guided by his near-mystical vision of the importance of China to the world's future (at this point, China is considered by many Europeans to be a profitless wasteland populated by "heathens"), Struan will fight and kill to defend Hong Kong.
Newly widowed, Struan is comforted by his Chinese lover, May-May, who is also one of Clavell's most wonderful characters. Teetering on the verge of a stereotypical "dragon lady," May-May is a woman of courage, cunning, refinement, humor, and great beauty. Clavell lets May-May speak in both English (hilarious malaprops abound) and in Chinese so the reader gets a true picture of May-May's intelligence. Prejudices being what they were, Struan is forced to keep May-May under wraps, as it were, although the legend of the Tai Pan's Chinese mistress abound.
In addition to the loss of his family, Struan must contend with Tyler Brock, his one-eyed nemesis and leader of the second most powerful trading house, Brock and Sons. Brock and Struan have a deep-seeded hatred that is doomed to head for a reckoning. Brock, constantly maneuvering to best the Noble House, has quite a few tricks up his sleeve, and he forces Struan to make a dangerous gamble with the future of the Noble House.
In the novel's most intriguing sub-plot, Struan can ensure his financial status only if he accepts four half-coins from his Chinese mentor, Jin-Qua. Anyone who presents the other half-coin to the tai pan can have one favor granted -- no matter what it is. A chilling bargain, and one that flows through Clavell's future novels (Noble House).
Through it all, Clavell goes to great lengths to capture the clash of cultures on Hong Kong -- from the British, American, Chinese, and Eurasian perspectives. The sheer scope of man's prejudice is staggering!
As pervasive as the racial conflicts may be, ulterior motives also abound. Virtually every character in the novel has a wide range of goals, ambitions, and plots they are trying to weave, and Clavell handles this vast plot with great skill.
Struan, clearly the dominant character of the novel, does not quite reach superhero status, which shows proper restraint by Clavell. Struan is forced to cope with Culum, his resentful, conflicted, naive son, as well as his brother, Robb, and of course May-May. Struan struggles mightily, but he demonstrates that even the Tai-Pan is all too human.
All in all, a wonderful tale of the founding of one of the world's great cities, Hong Kong, and an expert treatment of the clash of cultures between East and West. A must read!
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2007
Not as great a read as Clavell's Shogun, it is still a good read and an absolutely necessary read if you are going to enjoy Clavell's "Gajin" and "Noble House", which follow the descendants of Dirk Straun, the original Tai-Pan. Unlike most books in a related series, Straun's Asian series gets better with each subsequent book.
Best way to read these books is in chronological order, not in publishing date order. Start out with Tai-Pan.
If you like historical novels, Clavell is the James Michener of Asia.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2000
This is a fictionalized account of the life of William Jardine (called Dirk Struan in "Tai-pan")- founder of the trading giant Jardine Matheson & Co. Ltd. This is the "Princely Hong" which is refered to as the Noble House of Hong Kong in Clavell's books.
This book is riviting- and somewhat illuminating historically. If you long for the good old days- take a peek into the 19th century- you will change your mind real fast!
This book grabs you from the first pages, and holds you till the last- it is a masterpeice!