by James Clavell

Hardcover, 1966



"It is the early 19th century, when European traders and adventurers first began to penetrate the forbidding Chinese mainland. And it is in this exciting time and exotic place that a giant of an Englishman, Dirk Straun, sets out to turn the desolate island of Hong Kong into an impregnable fortress of British power, and to make himself supreme ruler-- Tai-Pan!"--P. [4] of cover.


(840 ratings; 4.1)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Lex23
After reading Shogun and King rat (and really liking both books), I decided to pick up Tai-pan.

The books tells the story of Dirk Struan, the Tai-pan (leader) of a large trade company in Asia, trading between China and England. He has a lot of enemies he has to deal with, dirty deals to make, etc.,
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etc. All this is done with the founding and rise of Hong Kong in the background.

The book really disappointed me. The characters are shallow, the story is simple and highly predictable, very repetitious and the end is, well... pretty ridiculous. People who are hoping for an interesting historic novel (I was one) don't need to bother, the book is a bad kind of action novel, coincidentally taking place in and around Hong Kong in 1840.

In all, not a book you have to read, even when you really liked Shogun and King rat.
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LibraryThing member kims-embroidery
One man's desire to establish himself as the dominant trader with China, his struggle to maintain a relationship with his son and a love story all wrapped up in one book. Loved it!
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
I loved 'Shogun', the first of James Clavell's asia saga; however, I loved it partly because I love Japan, so 'Tai-Pan', set in Hong Kong for the most part, was never going to fare as well.

I loved the way, in 'Shogun', that Clavell used the Japanese language, teaching his readers simple words and
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then no longer providing a translation for them, once they became familiar enough. However, the same trick doesn't work as well here, with the use of pidgin English, Struan's thick Scots accent, and the poor English of the pirate-traders like Brock or Scragger. In fact, this attention to detail on Clavell's part nearly wrecked the experience for me, though with time I grew used to the presentation, and now cannot imagine it written any other way.

The plot runs similarly to 'Shogun' in its style - once again, a relatively short period of time is explored over the course of about a thousand pages, and once again the end of the book is by no means the end of the story. 'Tai-Pan' is more obviously a book in a series, part of his saga; the story of the four half-coins is not concluded, and a number of notable ends are left quite loose.

The main character, the eponymous Tai-Pan, Dirk Struan, is an interesting creation, but is too often the wisest person in the text, and is almost pointedly wiser than the reader would imagine himself to be. This can be a pain, but fortunately the other characters are developed enough to provide interesting counterpoints. I'm particularly glad that Clavell uses some of his book to round out the supporting cast, making them into three-dimensional beings rather than the crude caricatures they could have been. Longstaff is a good example - for much of the book he is a bumbling fool, but really he's just out of his depth; later, we see how he too can be a schemer, just like Struan.

Having read this book I am convinced of the need to read the remaining chapters of the saga. There are four more to read, but they go quickly despite their length, and so shouldn't take very long.
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LibraryThing member RicDay
This was a terrible let-down after the quality of King Rat. Clavell took a dramatic and compelling bit of history and happily butchered it (something I happily told him over lunch in the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents' Club a few years after publication).

Worse, in many ways, was that Clavell had
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been given access to the historical documents of Jardines, the trading company whose head effectively founded Hong Kong. It was believed that Clavell was writing a serious history and some of the principals at the company (descendants of the founder), swore afterward that no writer would ever again gain access to the family papers -- something I hope does not happen.

Dreadful book.
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LibraryThing member Pondlife
This is my third James Clavell novel: previously I've read Shogun and King Rat.

Tai-Pan is about the foundation of Hong Kong in the 1840s, with the main characters being the families of two Scottish traders.

This is another engrossing tale, with Clavell's unique style. Surprising easy to read, and
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difficult to put down once you become interested in the characters and situations.

I didn't find it quite as good as Shogun, but that's maybe because I read Shogun first and it's difficult for other books in the same style to compete.

My main criticism is that I felt some of the characters were a bit one-dimensional, and there was a bit too much black and white. For example, Dirk Struan is a good guy, and his son is basically good if a bit naive; whereas Tyler Brock is a bad guy, and his son is just evil. I felt that Shogun was better in this respect.

I found the pigeon English interesting, because I wasn't aware of this meet-half-way language that was used in the Chinese pors in the 19th century.
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LibraryThing member BryanThomasS
Not as good as Shogun but still well written and worthwhile. Also set in Japan with rich history, characters and plotting.
LibraryThing member kaulsu
It's been more than two decades since I first read this book: it has retained it's readability, still able to transport me to a land I've never been and to a time more than 100 years before I was ever born. Of course, now I will have to continue to reread the entire saga, as will become evident at
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some point on my LT shelf.
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LibraryThing member DaddyPupcake
I had a very hard time getting into the book. On my third attempt of starting the book from the begining, I finally was able to understand what the characters were saying. Once I was able to get into the story, I enjoyed it.
LibraryThing member jimmaclachlan
I thought Shogun was his best book when I read it, but found I liked Tai-Pan even more. There's more action & suspense with a twisty plot & far reaching consequences. If you plan on reading any other books by Clavell, you HAVE to read Tai-Pan. Without its history, you'll miss out on a lot. Dirk
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Straun, the hero, is probably my favorite character in all fiction. He is a tough, smart man that isn't afraid to unlearn his old ways & adapt. He has a wonderful enemy in Brock & intelligently fights his way through the convoluted founding of Taiwan as one of the preeminent heads of a trading house. His decendents carry on through out most of the rest of Clavell's books.
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LibraryThing member jayne_charles
James Clavell's Shogun is my favourite book of all time, and it was always going to be hard for this one to match up! It certainly measures up in length, but I didn't find this as endlessly fascinating. Struan's relationship with May May was probably the best thing about it for me; I found some of
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the business dealings and political machinations a bit dull.

The book was instructive in terms of Chinese culture, and it was interesting that both 'sides' (Western and Chinese) saw the other as uncivilised.
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LibraryThing member DRFP
Clavell's works aren't the deepest, most intellectual books you'll ever read but they're easy to read and very entertaining.
LibraryThing member agdturner
West meets East, the English and Chinese in particular at the birth of Honk Kong. A great tale of pirates, trading, war, settling and corruption, this novel has a bit of everything including stories of love and nurture, politics and keeping face. Based upon the place although the characters are
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meant to be fictitious it is easy to imagine people like the characters in the story which is very geographical and plays to the politics of the era though I am interested to know how historically correct it is. I read this soon after reading King Rat, the authors first novel about living during occupation centred on a Japanese prisoner of war camp in the second world war. Now I look forward all the more to the next book Shogun. This may be a book more enjoyed by men and fathers, but I think it would be a good read for all that enjoy a geographical novel and tales of pirates and empire.
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LibraryThing member nomadicrose
I'm working my way through this series again. The movie version of this was on TV this week and it reminded me how much I liked it the first time around.
LibraryThing member uryjm
Oh dear, what to read on long haul flight to Los Angeles? I chose this because "King Rat" was so good and I was struggling to find anything else to take my fancy. I gave this a good six hours of reading, but it didn't grab me, and I left it in a hotel drawer in Valencia for someone else to have a
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LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
A foul-mouthed tale about the unpleasant people who set up Hong Kong. One hopes the Chinese settlers were nicer people. But I enjoyed "King Rat" for what it was, and I read this book. B grade entertainment
LibraryThing member Lylee
I enjoyed the fictionalized founding of Taiwan depicted by Clavell. When I read Shogun twenty years ago, I was engrossed and absorbed, and this was also great fun. Perhaps not great literature, but paints a full absorbing picture.
LibraryThing member pinetastic
Complicated historical drama, rather annoying in its male conquerer perspective. But interesting way to learn a bit about the history. 18th century pirate/seamen's dialog, funny, but annoying too.
LibraryThing member pierthinker
James Clavell’s Asian Saga is a wonder of adventure story writing that covers the long history of European engagement with the Far East, especially with Japan and China. The core of the series is the two books Tai-Pan and Noble House which follow the Struan family as they battle for mercantile
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success in Hong Kong.

Tai-Pan covers the founding of Hong Kong in the middle of the 19th century and the origins of many of the traditions, friendships, relationships and feuds between various families and factions, both Western and Chinese, that we see in their more mature context in Noble House.

Dirk Struan is the central character here and although he sometimes comes across as impossibly talented, lucky and omniscient he does represent the kind of driving mercantilism that defines the 19th century. The story drives along with plenty of brio and enough incident and twists to please anyone.

The western characters tend to be drawn as black or white, whereas the Chinese characters are more nuanced and subtle, perhaps representing the author’s clear respect for Asian culture.

The pidgin English used to represent interactions between westerners and Chinese is of its time (the book was written in the 1960s) and would probably not be acceptable today; but, it does show the gulf in communication between the two cultures. I did find the broad Scots accents of the Struans and the uncultured speech of th Brocks a little wearing.
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LibraryThing member A.Godhelm
A doorstopper of a novel that doesn't rise to the heights of Shogun. It's engaging and quite fun, but the length makes it hard to justify, compared to other historical novels. It relies quite a bit on repetition of the same themes and phrases by God and it's easy to see how you could cut it down
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severely without really compromising the contents. The novels chauvinistic and imperialist aspects might stand out to a modern reader but considering the time it was written and the period it's about, it's quite progressive.
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Antheneum (1966), 594 pages

Original publication date





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