Tai-Pan

Tai-PanSuggested by Kung Fu Zu • It is an exiting time in the early 19th century, and the Chinese mainland is an exotic place luring European traders and adventurers. 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.
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13 Responses to Tai-Pan

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s another James Clavell book suggested by Mr. Kung. I started the free Kindle sample a couple days ago and the book, at least so far, is eminently readable — if I ever get around to reading it. I’m not an impatient reader. But I think I’m a quick judge of “Does he have a point?” And a lot of authors I can sniff out as boring rather early.

    But from the get-go, Tai-Pan is interesting. And I imagine never finishing this book even if I buy it because it is indeed full of interesting facts. Between jumping to Google Maps and Wiki, I’m not getting very far very fast. I read a couple pages last night and then spent the next 45 minutes studying about the Opium Clippers, the most famous being the still-existing Cutty Sark. These were the fastest commercial sailing vessels ever built and have not been bested by anything but specialty yachts and such. Sophisticated steam engines eventually took over their main routes but the clippers continued to prosper for a while moving goods from Australia and New Zealand to seasonal European markets…making the one-way trip in as little as 77 days.

    It’s rather remarkable that England could bring the enormous country of China to its knees (or at least to the bargaining table) with just a few ships-of-the-line clogging up the Yangtze and thus its major cities. This is history, in all its gritty detail, and the tone of the writing is thankfully free of the kind of multiculti PC caterwauling and apologizing that has made much of the testicle-less literature of today unreadable.

    Great Britain had an enormous civilizing influence on the world. But that didn’t happen without a purpose, without self-interest, and certainly not by saying “pretty please.” The girlified namby-pamby “nice” re-writers of history today are unable to deal with reality (today or then) because they are shocked, shocked, that their vision of perfect human happiness hasn’t always reigned. Luckily James Clavell does not (at least so far) see history through the poisoned pussy lens of the politically correct. You’re thus left to read a fascinating history and adventure story free from the never-ending moralizing of the intellectual vapid types. That’s no small thing in my book.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Luckily James Clavell does not (at least so far) see history through the poisoned pussy lens of the politically correct

      Don’t worry, he never does in any of his books that I have read. These include, Taipan, Shogun, Nobel House, King Rat and Whirlwind. The closest he gets is in the preface to Whirlwind when he writes something, I can’t recall exactly what, that seems to be insuring he avoids having Khomeini issuing some death fatwa against him, something like the one issued against Salman Rushdie. I can’t say as I blame him.

      And I imagine never finishing this book even if I buy it because it is indeed full of interesting facts. Between jumping to Google Maps and Wiki, I’m not getting very far very fast. I read a couple pages last night and then spent the next 45 minutes studying about the Opium Clippers, the most famous being the still-existing Cutty Sark.

      Isn’t it great to find a book which motivates you to search out more information on the various subjects it covers???? Good historical fiction is one of the best forms of writing. And Clavell is one of the best in this area.

      A bit of trivia: Captain Charles Elliot who took control of Hong Kong Island for Great Britain after the First Opium War, was later British Charge’ d’ Affaires in the Republic of Texas. He became friends with Sam Houston and other powerful Texas politicians and helped relations between Mexico and Texas. He did his best to insure such good relations as he did not want to see Texas annexed to the USA as Great Britain had good relations with the independent Lone Star State. Sadly, or happily (depending on one’s point of view) Texas became a state in 1845.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Well, I can certainly see why someone who has lived in the Orient would be fascinated by these books. Even in just the rather lengthy Kindle sample you get a feel for the xenophobia — cultural arrogance, really — of the Chinese. I love the story where they were using a rude translation of the British admiral or commander’s name in Chinese letters on official papers to him. That went unnoticed by the British until sometime spilled the beans.

        Their sense of superiority was no doubt exceeded by the sense of superiority of the British over the Chinese. Basically a lot of Trump-like trash talking and “whose got the biggest dick” stuff. But it’s interesting when one of the merchant primary characters mentions that the furthest he, or anyone else he know of, has gone into China is one mile in. The people and land remain an enigmatic mystery.

        The gist of the opium trade, at least according to this book, is that it was the only way the Brits had of gaining sterling silver in trade. The Chinese demanded payment in silver for their popular teas and silks and this was draining the British treasury of assets. So they sold the only product the Chinese were willing to pay silver for: opium.

        And it would appear that “officially” Britain detested the trade but otherwise went to great lengths to promote it. I don’t know how much of this is based on historical fact. But it’s interesting to read that at one point Parliament stopped, or was planning to stop, the trade in opium. The major merchants (including the Tai-Pan) then went about trying to buy members of Parliament, which apparently they were very successful in doing.

        Don’t we see the same game played in Congress? Most of these guys are bought-and-paid-for even if they do mouth conservative nostrums come election time. But they don’t really mean it. There is too much profit from the domestic equivalent of the opium trade.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Note that the Chinese tried to close down the opium trade not because of the harm done by opium, but because it caused the balance of trade to go the wrong way.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            In the book so far it noted that, at least from the British point of view, the trade was balanced with as much silver coming in as going out. But certainly at some point I wouldn’t be surprised that the draw of opium caused the balance of trade to go in favor of England. Perhaps a President Trump will find a modern equivalent of opium.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          Even in just the rather lengthy Kindle sample you get a feel for the xenophobia — cultural arrogance, really — of the Chinese

          So now you are getting a small sense of what I have seen.

          Many Westerners would be almost outraged when I said, “the lowest Chinese coolie looks down on you as a barbarian.” They would deny it until I asked a Chinese sitting with us if what I said was so. The Chinese invariably would say, “Fu Zu is right”.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          There is too much profit from the domestic equivalent of the opium trade.

          The profit of the opium trade was so large that even the Imperial Palace got in on the deal.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I love the story where they were using a rude translation of the British admiral or commander’s name in Chinese letters on official papers to him. That went unnoticed by the British until sometime spilled the beans.

          Even today, the commonly used term for foreigner in Hong Kong is “Kwai Low” which means foreign devil.

          In Singapore my nick-name was Mr. Ang, short for “Ang Mo Kwee” e.g. red-headed devil. If ever change my nom de plume, it will be to Ang Mo Kwee.

          Sometimes one would hear discussions in Hong Kong about how Westerners would use derogatory terms for Chinese such as “chink”. The Chinese would be insulted and go on about the racism of Westerners, etc. I would then point out the fact that Chinese called foreigners devils, and the Chinese would all say, “oh, that’s different. It’s just become normal usage.” I would laugh and point out the double standard. I didn’t expect to convince anyone, but liked to rub it in.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          The gist of the opium trade, at least according to this book, is that it was the only way the Brits had of gaining sterling silver in trade

          This is true. The Chinese had no interest in the woolen fabrics and other items the Brits were used to trading. It was only when the Brits figured out the potential of opium that their trade balance with the Chinese improved.

          The opium was grown in Bengal which was controlled by the British East India Company. So everyone was happy, the British owners in London got their dividends, the Brits in Bengal got money all round from growing poppies to producing black tar opium to shipping to selling to Chinese to taking back silk and tea and on again.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    Ah, the Opium Wars. I think Flashman got caught up in one of those as well, and of course we had the Taiping Rebellion around the same time (including the exploits of the Ever Victorious Army, organized by Frederick Townsend Ward and then led to victory by Charles Gordon after Ward’s death — hence Gordon’s nickname, “Chinese”). Of course, when I think of the taipan, I think of the highly venomous Australian snake.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Brad, I don’t recall if it is in the book, but the Chinese did all they could to keep the British and other Europeans from learning to speak any Chinese dialect or Mandarin. They also tried to keep foreigners from knowing anything about China, be it the culture, geography, economy or whatever.

    A wonderful example of this is when the Chinese court sent a commissioner, I believe his name was Lin, to Canton to negotiate with the foreign traders and stop the opium trade.

    He took along his official interpreters, but when he finally met the foreign devils he was shocked when one of them spoke to him in Chinese. He turned to the local Chinese and asked, “Which traitor taught this foreign barbarian how to speak Chinese”? That just about wraps up the Chinese attitude of the period.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Brad, I don’t recall if it is in the book, but the Chinese did all they could to keep the British and other Europeans from learning to speak any Chinese dialect or Mandarin. They also tried to keep foreigners from knowing anything about China, be it the culture, geography, economy or whatever.

      I think a little bit of that attitude is explicitly stated, even in the Kindle free sample section. What you wrote is certainly consistent with the “vibe” of the book thus far.

      And, hell, even though it mentioned that the Chinese were cultural snobs, who can blame them? They have a civilization more or less continuous for hundreds if not thousands of years. We tend to measure success by technological expertise. But our society is coming apart because of the cultural rot. What good is an iPod in the face of that?

      It sort of gives you a new perspective on why the Chinese (or Japanese) didn’t want to be “polluted” by contact with the West. And this isn’t spoken from the vapid position of the girlishly-enamored multiculturalist whose nipples get electric sparks in them whenever you run down your own culture while raising up another. You’ve just got to respect a system, and a highly complex one at that, that worked for so long.

      Regarding speaking Chinese, it says there are only two Europeans who do: One is a rascally priest, the other might be (don’t remember for sure) the bastard child of the major Tai-Pan British merchant. The kid is half Chinese.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        Historically, for trade in Canton, the European traders were not allowed off a small island in the Pearl river on which they built their warehouses and homes. And I don’t think they were allowed to trade during the whole year.

        They had to go back and forth between this island and Macao if they wanted to have some room to move. And Macao, being a Portuguese colony was not ideal for the Brits. This was one of the reasons Hong Kong Island was so interesting to them.

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