"Joss" as first expressed, and explained in James Clavell's novel, Noble House, is a combination of Luck and Fate. - It is introduced into his novels, as a main plot "actor" - a humbling and powerful driving element - one which can create "good fortune" and one which can also ruin, or bring down a mercantile empire. It is a fascinating term that is given context by the times - In the 1800's the protagonist of the Noble House is fighting not only antagonists who wish to seize what he has, and/or win "trade" into China/Hing Kong - but also the variables of the Sea, Sun, and Water. His ships ferry goods from Asia to Europe and back to Asia. - He only succeeds, and survives, by being smart, honest, kind to the downtroden. "Joss (Luck is always around). - Clavel, avoids the patronizing, cliche, and inaccurate element of his hero - a fortune-seeking, smart man could become. His hero is not a Rogue sailor "Christianizing and civilizing" the ignoble peoples of Asia. - Instead, he is a hero who is kind and learns from all peoples. He is a man who suspends judgment, waiting to see the measure of the individual - man or woman. he is faced with overwehlming political, personal and physical situations. He handles them with aplomb. He is a man who is calm in the storm around him. - Clavel delicately weaves the intricate web of personal relationships - his hero loving an Asian concubine, apprecaiting the nuance and social caste strata that is horrifying of the England that he fled. "he is my Brotha'. His hero, in mundane tasks like running his ship - (his empire) teaches his men what he has learned by listening to the sirens of Asia. In brushing his teeth, and consuming tea - he improves his health - he doesnt drink bad water as he boils all his water. He improves the health of his men on his ship. Indeed, Asia is a wise mistress, with many gifts to offer.
The result is "Joss". "Joss" - as Clavel, masterfully introduces it, is an unknowable, untamable variable. It is chance, it is fate. Any man's life could end tomorrow. A man's empire, his sweat, tears, passion and energy wiped out. The humilty, humbleness and kindness it provokes with this understanding that life is walked on a knife's edge of success or failure provides an elegant, underlying tension to the entire novel.
In the European view of Chinese mythology, Joss signifies a household deity as well as his cult image, which the Portuguese and other Europeans called an "idol". Joss is not Chinese, but a corrupted version of the Portuguese deus for god. Derived words are Joss house, a Chinese temple, Joss stick, a paste-covered stick that is burned in a religious context, and Joss paper.
Joss more recently has also become a colloquial expression for good luck, as in Rip Mattsen's Good Joss Means Good Luck (1974), the first textual documentation of this usage. It is often equated with living in high style and an exclusive lifestyle, as in this review of James Clavell's Noble House
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