The Asian Saga
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The Asian Saga is a series of six novels written by James Clavell between 1962 and 1993. The novels all center on Europeans in Asia, and together they explore the impact on East and West of the meeting of these two distinct civilizations.
The purpose of the Asian Saga was, according to Clavell—descendant of a family long in service to the British Empire, and who was a prisoner of war of the Japanese during World War II—to tell "the story of the Anglo-Saxon in Asia". In publication order, the books are:
The name "Asian Saga" was not applied to the series until following the publication of Shōgun. A listing of the books in order of their internal chronology would go as follows:
- Shōgun: set in feudal Japan, 1600
- Tai-Pan: set in Hong Kong, 1841
- Gai-Jin: set in Japan, 1862
- King Rat: set in a Japanese POW camp, Singapore, 1945
- Noble House: set in Hong Kong, 1963
- Whirlwind: set in Iran, 1979
Apart from Shōgun and King Rat, all the books follow the dealings of the great trading company Struan's, the Noble House of Asia (based on Jardine Matheson Holdings Limited), its founder Dirk Struan, and his various descendants. Gai-Jin provides the major link between the Shōgun and Struans storylines, while two characters from King Rat (Robin Grey and Peter Marlowe) appear in Noble House.
Some of the characters make appearances in multiple books, and many characters from one book are referred to in later books. Robert Armstrong, for example, is a major character in both Noble House and Whirlwind. As a tie-in, Linc Bartlett's (Noble House) ancestor appears in James Clavell's 1960 film, "Walk Like A Dragon".
There are dozens of characters throughout the series, with very complex family relationships and a great deal of history that is hinted at but never described in detail. For instance, Peter Marlowe is almost certainly a descendant of Lt. John Marlowe, the captain who married Malcolm Struan and Angelique Richaud against the wishes of Tess Struan, as Clavell refers often to Peter Marlowe's family's long history of naval service. Clavell peppers the entire Asian Saga with these genealogical easter eggs.
After the publication of Whirlwind, Clavell wrote a shorter version of the story which focused on two characters from the book. Entitled Escape: The Love Story from Whirlwind, the book is generally not considered an official part of the Asian Saga and is considered quite rare; nonetheless some reviewers said it helped flesh out several aspects of the original novel.
In 1980 Clavell stated that, beyond Noble House, future entries in the series would include Nippon, set in 1970s Japan, and China, set in the present and future. He died in 1994 after the publication of Gai-Jin; it was reported that he was planning several more entries in the Asian Saga series at the time of his death.
List of tai-pans of Struan's
- 1st tai-pan: Dirk Struan, 18??–1841
- 2nd tai-pan: Culum Struan, 1841–1862
- 3rd tai-pan: Sir Lochlin Struan, 1862–18??
- 4th tai-pan: Dirk Dunross, 18??–1894
- 5th tai-pan: Sir Lochlin Struan, 1894-19?? (see notes)
- 6th tai-pan: Ross Lechie Struan, 19??–1915
- 7th tai-pan: Sir Ross Struan, 1915-19?? (see notes)
- 8th tai-pan: Colin Dunross, 19??-1949
- 9th tai-pan: Alastair Struan, 1949–1960
- 10th tai-pan: Ian Dunross, 1960–1970
- 11th tai-pan: David MacStruan, 1970-1975 (see notes)
- 12th tai-pan: Linbar Struan, 1975-?
- 5th tai-pan (in name only): Kelly O'Gorman, 1894-1915 (see notes)
Lochlin Struan became tai-pan for a second time after Kelly O'Gorman, the fifth tai-pan, was killed as he tried to murder Tess Struan, and so Lochlin Struan became the sixth tai-pan, but totally under the thumb of Tess Struan, until his death in 1915. It is not explained how O'Gorman, whose name is presumably Irish, was permitted to assume the top post of Struan's as Dirk Struan had specified that the leader must be of Scottish descent and "kin to the clan Struan."
- Counter notes (note #1 NOBLE HOUSE states that O'Gorman is a grandson of the Tess Straun; he was tai-pan in name only -he should not even be in the list; Lochlin should be the 3rd and 5th, not 6th, tai-pan. Ross Lechie Struan is the 6th tai-pan; there must be another ROSS STRUAN in the list, presumably, Alastair's father -because Clavell stated in NOBLE HOUSE that "Old Hawk Nose" also called Old tai-pan, Alastair's father, was the very first tai-pan Ian Dunross can remember and that his name is also Ross Struan. He must be the 7th tai-pan not read by Casey Tcholok from the long gallery; later he was referred to as Sir Ross Struan implying that he lived long enough to be knighted. This could not possibly be the ROSS LECHIE of the list because he died in World War 1. Moreover, Ian Dunross was born in the 1920s -he's 41 years old in 1963, so he's presumably born in 1922. It's not possible for him to 'remember' ROSS LECHIE because he died long before Dunross was born; we can only assume that Alastair's father, ROSS STRUAN, is another member of the Struan family and that he became tai-pan after ROSS LECHIE -after all, Robb Struan had two sons to follow him, Roddy and Sir Lochlin. As James Clavell did not leave a clear list of tai-pans, fans can only speculate and calculate for themselves; a calculation of Alastair's and Ian Dunross's age and a consultation of the partial list in NOBLE HOUSE will support the two ROSS STRUAN theory.
- note #2 Dirk's Legacy did not specifically mention Scottish descent as a requirement, merely that the candidate be Christian, a kinsman, by blood or marriage, and of wholesome spirit -Jacques deVille is French and yet he was a member of the Inner Circle and was considered a contender; Paul "Profitable" Choy is pure Chinese but he was inducted by the weak Linbar Struan to the Inner Circle when Choy married one of Linbar's daughters and converted to Christianity
- note # 3 The MacStruans are not related in any way to the Struans, Dunrosses or the Chens. As part of the coin favor of Wu Fang-Sang, Dirk Struan agreed to finance and support the education of three young boys. The three turned out to be a grandson of Wu Fang (he is never heard of again), and the two sons of the pirate Scragger. The two Scragger boys are Frederick (a Eurasian) and Albert (a pure blooded Englishman). In their papers, Dirk Struan wrote down a name for the boys. The Eurasian Albert was originally given "Albert Chen," but the European Frederick insisted they be given the same name. Struan gave them the clan name MacStruan. It is implied in GAI-JIN that the two are eventually adopted into the Clan Struan. Albert became "Shang-hai Albert", manager of the Noble House in Shang-hai and later in Japan while Frederick became Sir Frederick MacStruan with a seat in Parliament. Even then there were rumours among the staff of the Noble House that they are "illegitimate children" of Dirk Struan and Mary Sinclair and that The Hag, Tess Struan, hated them. Whatever the rumors were, The Hag's LEGACY stated that the MacStruans were considered for the position of tai-pan but were not yet ready. David MacStruan was the choice of Ian Dunross and from what Jacques deVille says of him, he is quite capable for the position. It remains a mystery how MacStruan could have chosen Linbar Struan as his successor before his untimely, and highly suspicious, death. WHIRLWIND gives an account of how an affidavit stating Linbar's selection was found literally "lying around" the dead MacStruan's office. The mystery of his death and the possible involvement of Paul Choy, Linbar Struan and a Japanese businessman is one of the subplots of the novel with Ian Dunross working "behind the scenes" to unravel the mystery.)
Hag Struan was tai-pan in everything but name from 1841 until her death in 1917. She assumed "the power behind the throne" due to Culum's weaknesses (GAI-JIN implies that Culum became an alcoholic and died of stroke) and her apparent affection for Dirk Struan's memory.
The half coins of Jin-qua
In 1841 when Struan's was on the brink of collapse, Dirk Struan received a loan of silver from the merchant Jin-qua in exchange for a series of favors. Among these were four bronze coins, split in half, four halves given to Dirk Struan, the other four halves kept by Jin-qua. Anyone who brought a half coin to the tai-pan of the Noble House would be granted whatever he asked, whether legal or illegal. All future tai-pans must swear to keep this bargain, before learning the details, if they were to become tai-pan. This served as repayment to the loan of silver.
Of the four coins, one was kept by Jin-qua, passed down through his family. One given to the warlord Wu Fang Choi. One given to Gordon Chen, and passed down through his family, and one given out in secret.
The first coin was brought to Dirk Struan in 1841 by Wu Fang Choi.
The second coin was brought in 1894 by Chiang Wu-tah. He asked that the Noble House give aid and sanctuary to Sun Yat-sen and to assist him to overthrow the Manchu dynasty. This is recounted in Noble House, chapter 60. In the movie however, the second coin is stated to have been returned to Hag Struan in 1911.
The story of the third coin is a major plot line in Noble House. The coin is owned by Struan's trusted compradore Phillip Chen, handed down to him from his grandfather Gordon Chen. However, his son John Chen learns the secret of the coin, steals it, and bargains it and its secret away to American businessman Lincoln Bartlett. Before Bartlett takes possession of the coin, John Chen is kidnapped and murdered. When Phillip Chen enlists his underworld cousin Four Finger Wu to help locate John, Wu discovers the coin in the possession of one of the kidnappers, and takes it for his own, knowing its secret. When Wu dies, his son Profitable Choy takes over the coin and begs the favours from Ian Dunross.
The fate of the fourth coin is not addressed in the saga. However, it is speculated in Noble House that it was given to May-may (Dirk Struan's mistress) and passed down to their descendant Sir Shih-teh "Shitee" T'Chung.
As of 2006, four installments of the Asian Saga have been adapted for film or television:
- King Rat, released in 1965, starred George Segal and was nominated for two Academy Awards for Art Direction and Black and White Cinematography.
- Shōgun was adapted by NBC as a television miniseries in 1980. Starring Richard Chamberlain, Toshiro Mifune and Yoko Shimada, the production was one of the highest rated programs of its kind ever broadcast. The nine-hour miniseries was edited down to two hours for a theatrical release in 1981. The miniseries was nominated for 14 Emmy Awards, winning three including Best Limited Series. It also won three Golden Globe Awards.
- Tai-Pan was released as a theatrical film in 1986, starring Bryan Brown and Joan Chen. The film was a critical and box office failure.
- Noble House was adapted as a TV miniseries starring Pierce Brosnan in 1988 and was also a ratings success. It updated the timeframe of the novel from the 1960s to the 1980s and took many liberties with key points of the novel (for example, Ian Dunross became a bachelor who had a romance with Casey Tcholok).
Although there were press reports in the mid-1990s that a miniseries adaptation of Gai-Jin was planned, no production eventuated.
- Smith, Henry D. II, ed. (1980). Learning from Shōgun: Japanese HIstory and Western Fantasy. University of California, Santa Barbara / The Japan Society. pp. 14–16.
- Noble House