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 centre on Europeans in Asia, and together explore the impact on East and West of the meeting of these two distinct civilizations.
The name Asian Saga was first applied to the series after Shōgun had been published. 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 the Second World War—to tell "the story of the Anglo-Saxon in Asia."
Ordered by publication date:
Ordered by internal chronology:
- 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.
Four of the six books—Tai-Pan, Gai-Jin, Noble House, and Whirlwind—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 Struan's storylines.
Some of the characters make appearances in multiple books, and many characters from one book are referred to in later books. For example, two characters from King Rat (Robin Grey and Peter Marlowe) reappear in Noble House, and Robert Armstrong is a major character in both Noble House and Whirlwind. As a tie-in, Linc Bartlett's (Noble House) ancestor appears in Clavell's film, Walk Like a Dragon (1960).
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 publishing Whirlwind, Clavell wrote a shorter version of the story which focused on two characters from the book. Titled Escape: The Love Story from Whirlwind, the book is generally not considered an official part of the Asian Saga; 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. When 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.
List of tai-pans of Struan's
- 1st tai-pan: Dirk Struan, 1828–1841
- 2nd tai-pan: Culum Struan, 1841–1862
- 3rd tai-pan: Sir Lochlin Struan, 1862–1873??
- 4th tai-pan: Dirk Dunross, 1873–1894
- 5th tai-pan: Sir Lochlin Struan, 1894-1908 (see notes)
- 6th tai-pan: Ross Lechie Struan, 1908–1915
- 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, 1975-19?
- 5th tai-pan (in name only): Kelly O'Gorman], 1894-1915 (see notes)
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 (1965), starring George Segal, was nominated for two Academy Awards for Art Direction and Black and White Cinematography.
- Shōgun (1980), was adapted by NBC as a television miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain, Toshiro Mifune, and Yoko Shimada; the production was one of the highest rated programs of its kind ever broadcast.
- Tai-Pan (1986), released as a theatrical film starring Bryan Brown and Joan Chen, was a critical and box office failure.
- Noble House (1988) was adapted as a TV miniseries starring Pierce Brosnan and was 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.