Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Noble House

James Clavell




  “A mesmerizer … The last time I was so taken with a spellbinding safari was when I read Gone with the Wind.”

  —Los Angeles Times

  “A super blockbuster … an immense, intricate Brueghel-detailed tapestry panoramically depicting one epic week … of high finance and high adventure in Hong Kong.”

  —Chicago Sun-Times Book Week

  “Seethes with drama, sex, crime, intrigue, and natural disaster.”


  “A sprawling Chinese banquet of a book.”


  “Clavell’s biggest triumph yet … storytelling done with dash and panache … a rousing read.”

  —Washington Post

  “Breathtaking … the reader is compelled to read on … it’s worth every word, every ounce, every penny.”

  —Associated Press

  “Clavell writes of the orient, as no western writer before him.”

  —Philadelphia Inquirer

  “Solid entertainment on a grand scale.”


  “Tremendous entertainment. Whatever you look for in a best seller, you will find.… One can only gasp in admiration at the skill with which Clavell weaves … infinitely intricate story lines into a coherent pattern.… The result is a seamless marvel of pure storytelling.”

  —Cleveland Plain Dealer

  “An epic of popular storytelling … steep[ed] in fascinating lore and history … a genuinely fulfilling blockbuster.”

  —Cincinnati Enquirer

  “Another winner … a novel you’ll long remember.”

  —Pittsburgh Press


  1600 SHŌGUN

  1841 TAI-PAN

  1862 GAI-JIN

  1945 KING RAT



  Table of Contents


  Title Page


  June 8, 1960


  Part 1 - Sunday, August 18, 1963

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Part 2 - Monday

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Part 3 - Tuesday

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Part 4 - Wednesday

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Chapter Thirty-Seven

  Chapter Thirty-Eight

  Part 5 - Thursday

  Chapter Thirty-Nine

  Chapter Forty

  Chapter Forty-One

  Chapter Forty-Two

  Chapter Forty-Three

  Chapter Forty-Four

  Chapter Forty-Five

  Chapter Forty-Six

  Chapter Forty-Seven

  Chapter Forty-Eight

  Chapter Forty-Nine

  Chapter Fifty

  Chapter Fifty-One

  Chapter Fifty-Two

  Chapter Fifty-Three

  Chapter Fifty-Four

  Chapter Fifty-Five

  Chapter Fifty-Six

  Part 6 - Friday

  Chapter Fifty-Seven

  Chapter Fifty-Eight

  Chapter Fifty-Nine

  Chapter Sixty

  Chapter Sixty-One

  Part 7 - Saturday

  Chapter Sixty-Two

  Chapter Sixty-Three

  Chapter Sixty-Four

  Chapter Sixty-Five

  Chapter Sixty-Six

  Chapter Sixty-Seven

  Chapter Sixty-Eight

  Chapter Six-Nine

  Chapter Seventy

  Part 8 - Sunday

  Chapter Seventy-One

  Chapter Seventy-Two

  Chapter Seventy-Three

  Chapter Seventy-Four

  Chapter Seventy-Five

  Chapter Seventy-Six

  Chapter Seventy-Seven

  Chapter Seventy-Eight

  Chapter Seventy-Nine

  Chapter Eighty

  Chapter Eighty-One

  Chapter Eighty-Two

  Chapter Eighty-Three

  Chapter Eighty-Four

  Chapter Eighty-Five

  Part 9 - Monday

  Chapter Eighty-Six

  Chapter Eighty-Seven

  Chapter Eighty-Eight

  Part 10 - Tuesday

  Chapter Eighty-Nine

  Chapter Ninety

  Chapter Ninety-One

  About the Author


  I would like to offer this work as a tribute to Her Britannic Majesty, Elizabeth II, to the people of Her Crown Colony of Hong Kong—and perdition to their enemies.

  Of course this is a novel. It is peopled with imaginary persons and companies and no reference to any person or company that was, or is, part of Hong Kong or Asia is intended.

  I would also like to apologize at once to all Hong Kong yan—all Hong Kong persons—for rearranging their beautiful city, for taking incidents out of context, for inventing people and places and streets and companies and incidents that, hopefully, may appear to have existed but have never existed, for this, truly, is a story….

  June 8, 1960


  11:45 P.M.:

  His name was Ian Dunross and in the torrential rain he drove his old MG sports car cautiously around the corner into Dirk’s Street that skirted the Struan Building on the waterfront of Hong Kong. The night was dark and foul. Throughout the Colony—here on Hong Kong Island, across the harbor in Kowloon and the New Territories that were part of the China Mainland—streets were almost totally deserted, everyone and everything battened down, waiting for Typhoon Mary. The number nine storm warning had been hoisted at dusk and already eighty-to a hundred-knot gusts came out of the tempest that stretched a thousand miles southward to send the rain horizontal against the roofs and hillsides where tens of thousands of squatters huddled defenseless in their shantytowns of makeshift hovels.

  Dunross slowed, blinded, the wipers unable to cope with the quantity of rain, the wind tearing at the canvas roof and side screens. Then the windshield cleared momentarily. At the end of Dirk’s Street, directly ahead, was Connaught Road and the praya, then sea walls and the squat bulk of the Golden Ferry Terminal. Beyond in the vast, well-protected harbor, half a thousand ships were snug with all anchors out.

  Ahead on the praya, he saw an abandoned street stall ripped bodily off the ground by a gust and hurled at a parked car, wrecking it. Then the car and the stall were sent skittering out of sight. His wrists were very strong and he held the wheel against the eddies that trembled his car violently. The car was old but well kept, the souped-up engine and brakes perfect. He waited, his heart beating nicely, loving the storm, then eased up onto the sidewalk to park
in the lee, well against the building, and got out.

  He was fair-haired with blue eyes, age thirty-eight, lean and trim and he wore an old raincoat and cap. Rain drenched him as he hurried along the side street then ducked around the corner to hurry for the main entrance of the twenty-two-story building. Over the huge doorway was the Struan crest—the Red Lion of Scotland entwined with the Green Dragon of China. Gathering himself he strode up the broad steps and went in.

  “Evening, Mr. Dunross,” the Chinese concierge said.

  “The tai-pan sent for me.”

  “Yes sir.” The man pressed the elevator button for him.

  When the elevator stopped, Dunross walked across the small hall, knocked and went into the penthouse living room. “Evening, tai-pan,” he said with cold formality.

  Alastair Struan was leaning against the fine fireplace. He was a big, ruddy, well-kept Scotsman with a slight paunch and white hair, in his sixties, and he had ruled Struan’s for six years. “Drink?” He waved a hand at the Dom Pérignon in the silver bucket.

  “Thank you.” Dunross had never been in the tai-pan’s private quarters before. The room was spacious and well furnished, with Chinese lacquer and good carpets, old oils of their early clipper ships and steamers on the walls. The big picture windows that would normally overlook all Hong Kong, the harbor and Kowloon across the harbor were now black and rain streaked.

  He poured. “Health,” he said formally.

  Alastair Struan nodded and, equally coldly, raised his glass in return. “You’re early.”

  “Five minutes early is on time, tai-pan. Isn’t that what Father hammered into me? Is it important that we meet at midnight?”

  “Yes. It’s part of our custom. Dirk’s custom.”

  Dunross sipped his wine, waiting in silence. The antique ship’s clock ticked loudly. His excitement increased, not knowing what to expect. Over the fireplace was a marriage portrait of a young girl. This was Tess Struan who had married Culum, second tai-pan and son of their founder Dirk Struan, when she was sixteen.

  Dunross studied it. A squall dashed the windows. “Filthy night,” he said.

  The older man just looked at him, hating him. The silence grew. Then the old clock chimed eight bells, midnight.

  There was a knock on the door.

  “Come in,” Alastair Struan said with relief, glad that now they could begin.

  The door was opened by Lim Chu, the tai-pan’s personal servant. He stepped aside to admit Phillip Chen, compradore of Struan’s, then closed the door after him.

  “Ah, Phillip, you’re on time as usual,” Alastair Struan said, trying to sound jovial. “Champagne?”

  “Thank you, tai-pan. Yes, thank you. Good evening, Ian Struan Dunross,” Phillip Chen said to the younger man with unusual formality, his English very upper-class British. He was Eurasian, in his late sixties, spare, rather more Chinese than European, a very handsome man with gray hair and high cheekbones, fair skin, and dark, very dark Chinese eyes. “Dreadful night, what?”

  “Yes, it is indeed, Uncle Chen,” Dunross replied, using the polite Chinese form of address for Phillip, liking him and respecting him as much as he despised his cousin Alastair.

  “They say this typhoon’s going to be a bastard.” Alastair Struan was pouring the champagne into fine glasses. He handed Phillip Chen a glass first, then Dunross. “Health!”

  They drank. A rain squall rattled the windows. “Glad I’m not afloat tonight,” Alastair Struan said thoughtfully. “So, Phillip, here you are again.”

  “Yes, tai-pan. I’m honored. Yes, very honored.” He sensed the violence between the two men but dismissed it. Violence is a pattern, he thought, when a tai-pan of the Noble House hands over power.

  Alastair Struan sipped again, enjoying the wine. At length he said, “Ian, it’s our custom that there be a witness to a handing over from tai-pan to tai-pan. It’s always—and only—our current compradore. Phillip, how many times does this make?”

  “I’ve been witness four times, tai-pan.”

  “Phillip has known almost all of us. He knows too many of our secrets. Eh, old friend?” Phillip Chen just smiled. “Trust him, Ian. His counsel’s wise. You can trust him.”

  As much as any tai-pan should trust anyone, Dunross thought grimly. “Yes sir.”

  Alastair Struan set down his glass. “First: Ian Struan Dunross, I ask you formally, do you want to be tai-pan of Struan’s?”

  “Yes sir.”

  “You swear by God that all of these proceedings will be kept secret by you and not divulged to anyone but your successor?”

  “Yes sir.”

  “Swear it formally.”

  “I swear by God these proceedings will be secret and never divulged to anyone but my successor.”

  “Here.” The tai-pan handed him a parchment, yellow with age. “Read it aloud.”

  Dunross took it. The writing was spidery, but perfectly legible. He glanced at the date—July 15, 1841—his excitement soaring. “Is this Dirk Struan’s writing?”

  “Aye. Most of it—part was added by his son, Culum Struan. Of course we’ve photocopies in case of damage. Read it!”

  “‘My Legacy shall bind every tai-pan that succeedeth me and he shall read it aloud and shall swear before God in front of witnesses in the manner set forth by me, Dirk Struan, founder of Struan and Company, to accept them, and to ever keep them secret, prior to taking to himself my mantle. I require this to ensure a pleasing continuity and in anticipation of difficulties which will, in the following years, beset my successors because of the blood I have spilled, because of my debts of honor, and because of the vagaries of the ways of China to which we are wedded, which are without doubt unique on this earth. This is my Legacy:

  “‘First: There shall be only one tai-pan at one time and he hath total, absolute authority over the Company, power to employ or remove from employment all others, authority over all our captains and our ships and companies wherever they may be. The tai-pan is always alone, that being the joy and the hurt of it. His privacy must be guarded by all and his back protected by all. Whatsoever he orders, it shall be obeyed, and no committees or courts or inner circles shall ever be formed or allowed in the Company to curb this absolute power.

  “‘Second: When the tai-pan stands on the quarterdeck of any of our ships he takes precedence over the captain thereof, and his battle orders or sailing orders are law. All captains will be so sworn before God, before appointment to any of our ships.

  “‘Third: The tai-pan alone chooses his successor who shall be selected only from an Inner Court of six men. Of these, one shall be our compradore who shall, in perpetuity, be from the House of Chen. The other five shall be worthy to be tai-pan, shall be good men and true with at least five whole years of service in the Company as China Traders, and shall be wholesome in spirit. They must be Christian and must be kinsmen to the clan Struan by birth or marriage—my line and my brother Robb’s line not taking precedence, unless by fortitude or qualities over and above all others. This Inner Court may be advisors to the tai-pan if he so desires, but let it be said again, the vote of the tai-pan shall weight seven against one for each of them.

  “‘Fourth: If the tai-pan be lost at sea, or killed in battle, or vanished for six lunar months, before he hath his successor chosen, then the Inner Court shall elect one of their members to succeed, each having one vote, except the vote of the compradore shall count four. The tai-pan shall then be sworn in the same manner set forth before his fellows—those who voted against his election in open ballot being expelled at once, without remuneration, from the Company forever.

  “‘Fifth: Election to the Inner Court, or removal therefrom, shall be solely at the tai-pan’s pleasure and, on his retirement which shall be at a time when it pleasures him, he shall take no more than ten parts of every hundred of all value for himself, except that all our ships shall always be excluded from any valuation … our ships, their captains and their crews being our lifeblood and our lifeline i
nto future times.

  “‘Sixth: Each tai-pan shall approve the election of the compradore. The compradore shall acknowledge in writing prior to his election that he may be removed at any time, without need for explanations, that he will step aside should the tai-pan wish it.

  “‘Last: The tai-pan shall swear his successor, whom he alone chooses, in the presence of the compradore using the words set down under my hand in our family Bible, here in Hong Kong, this fifteenth day of July in the year of our Lord 1841.’”

  Dunross exhaled. “It’s signed by Dirk Struan and witnessed by—I can’t read the chop characters, sir, they’re archaic.”

  Alastair glanced at Phillip Chen who said, “The first witness is my grandfather’s foster father, Chen Sheng Arn, our first compradore. The second, my great-aunt, T’Chung Jin May-may.”

  “Then the legend’s true!” Dunross said.

  “Some of it. Yes, some of it.” Phillip Chen added, “Talk to my auntie Sarah. Now that you’re to be tai-pan she’ll tell you lots of secrets. She’s eighty-four this year. She remembers my grandfather, Sir Gordon Chen, very well, and Duncan and Kate T’Chung, May-may’s children by Dirk Struan. Yes. She remembers many things….”

  Alastair Struan went over to the lacquered bureau and very carefully picked out the heavy threadbare Bible. He put on his spectacles and Dunross felt the hackles on his neck rise. “Repeat after me: I, Ian Struan Dunross, kinsman to the Struans, Christian, sweareth before God in the presence of Alastair McKenzie Duncan Struan, ninth tai-pan, and Phillip T’Chung Sheng Chen, fourth compradore, that I shall obey all the Legacy read out by me in their presence here in Hong Kong, that I shall further bind the Company to Hong Kong and to the China trade, that I shall maintain my main place of business here in Hong Kong while tai-pan, that, before God, I assume the promises, responsibility and the gentleman’s word of honor of Dirk Struan to his eternal friend Chentse Jin Arn, also known as Jin-qua, or to his successors; further, that I w—”