(大班) is a term used to refer to foreign businessmen doing business in China
or Hong Kong
in the 19th century. The Chinese
term is now used in a more general sense for business executives of any origin. The Chinese term literally means big class
which is equivalent to the English term big shot
Tai-Pan was James Clavell's second published novel (1966) and takes the reader to Hong Kong Island, a new British Colony, in 1841 following the Treaty of Cheunpi.
Tai-Pan is a complex tale stretching over 700 pages in length, it introduces a vast array of characters, many of whom, and in quite a few cases the direct relatives, are referenced in later novels.
Shipping opium into China for bullion and tea to Britain, the China traders have made vast fortunes, non greater than Dirk Struan, the Tai-Pan of the most powerful company in the Far East. Struan faces many challenges to keep his dominance though, from the hapless British Plenipotentiary, William Longstaff to his deadly rival Tyler Brock, Tai-Pan of Brock & Sons.
Tai-Pan is loosely based on the history of Jardine Matheson which can be read in greater depth in the books Thistle and the Jade by Maggie Keswick and Jardine Matheson by Robert Blake.
Tai-Pan is the name of a 1986 film, made after the novel.
See also: Hong Kong in films