Tai-Pan is Clavell's first historical novel set in the Orient. It is also his first novel after the semi-autobiographical King Rat, set in Changi POW camp, during WWII. (There is a TV mini-series about Changi, produced in Australia.)
Tai-Pan is about the first six months of the British colony in Hong Kong - a barren, useless island off mainland China.
China was still a very exclusionary country. Foreigners were entirely forbidden, except under very stringent conditions. Hong Kong was important to the British for two reasons: It had an amazing harbor, which would protect and house the traders' ships, and the British had sovereignity there - the land was their own. In all their interactions with the Chinese, the Brits were under the constant threat of expulsion or execution. On Hong Kong, the Brits were in charge.
Tai-Pan is a great reading book, as well as a fascinating historical fiction. There's love, betrayal, sex, violence, family, pirates (gotta have pirates!) and corruption. (Sounds like the description of Princess Bride!)
This is an exciting book, and I'm looking forward to this read!