Tai-Pan opens on 26 January, 1841, as the British are formally taking possession of the island of Hong Kong. The book spans roughly the next six months.
There are a LOT of characters to remember. This is an initial list. I'll be adding more as I continue reading further.
Dirk Struan: Owner/CEO of Noble House, a trading firm. Originally from Scotland
Robb Struan: Dirk's half brother, and business manager/CFO for Noble House
Tyler Brock: Owner/CEO of Brock and Sons Trading. Dirk's sworn enemy. Originally from Liverpool
Jefferson Cooper: American, partner in Cooper-Tillman trading company. Originally from Boston
Wilf Tillman: American, partner in Cooper-Tillman trading company. Originally from Alabama
Viceroy Ling: the Chinese emperor's general in the Canton. Now defeated and disgraced.
Morgan Brock: Tyler Brock's son in London. A banker.
Chen-tse Jin Arn: aka Jin Qua - Richest of the Chinese merchants
Honorable William Longstaff: Queen Victoria's Captain Superintendant of Trade in China - for all intents and purposes, the governor
Captain George Glessing: Captain in the royal navy, a strong opponent of opium smuggling
Morley Skinner: Editor/Proprietor of the Oriental Times, the local English newspaper
Aristotle Quance: a painter with a Mark Twain-ish personality, of Irish/English descent
Horatio Sinclair: Longstaff's secretary and interpretor, son of a missionary, reared in China
Reverant Wolfgang Mauss: Austrian evangalist/missionary, acting as an interpretor for Struan
Gorden Chen: Struan's illegitimate son by a previous mistress
Mary Sinclair: Horatio's sister
Chen Sheng: Compradore (Chinese trading agent) for Noble House. Jin Qua's nephew
Ti-sen: Chinese mandarin
Sarah Struan: Robb's wife
Ronalda Struan: Dirk's wife (in Glasgow) and mother of their four children:
Bosun McKay: "Go to" sailor on Struan's ships
Sailor Ramsey: Pressed sailor in the Royal Navy, related to Bosun McKay
T'chung Jen May-may: Dirk Struan's current mistress. Mother of two of Dirk's illegitimate children
Wang Chu: Chief Mandarin in Macao
Sze-tsin: Brock's compradore
Ming-soo: Robb's former mistress
Shevaun Tillman: Wilf Tillman's niece
Sailor Bert Norden: common sailor infected with the "pox"
Gorth Brock: Tyler Brock's oldest son
Nagrek Thumb: Captain of one of Brock's ships
Eliza Brock: Tyler Brock's wife, and mother of his children, including
Elizabeth Brock (6 years old)
Tess Brock (16 years old)
Isaac Perry: Captain of one of Struan's ships
... To be continued