Noble House

This article is about the novel. For the miniseries based on it, see Noble House (TV miniseries). For other uses, see Noble House (disambiguation).
Noble House

1987 paperback edition
Author James Clavell
Country United Kingdom, United States
Language English
Series Asian Saga
Genre Historical novel
Publisher Delacorte Press
Publication date
April 1981
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
ISBN 0-385-28737-2 (first edition, hardback)
OCLC 233936182
Preceded by King Rat
Followed by Whirlwind

Noble House is a novel by James Clavell, published in 1981 and set in Hong Kong in 1963.

It is a massive book, well over 1000 pages, with dozens of characters and numerous intermingling plot lines. In 1988, it was adapted as a television miniseries for NBC, starring Pierce Brosnan. The miniseries updates the storyline of the novel to the 1980s.

The Noble House also is a nickname of Struan's, the trading company featured prominently in most of Clavell's novels.

Plot summary

Noble House is set in 1963. The tai-pan, Ian Dunross, struggles to rescue Struan's from the precarious financial position left by his predecessor. To do this, he seeks partnership with an American millionaire, while trying to ward off his arch-rival Quillan Gornt, who seeks to destroy Struan's once and for all. Meanwhile, Chinese communists, Taiwanese nationalists, and Soviet spies illegally vie for influence in Hong Kong while the British government seeks to prevent this. And nobody, it seems, can get anything done without enlisting the aid of Hong Kong's criminal underworld. Other obstacles include water shortages, landslides, bank runs and stock market crashes.

In Noble House, Dunross finds his company the target of a hostile takeover at a time when Struan's is desperately overextended. He is also embroiled in international espionage when he finds himself in possession of secret documents desperately desired by both the KGB and MI6. The novel follows Dunross' attempts to extricate himself from all this and to save Struan's, the Noble House.


Struan and Company is based on Jardine Matheson Holdings, which continues to exist as an Asian trading company. The chief character, Ian Dunross, is believed to be a composite character of two real life Jardine Matheson tai-pans, Sir Hugh Barton and Sir Michael Herries.

Rothwell-Gornt is based on Butterfield and Swire, now known as Swire Pacific. Quillan Gornt is based on two Swire tai-pans, John Kidston "Jock" Swire and William Charles Goddard Knowles.

Unlike the other Asian Saga novels, Noble House is not closely based on a specific series of events, but is more a snapshot of the 1960s in Hong Kong, and serves as a capsule history of Jardines in the 1960s, against the backdrop of the impending Vietnam War and the recent Kim Philby defection. The story opens on Sunday, August 18, 1963, and runs through the days immediately preceding the assassination of John F. Kennedy. In 1961 Jardine Matheson became a public company, with the initial offer oversubscribed over 56 times, which is attributed in the novel to tai-pan Ian Dunross. In 1963 the Hongkong Land subsidiary of Jardine (fictionalized as "Asian Properties") opened what was then the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which has today become one of the world's leading hotels. The Dairy Farm subsidiary of Jardine moved into the supermarket sector in 1964 with the acquisition of Wellcome (fictionalized as "H.K. General Stores"). A Jardine representative office was established in Australia in 1963 (fictionalized as the next assignment of Linbar Struan). The big set-pieces — the fire on the boat and the landslide — are also closely modeled on real events (the Jumbo Floating Restaurant fire in 1971 and the Kotewall Road disaster in 1972). The American-Chinese scientist who defected to China and helped develop the first atom bomb for China, Dr. Joseph Yu, is a fictionalized version of renowned Caltech scientist Dr. Qian Xuesen.

A major difference between the original novel and the later miniseries adaptation is that the television version changes the setting from 1963 to the late 1980s, and updates visible technology and the general atmosphere accordingly. The looming return of Hong Kong to China in 1997 is frequently mentioned, which was not a major concern in the 1960s.

Main characters


Clavell says the novel took him three years to research and write.[1]


  1. CLAVELL: CHEERS FOR CHAMBERLAIN'S CRAFT: CHAMBERLAIN Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Feb 12, 1980; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times pg. G1
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 8/30/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.