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A tale of love, tragedy, avarice and brutality, Nanyang - the Chinese name (Southern Ocean) for the region - begins in the mid seventeenth century, when Dutch soldiers and officials, sent by ship from Batavia to acquire laborers for the Java settlement, seize a young woman, Mei Ling, from a village in Fujian, China, along with scores of men. Seventeen-year-old Mei Ling is kidnapped at the behest of a lecherous Dutch official, who organizes a mutiny when the ship's captain places her under his protection.
Nanyang follows the adventures of Mei Ling and her brother, who sets out to rescue her, and their descendants amid land and sea battles of warring nations, natural disasters and rampant disease. The protagonists are caught up in historical events (in Europe as well as South-East Asia), in which notable English, Dutch and Javanese figures play their real-life roles. The story begins in China and ends soon after the founding of Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles, who features in the book along with other personalities of the period, including Horatio Nelson and Captain James Cook.
Nanyang now comes with a comprehensive guide to the book's fictional characters and historical figures.