Judge Dee

Judge Dee

Judge Dee (also, Judge Di) is the titular protagonist of Robert van Gulik's series of detective novels. The series is set in Ancient China and deals with various criminal cases solved by the upright Judge Dee (judges often play the investigator role in ancient Chinese crime stories).

Van Gulik's stories

The Judge Dee character is based on the historical figure Di Renjie (c. 630–c. 700), magistrate and statesman of the Tang court. During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) in China, a "folk novel" was written set in former times, but filled with anachronisms. Van Gulik found in Di Gong An an original tale dealing with three cases simultaneously, and, which was unusual among Chinese mystery tales, a plot that for the most part lacked an overbearing supernatural element which could alienate Western readers. He translated it into English and had it published under the title Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee.

This gave him the idea of writing his own novels, set with the similar Ming anachronisms, but using the historical character. Van Gulik was careful in writing the main novels to deal with cases where Dee was newly appointed to a city, thereby isolating him from the existing lifestyle and enabling him to maintain an objective role in the books. Van Gulik's novels and stories made no relation to the original Chinese work and so "Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee" is not considered to be part of the Judge Dee series.

Initially Dee is assisted only by his faithful clerk, Sergeant Hoong, an old family retainer. However, in "The Chinese Gold Murders", which describes Dee's initial appointment and first criminal cases, the judge encounters two highwaymen, euphemistically called "men of the greenwood," Ma Joong and Chiao Tai, who attempt to rob him but are so impressed with his character that they give up their criminal careers and join his retinue on the spot. A little later, in "The Chinese Lake Murders", a third criminal, Tao Gan, an itinerant confidence trickster and swindler, similarly joins. Judge Dee ends his career being promoted to the position of senior Metropolitan Judge in the capital, and his assistants obtain official ranks in the Army and civil service.

Van Gulik also wrote series of newspaper comics about Judge Dee in 1964-1967, adding up to a total of 19 adventures. The first 4 were regular balloon strips, but the later 15 had the more typically Dutch textblock under the pictures.

Judge Dee, naturally, is responsible for deciding the sentence as well as assessing guilt or innocence, although van Gulik notes in the stories that all capital punishments must be referred to and decided by officials in the capital. One of the sentences he frequently has to deal with is slow slicing; if he is inclined to mercy, he orders the final, fatal, cut to be made first, thus rendering the ceremony anticlimactic.

Other authors

Several other authors have created stories based on Van Gulik's Judge Dee character.

* In 1995, Neal Stephenson added a character very much like Judge Dee to his book "The Diamond Age". The character was named "Judge Fang" and his two assistants were named Chang and Miss Pao.

* French author Frédéric Lenormand wrote ten books (not yet translated into English).

* The Chinese/American author Zhu Xiao Di wrote a book about Judge Dee called "Tales of Judge Dee" (2006). Zhu Xiao Di has no relation to Robert van Gulik but tried to stay faithful to the fictionalized history of van Gulik's Judge Dee. "Tales of Judge Dee" is set when the Judge was the magistrate of Poo-yang (the same time period as "The Chinese Bell Murders" and several other novels).

* Judge Dee appears, along with a fictionalized Wu Zetian, in Eleanor Cooney & Daniel Alteri's mystery novel "Deception: A Novel of Mystery and Madness in Ancient China"

* Fred Saberhagen, in his "", (1988) introduces Magistrate Wen Chang, an affectionate homage to Judge Dee. The Magistrate solves the crime in typical Dee fashion, even acquiring assistants to handle the leg work.


By van Gulik

Following novels and short stories were published in English by van Gulik. The short story collection "Judge Dee at Work" (published in 1967) contains a "Judge Dee Chronology" detailing Dee's various posts in specific years and stories set in these times. Van Gulik's last two books, "Poets and Murder" and "Necklace and Calabash", were not listed in the chronology, as they were written after "Judge Dee at Work", but they are both set in the time when Judge Dee was the magistrate in Poo-yang.

By other authors

By the author Frédéric Lenormand (not yet translated into English)

* "Le château du lac Tchou-an" (2004) "The Zhou-an lake castle"
* "La nuit des juges" (2004) "The night of the judges"
* "Petits meurtres entre moines" (2004) "Little murders among monks"
* "Le palais des courtisanes" (2004) "The courtesans' palace"
* "Madame Ti mène l'enquête" (2005) "Mrs. Dee investigates"
* "Mort d'un cuisinier chinois" (2005) "Death of a Chinese cook"
* "L'art délicat du deuil" (2006) "The delicate art of mourning"
* "Mort d'un maître de go" (2006) "Death of a Go master"
* "Dix petits démons chinois" (2007) "Ten little Chinese devils"
* "Médecine chinoise à l'usage des assassins" (2007) "Chinese medicine for murderers"
* "Guide de survie d'un juge en Chine" (2008) "Survival guide for the Chinese judge"
* "Panique sur la Grande Muraille" (2008) "Panic on the Great Wall"

By the author Zhu Xiao Di
*"Tales of Judge Dee" (2006), set in the time when Judge Dee is in Poo-yang


Judge Dee has been adapted for television twice.
* In 1969 Howard Baker produced six Judge Dee stories for Granada Television.cite web|url=http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0164265/|title="Judge Dee"|publisher=Internet Movie Database|accessdate=2008-05-10] These episodes were in black and white and were not a ratings success.
* In 1974 the novel "The Haunted Monastery" was produced as a television show by Gerald Isenberg with the title "Judge Dee and the Monastery Murders". It was filmed with an all Asian cast (including Mako and James Hong). Writing was credited to Nicholas Meyer and Robert van Gulik.cite web|url=http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0071703/|title="Judge Dee and the Monastery Murders"|publisher=Internet Movie Database|accessdate=2008-05-10] It was nominated for an Edgar Award, for "Best Television Feature or Miniseries" in 1975.
* Some of Robert van Guliks Judge Dee stories have been adapted for Chinese TV


External links

* [http://www.lejugeti.com/ The official "Judge Dee" website] fr icon
* [http://www.friesian.com/ross/dee.htm Judge Dee: Character chronology and information about the author] en icon

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