Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee
Cover first edition translation
|Original title||Dee Goong An|
|Translator||Robert van Gulik|
|Genre||Gong'an fiction, Mystery, Detective novel, Crime|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee (Chinese: 狄公案; pinyin: dí gōng àn, lit. "Cases of Judge Dee", also known as Di Gong An or Dee Goong An) is an 18th-century Chinese gong'an detective novel by an anonymous author, "Buti zhuanren" (Chinese: 不题撰人). It is loosely based on the stories of Di Renjie (Wade-Giles Ti Jen-chieh), a magistrate and statesman of the Tang court, who lived roughly 630–700. The novel contains cultural elements from later dynasties, rather than Tang Dynasty China, however.
The Dutch sinologist and diplomat Robert van Gulik came across a copy in a second-hand book store in Tokyo and translated the novel into English. He then used it as the basis to create his own original Judge Dee stories over the next 20 years. Van Gulik wrote:
- This translation is chiefly a product of the Pacific War years, 1941-1945, when constant travel on various war duties made other more complicated Sinological research impossible.
- This novel Dee Goong An is offered here in a complete translation. Possibly it would have had a wider appeal if it had been entirely re-written in a form more familiar to our readers.
The translation features nine drawings, three copies from old Chinese art, and six illustrations by the author.
There are three cases in this book. The first might be called "The Double Murder at Dawn"; the case describes the hazardous life of the traveling silk merchant and a murder which is committed to gain wealth.
The second, "The Strange Corpse", takes place in a small village and addresses a crime of passion which proves hard to solve. The criminal is a very determined woman.
The third case, "The Poisoned Bride", addresses the murder of a local scholar's daughter, who marries the son of the former administrator of the district. This case contains a surprising twist in its solution.
All three cases are solved by Judge Dee, the district magistrate, detective, prosecutor, judge, and jury all wrapped up into one person.
Literary significance and criticism
"Dee Goong An is the genuine article, dating from the 18th century and barely modified by the translator to make it intelligible today. Like his modern fictions, it adroitly intertwines three plots and shows the judge and his aides in their now familiar guise. The introduction and notes (including Chinese ideograms for the skeptical) are as entertaining as the tale, once the reader has become a Dee-votee."
- Barzun, Jacques and Taylor, Wendell Hertig (1989). A Catalogue of Crime (Revised and enlarged edition ed.). New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-015796-8.