Chinese crime fiction

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Chinese crime fiction (Chinese: 犯罪小说, pinyin: fànzuì xiǎoshuō) is an umbrella term which generally refers to Sinophone literature concerned with the investigation and punishment of criminal acts. In mainland China the most popular subgenre is detective fiction (Chinese: 侦探推理小说, pinyin: zhēntàn tuīlǐ xiǎoshuō, literally detective deduction stories, often abbreviated to 推理小说 tuīlǐ xiǎoshuō or 侦探小说 zhēntàn xiǎoshuō). Gong'an fiction (Chinese: 公案小说) is an earlier subgenre involving the careers of government magistrates, like Judge Bao or Judge Dee, who solve criminal cases.

Mainland China[edit]

Vernacular fiction from the Song and Ming dynasties[edit]

Main article: Gong'an fiction

In the Song dynasty, the growth of commerce and urban society created a demand for many new forms of popular entertainment. The gong'an genre, translated as crimecase fiction, were among the new types of vernacular fiction that developed from the Song to the Ming periods. Written in colloquial rather than literary Chinese, they nearly always featured district magistrates or judges in the higher courts. The plots usually begin with a description of the crime (often including much realistic detail of contemporary life) and culminate in the exposure of the deed and the punishment of the guilty. Sometimes two solutions to a mystery are posited, but the correct solution is reached through a brilliant judge.

The most celebrated hero of such tales was Judge Bao Zheng, or "Dragon Plan Bao," who was originally based on a historical person. Featuring in hundreds of stories, Bao became the archetype of the incorruptible official in a society in which miscarriages of justice in favor of the rich and powerful were all too common. Not all crime stories have happy endings, and some were evidently written with the aim of exposing the brutal methods of corrupt judges who—often after accepting bribes—extracted false confessions by torture and condemned innocent people to death.

In some tales, the crimes are exposed with the aid of supernatural forces, but others display features common in Western crime fiction. For example, in one tale the dimwitted investigator is upstaged by the patient and methodical investigation of his junior.

Translations and original crime fiction during the Republican era[edit]

Short story writer Cheng Xiaoqing (程小青 ) was the most successful and prolific author of original Chinese crime fiction during the Republican Era in mainland China.[1] His stories are noted for their similarity to the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Author Conan Doyle, with an selected stories being having been published by the University of Hawai'i Press under the title Sherlock in Shanghai in 2007, translated by Timothy C. Wong.

Cheng Xiaoqing's contemporary, Sun Liaohong also created a series of Chinese detective novels which are said to have been modeled on the Arsène Lupin stories.[2]

In the People's Republic of China[edit]

He Jiahong (何家弘) was born in 1953 and is a professor of criminal law at Renmin University and was the part-time Deputy Director of the Department of Dereliction of Duty and Infringement of Human Rights in the Supreme People’s Procuratorate from 2006 to 2008.[3] His true crime novel Hanging Devils was published in an English translation in 2012.[4]

A Yi (阿乙), born in 1976, is a former police officer[5] who writes darkly realistic crime fiction about migrant workers and the lower strata of mainland Chinese society. His published works include Gray Stories (灰故事), Bird Saw Me (鸟看见我了), Cat and Mouse (猫和老鼠).[6]

Born in 1986, Sun Yisheng (孙一圣), who writes post-modern crime fiction under the pen name William Edward (威廉爱德华) is one of the youngest crime writers to have been published in mainland China.[7] He has had at least two short stories translated into English, the first in Chutzpah! magazine and the second, entitled The Shades who Periscope Through Flowers to the Sky, in the online literary journal Words Without Borders.[8]

Crime fiction featuring Chinese language and culture published in other countries[edit]

Chinese-American author Qiu Xiaolong's (裘小龙) best selling Inspector Chen series of police procedurals are set in modern-day Shanghai.[9]

Diane Wei Liang's detective novels The Eye of Jade and Paper Butterflies are part of a series set in contemporary Beijing.[10]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Yau-woon Ma, "The Textual Tradition of Ming Kung-an Fiction", Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 35 (1975): 190–220.
  • Patrick Hanan, The Chinese Vernacular Story (1981).
  • Huang Yanbo, Zhongguo gongan xiaoshuo shi (History of Chinese Court Case Fiction; 1991).
  • Meng Liye, Zhongguo gongan xiaoshuo yishu fazhan shi (History of the Artistic Development of Chinese Court Case Fiction; 1996).
  • Jeffrey C. Kinkley, Chinese Justice, the Fiction: Law and Literature in Modern China (2000)