Judge Dee

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Judge Dee
First appearanceCelebrated Cases of Judge Dee
Last appearancePoets and Murder
Created byAnonymous author credited as "Buti zhuanren"/novel translated and subsequent novels continued by Robert van Gulik (character based on Di Renjie)
Portrayed byMichael Goodliffe
Khigh Dhiegh
In-universe information

Judge Dee, or Judge Di, is a semi-fictional character based on the historical figure Di Renjie, county magistrate and statesman of the Tang court. The character appeared in the 18th-century Chinese detective and gong'an crime novel Di Gong An. After Robert van Gulik came across it in an antiquarian book store in Tokyo, he translated the novel into English and then used the style and characters to write his own original Judge Dee historical mystery stories.

The series is set in Tang Dynasty China and deals with criminal cases solved by the upright and shrewd Judge Dee, who as county magistrate in the Chinese imperial legal system was both the investigating magistrate and judge.

Dee Goong An[edit]

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 the 18th-century Di Gong An (Chinese: 狄公案; pinyin: Dí Gōng Àn; lit. "Cases of Judge Dee") 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.[1] He translated it into English and had it published in 1949 under the title Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee.

Van Gulik's stories[edit]

This gave van Gulik 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 wherein 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 direct reference 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 Liang, 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. (This encounter is recounted in a short flashback passage in the original Di Gong An, taking place when the two are already long-serving loyal members of his retinue). 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 in Murder in Canton 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 a series of newspaper comics about Judge Dee in 1964-1967, which totalled 19 adventures. The first four were regular balloon strips, but the later 15 had the more typically Dutch textblock under the pictures.

Judge Dee, naturally, is responsible for deciding sentences 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[edit]

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

  • French author Frédéric Lenormand wrote 19 new Judge Dee mysteries from year 2004 at Editions Fayard, Paris (not yet translated into English). Some of them have been translated into Spanish (Ediciones Paidos Iberica), Portuguese (Europress), Bulgarian (Paradox), Czech (Garamond) and Polish.[citation needed]
  • Sven Roussel, another French author, has written La dernière enquête du Juge Ti.[2]
  • The Chinese-American author Zhu Xiao Di wrote a book about Judge Dee called Tales of Judge Dee (2006), set when the Judge was the magistrate of Poo-yang (the same time period as The Chinese Bell Murders and several other novels). 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.[citation needed]
  • 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.[citation needed]


By van Gulik[edit]

The 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.

Year Title Setting Notes
1949 Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee An "early phase of Judge Dee's career." Translated from Chinese (originally, Dee Goong An); not part of the later continuity. Three stories: "The Case of the Double Murder at Dawn," "The Case of the Strange Corpse", and "The Case of the Poisoned Bride". Dee is the newly appointed Magistrate of Chang-ping in the Province of Shantung. He has all four lieutenants on staff: Sgt. Hoong, Chiao Tai, Ma Joong, and Tao Gan.[3]
1957 The Chinese Maze Murders 670, Lan-fang Written in 1950, published in Japanese in 1951; Lan-fang is a fictional district at the western frontier of Tang China. Given its name, general location and supposed role in the trade route to Khotan, it has a real historical eponymous counterpart in Lanzhou.
1958 The Chinese Bell Murders 668, Poo-yang Written between 1953 and 1956; Poo-yang is a fictional wealthy district on the shores of the Grand Canal of China (part of modern-day Jiangsu province).
1959 The Chinese Gold Murders 663, Penglai Dee's initial appointment and first criminal cases, the judge encounters two highwaymen, euphemistically called "men of the greenwood", Ma Joong and Chiao Tai.
1960 The Chinese Lake Murders 666, Han-yuan Han-yuan is a fictional district on a lakeshore near the capital of Chang-An. Huan-Yuan (韩原) is an ancient name for the modern day Hancheng city in Shaanxi province.
1961 The Chinese Nail Murders 676, Pei-chow Pei-chow is a fictional district in the far north of Tang China.
1961 The Haunted Monastery 667, Han-yuan Judge Dee is traveling and forced to take shelter in a monastery.
1961 The Red Pavilion 668, Poo-yang Judge Dee is drawn into a web of lies and sad stories in the world of the prostitutes of Imperial China.
1962 The Lacquer Screen 664, Penglai Judge Dee and Chiao Tai disguise themselves to go undercover and join a gang of robbers to solve the case.
1963 The Emperor's Pearl 669, Poo-yang Odd things going on at the deserted villa, an apparently cursed Imperial Treasure and a perverted madman.
1965 The Morning of the Monkey 667, Han-yuan A short novel from The Monkey and the Tiger
1965 The Night of the Tiger 676, Pei-chow A short novel from The Monkey and the Tiger
1965 The Willow Pattern 677, Chang-An Judge Dee is the Lord Chief Justice in the Imperial capital of Chang-An.
1966 Murder in Canton 681, Guangzhou Judge Dee is the Lord Chief Justice for all of China.
1966 The Phantom of the Temple 670, Lan-fang Mysterious phantom haunting a Buddhist temple. 20 bars of gold missing, and the merchant's beautiful daughter.
1967 "Five Auspicious Clouds" 663, Penglai A short story from Judge Dee at Work
1967 "The Red Tape Murders" 663, Penglai A short story from Judge Dee at Work.

Military murder at the army fortress.

1967 "He came with the Rain" 663, Penglai A short story from Judge Dee at Work
1967 "The Murder on the Lotus Pond" 666, Han-yuan A short story from Judge Dee at Work
1967 "The Two Beggars" 668, Poo-yang A short story from Judge Dee at Work
1967 "The Wrong Sword" 668, Poo-yang A short story from Judge Dee at Work
1967 "The Coffins of the Emperor" 670, Lan-fang A short story from Judge Dee at Work
1967 "Murder on New Year's Eve" 670, Lan-fang A short story from Judge Dee at Work
1967 Necklace and Calabash 668, Poo-yang Judge Dee is a magistrate in the fictional Poo-yang district. Last Judge Dee novel published during van Gulik's lifetime.
1968 Poets and Murder 669, Poo-yang During a festival in Chin-hwa, Judge Dee is a guest of a group of distinguished scholars. A young girl has been murdered and the accused is a beautiful poetess.

By other authors[edit]

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
  • Le Mystère du jardin chinois (2009) The Chinese Garden Mystery
  • Diplomatie en kimono (2009) Diplomacy in a Kimono
  • Thé vert et arsenic (2010) Arsenic and green tea
  • Un Chinois ne ment jamais (2010) A Chinese never lies
  • Divorce à la chinoise (2011) Chinese-style Divorce
  • Meurtres sur le fleuve Jaune (2011) The Yellow River Murders

By the author Zhu Xiao Di

  • Tales of Judge Dee (2006), set in the time when Judge Dee is in Poo-yang (AD 669-670)

By the author Sven Roussel

  • La Dernière Enquète du Juge Ti (2008) set at the end Judge Dee's term of service in Lan Fang (AD 675)

By authors Eleanor Cooney & Daniel Alteri

  • Deception: A Novel of Mystery and Madness in Ancient China, ISBN 0-380-70872-8

By Lin Qianyu (林千羽)

By the author Hock G. Tjoa



The stories have been adapted into comic strips by Dutch artists Fritz Kloezeman [4] between 1964 and 1969 and Dick Matena in 2000.[5]


Judge Dee has been adapted for television twice in English.

  • In 1969, Howard Baker produced six Judge Dee stories for Granada Television.[6] These episodes were in black and white and were not a ratings success. English actor Michael Goodliffe portrayed the Judge.
  • In 1974, Gerald Isenberg adapted the novel The Haunted Monastery into a television movie, titled Judge Dee and the Monastery Murders. It starred Khigh Dhiegh as Judge Dee. With the exception of the star (who generally played East Asian roles but was of English and North African descent), the movie had an all-Asian cast, including Mako, Soon-Tek Oh, Keye Luke, and James Hong. The writing was credited to Nicholas Meyer and Robert van Gulik.[7] It was nominated for an Edgar Award, for Best Television Feature or Miniseries in 1975.

Some of Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee stories have been adapted for Chinese TV by CCTV. As of 2012, four different DVD series are available with one series so far with English subtitles. CCTV produced series in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010. The series from 2010, entitled "Detective Di Renjie" has been produced on DVD by Tai Seng entertainment with English subtitles.[citation needed]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wright, Daniel Franklin (2004). Chinoiserie in the novels of Robert Hans van Gulik (M.A. thesis) Wilfrid Laurier University
  2. ^ Roussel, Sven (2008). La dernière enquête du Juge Ti (in French). ISBN 978-2-9532206-0-5.
  3. ^ Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee (Dee Goong An): An Authentic Eighteenth-Century Chinese Detective Novel. Dover Publications, 1976. Copyright notes, "an unabridged, slightly corrected version of the work first published privately in Tokyo in 1949 under the title Dee Goong An: Three Murder Cases Solved by Judge Dee.
  4. ^ "Frits Kloezeman". lambiek.net.
  5. ^ "Dick Matena". lambiek.net.
  6. ^ "Judge Dee". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-05-10.
  7. ^ "Judge Dee and the Monastery Murders". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2008-05-10.


External links[edit]