What history… of the men… of the knife… to the beginning?! … or exist someone else?!… in Chinese culture

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‘Gong’an fiction is a genre of Ming Dynasty Chinese crime fiction that includes Bao Gong An (Chinese:􏰀􏰁 􏰂) and the 18th century novel Di Gong An (Chinese:􏰃􏰁􏰂). The latter was translated into English as Dee Goong An (Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee) by Dutch sinologist Robert Van Gulik, who then used the style and characters to write an original Judge Dee series.
The hero of these novels is typically a traditional judge or similar official based on historical personages such as Judge Bao (Bao Qingtian) or Judge Dee (Di Renjie). Although the historical characters may have lived in an earlier period (such as the Song or Tang dynasty) the novels are often set in the later Ming or Manchu period.
These novels differ from the Western genre in several points as described by van Gulik:
  • the detective is the local magistrate who is usually involved in several unrelated cases simultaneously; the criminal is introduced at the very start of the story and his crime and reasons are carefully explained, thus constituting an inverted detective story rather than a “puzzle”;
  • the stories have a supernatural element with ghosts telling people about their death and even accusing the criminal;
  • the stories were filled with digressions into philosophy, the complete texts of official documents, and much more, making for very long books;
  • the novels tended to have a huge cast of characters, typically in the hundreds, all described as to their relation to the various main actors in the story;
  • little time is spent on the details of how the crime was committed but a great deal on the torture and execution of the criminals, even including their further torments in one of the various hells for the damned.
Van Gulik chose Di Gong An to translate because it was in his view closer to the Western tradition and more likely to appeal to non-Chinese readers.’

‘One notable fact is that a number of Gong An works may have been lost or destroyed during the Literary Inquisitions and the wars in ancient China. Only little or incomplete case volumes can be found; for example, the only copy of Di Gong An was found at a second-hand book store in Tokyo, Japan.’

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