- 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.
‘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.’