Monday, August 09, 2010

Wisdom of the Magistrate

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Robert van Gulik, the Netherlands-born Orientalist and diplomat who created the Chinese detective protagonist Judge Dee. As Wikipedia explains,
During World War II Robert van Gulik translated the 18th-century detective novel Dee Goong An into English under the title Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee (first published in Tokyo in 1949). The main character of this book, Judge Dee, was based on the real statesman and detective Di Renjie, who lived in the seventh century during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 600-900), though in the novel itself elements of Ming Dynasty China (A.D. 1300-1600) were mixed in.

Thanks to his translation of this largely forgotten work, Van Gulik became interested in Chinese detective fiction and he decided to attempt one himself. His first attempt, The Chinese Bell Murders, was written from 1948 [to] 1950 and “borrowed” Judge Dee and his assistants from Dee Goong An.

His intent in writing this first Judge Dee novel was, as he wrote in remarks on The Chinese Bell Murders, “to show modern Chinese and Japanese writers that their own ancient crime-literature has plenty of source material for detective and mystery-stories.”
Van Gulik died of cancer in September 1967. You’ll find more about his Judge Dee series here. Most of those books are still easily obtained.

READ MORE:Reading Judge Dee” and “Judge Dee and Imperial China,” by Les Blatt (Classic Mysteries).

1 comment:

Les Blatt said...

I have long been a fan of the Judge Dee novels. New readers should know that it is NOT necessary to read the books in any particular order: while there is an internal chronology to the stories, they were not written in order of the chronology. While some may refer back to events in an earlier book, they do so in non-spoiler ways and are easily understood by readers who haven't read the earlier ones. They are excellent mysteries and fascinating in their look at day-to-day life in Imperial China.