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Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee

(Judge Dee #1)

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  1,663 ratings  ·  130 reviews
Long before Western writers had even conceived the idea of writing detective stories, the Chinese had developed a long tradition of literary works that chronicled the cases of important district magistrates. These judges held a unique position. As "fathers to the people" they were at once judge and detective, responsible for all aspects of keeping the peace and for discove ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published June 1st 1976 by Dover Publications, Inc. (first published 1949)
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3.95  · 
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 ·  1,663 ratings  ·  130 reviews

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Henry Avila
Apr 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
This first Judge Dee novel ( a historical figure, Di Renjie, A.D. 630-700, during the Tang Dynasty, who later became the powerful chancellor of the nation, at the Imperial Court) , is a translation of a 18th century Chinese detective book by Dutch scholar, Robert van Gulik, written anonymously back then as now, this kind of product wasn't taken seriously............ The magistrate Judge Dee, ( "father to the people") for three years in the small, rural , usually quiet city of Chang-ping, China, ...more
Pat of my Summer 2018 Easy Reading Vibe – As a first Ive decided this year to aim for shorter or “light” reading to get me through the months where historically my reading has tailed off.

A book i’d managed to track down & purchase a while ago & a perfect excuse to kick off my summer reading with a short teccie story or three (there are 3 stories according to the notes)...... well the beginning was quite bizarre as the Preface by the author went ON and ON and ON to a little over 40 pages
Nov 02, 2013 added it
Shelves: chinese
A detective novel by an anonymous 18th century Chinese author

The Dutch diplomat, orientalist and author Robert van Gulik (1910-1967) translated Dee Goong An (Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee) into English and had it published in Tokyo in 1949. The original Chinese text was written some time in the 18th century and was published anonymously, hence it was written by a literatus/scholar who would have been embarrassed to have his peers know that he had composed such a work, since they generally view
Nov 23, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommended to carol. by: Carly
One aspect of books and reading that I don’t often consider is the extent to which storytelling is a cultural form, often arising out of long-standing tradition. Modern American writing has such an emphasis on telling a good story as well as innovation in characterization and world-building that I forget about traditional forms. The manuscript of Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee is the product of an extensive tradition in Chinese detective storytelling. It was discovered by a Westerner in the 1900s ...more
Vanessa Wu
Aug 27, 2011 rated it liked it
At the heart of this book is a story that involves a lot of bondage, torture, beating, sexual passion, near-nudity and paranormal phenomena.

Yes, as with so many things, the Chinese did paranormal BDSM centuries before the current craze sweeping America.

But, ironically, in this book the paranormal element is somewhat muted, which is the main reason Robert van Gulik thought it might be presentable in translation to Western readers.

I try to learn something practical from every book I read. The thin
Oct 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I'm giving this one 5 stars not because it's the most brilliant detective novel ever, though it is quite compelling and entertaining, but because it's an astounding early-eighteenth-century Chinese detective novel, quite "modern" in lots of ways, that was written more than a century before anything we could call a "detective story" in the West, e.g. Poe's Dupin stories or Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Not only that, but, as translator Robert Hans Van Gulik tells us in his introduction, " ...more
May 25, 2009 rated it liked it

This was an 18th century Chinese detective novel.

China has a long tradition of detective novels and they quite distinctive from western detective novels. The purpose of this particular translation was to introduce the Chinese detective novel genre to a Western audience. This particular book was picked by the translator and publisher because the plot is more Western than most. It was said to be one of the influences to Neal Stephenson's novel, the Diamond Age.

The plot revolves around several int

Beth Asmaa
Mar 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: detective stories; Sinologists
Shelves: 2016aroundtw
Set in the era of seventh-century A.D. and written in the eighteenth-century A.D., the book of Chinese detective stories is translated in modern times. Robert Van Gulik's lucid translation from Chinese feels contemporary and his changes to the original text are likewise clearly reasoned. Judge Dee is a "magistrate of Chang-ping". Three murders come before him and his lieutenants (some of whom are reformed shady characters and one of them is his lifelong servant). Altogether they use snooping and ...more
Aug 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Long before Jessica Fletcher opened up the Cabots Cove branch of the Pinkertons, the Chinese developed the detective novel to a high degree. But like pasta, gunpowder, and sea borne voyages of trade and conquest, they decided it was overrated and left it to the uncivilized monkey people of the European littoral. Back in WWII Robert van Gulik took a break from his war duties and translated a Chinese detective novel. It was the Dee Goong An, a fictionalized account of crimefighting by a historical ...more
Dec 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: eventually
The torture-them-until-they-confess spirit of the detection is not saying Christmas to me. Maybe at Easter.
Jack Massa
Nov 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Enjoyable as a mystery novel, but mostly interesting to me for all the knowledge it provides on daily life, society, government, and law in Tang China.
Nihal Vrana
Jul 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was a wonderful reading experience. First hats off to Mr. van Gulik for all his efforts to make this work accessible to non-Chinese readers. He went well beyond translation and thought of a conceptual framework to make the story understandable and that's no small feat.

Beyond that; the construction of the story (three unrelated crimes unfolding in a random manner) was very clever. The dry but fluent way the whole thing is written makes it very easy to read. The torture parts were a bit hard
Jul 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
I first started reading the Judge Dee mysteries by Robert van Gulik (1910-1967) back in the 1990s. I discovered them in the Common Reader catalog (alas, no more). They looked different than what I had been reading - British mysteries - so I thought I would give them a try. Different? Definitely an understatement.

Judge Dee was a real person - Di Renjie, Duke Wenhui of Liang, a Chinese official, statesman, and judge who lived from 630 to 700. Robert van Gulik came across an 18th century Chinese my
Jun 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone intrested in China
Shelves: mystery
The books by Robert Van Gulik have a very special place in my heart. In elementary school I borrowed one of his books from a neighbor, read the whole series, became fascinated with Chinese history and culture. This is one of the major influences that got me to major in Chinese language and literature.

First a bit about the author. Robert H. Van Gulik was the Dutch ambassador to Japan before the war. When the war started he became the Dutch ambassador to China. He was an incredible scholar.
The D
Mar 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Looking for a different mystery? You have found it!

I have read my fair share of mysteries, and even though I love the genre, sometimes I feel the need to look for something out of the norm. That is why I have explore mysteries in special locations or times. In one of these searches I came across this book and decided to give it a try. The first thing that struck me was the extensive introduction by the translator, Robert van Gulik. In this essay, he explains the characteristics of the typical Ch
Aug 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I haven't read chinese detective stories before so it was a first.
I don't regret reading it, it was interesting. For the details and story development.
Example: swishing the sleeves and torture methods, ceremonial customs and time flow.
Judge Di seemed a bit too admired and trusted but I guess it is the difference in cultures.
I don't want to write spoilers so I won't write more.

The only regret I have is that my copy of the book had a lot of editing problems, double words and spelling mistakes.
May 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013, classic, mystery-spy
2.5* This book was a cultural experience as much as a detective story. The Judge has prophetic dreams that give him clues, he uses torture to get confessions out of criminals, and unlike our Western detective novels, the story does not end until all the gory details of the execution are told. It was interesting. I didn't find much "detecting" going on - not so much of a puzzle as I'm used to - however, I'm not sure that this particular book is indicative of the rest of the series. I read an exce ...more
I read all of the Judge Dee novels a long time ago. Just reread this one, and still liked it. These are translations of 19th century Chinese detective novels,about a 7th century magistrate who actually existed. The long section of 'translator's notes' are the most interesting part of the book - all about what Chinese detective novels are, how diffent they are from typical western mysteries, and how each is a reflection of the culture from which they come. Be warned that there is some description ...more
Ruth Shulman
Jul 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Judge Dee is one my favorite characters in detective literature. The neat thing is, he is also a real person: a Tang Dynasty magistrate who was famous for solving real murders (and other crimes.)

Note: Though I am listing this one book just now, I have read the entire series. As delicious as a plate of superior Chinese food.
E. Craig McKay
Nov 25, 2011 rated it liked it
I came upon this book by chance and bought it on a whim. The approach to solving crimes reminded me somewhat of that employed in ancient Rome.It was an enjoyable read; quite a contrast to modern crime fiction or murder mystery.
Adam Lewis Schroeder
Apr 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Supremely satisfying. Martial arts. Horrific tortures as a legal means of gathering evidence. Impersonating underworld deities. The interweaving cases are great, though we don't learn much about Judge Dee himself except that he has both ninjas and doddering old men in his employ.
The first part of the series is nowhere near as good as the rest. Might be that this is rather a translation than an original story. It differs from the rest of the series in how it treats supernatural phenomena or that torture is treated as justifiable means of obtaining confession.
Apr 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The Chinese have a long tradition of detective novels, Van Gulik was one of the first translators of Judge Dee, both this one and the ones he created are great reads. Some libraries file these under Gulik, check both names.
Oct 02, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: own-audio, quest
Really didn't expect to like this one at all. It's so far from what I normally enjoy, but it was actually a pretty fun read. Way, way more gruesome torture than one would expect lol.
Kaitlin Page
Apr 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fascinating insight into Chinese detective novels. Robert Van Gulik points out several differences from Western detective stories, and then explicitly details that Judge Dee exhibits some of these traits...but still would be palatable for a western reader.

1. The criminal is apparently typically introduced at the beginning of the story - the enjoyment comes from the detective's moves, and the criminal's counter moves....the stories in this novel rang more true of the western "who done its"
2. The
Andy Rexford
Apr 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an intriguing look into how a mystery story would take place historically in a country like China, with different rules of law than we would see in western society (this is described in the beginning of the book by the translator, Rober van Gulik, but I'll paraphrase below.)

Unlike detective stories in the west, this book is about more than just solving the mystery. (Which makes sense, Chinese writers have been telling mystery stories for 1,000 years, well before Poe and Doyle did.) It i
Michel Siskoid Albert
I was drawn to Robert Van Gulik's translation of the 18th-Century Chinese detective novel Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee, not gonna lie, because I liked Tsui Hark's outlandish Detective Dee films. This is not that, of course, though once Van Gulik decided to write his own Dee stories (and then other authors, mostly Frenchmen), I wonder if they didn't stray more and more into the fantastical. It's here, mind you, just not in the foreground. I suppose what's interesting about the original book, asi ...more
Jul 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: crime
This is a very interesting book in how much its unlike modern western detective stories. Seeing as how its a translation of a book originally written in 18th century China about real cases solved by the Real 7th century Judge Dee, one could begin to see how this could showcase some really intriguing differences. However, reading this book in an ongoing series or other books very similar to you, could be difficult to get behind. Primarily the quickness Judge Dee moves to torture is a bit uncomfor ...more
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Be aware: it is a OLD Chinese story translated the best Mr. Van Gulik could.
It is NOT a “normal” detective story.
It has CRUDE descriptions of torture and other stuff inside (I will not spoil it).
It has a historical context.
I got this book by some Goodreads recommendation.
For a book wrote in 1949, it is a pretty good one.
The preface was way too long...To many observations about how the Chinese detective stories are different from the western ones...
It is somewhat interesting, but you can skip al
Jan 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I cannot praise this book enough. Not only does Van Gulik’s translation capture many of common tropes in classic Chinese novels, but the characters within this book are fascinating and the mysteries are baffling. Judge Dee is perhaps a perfect Chinese version of Sherlock Holmes, or vice-versa, since Dee is Holmes’s predecessor. I have never read a Chinese detective novel before, and know I kind of want to learn to read Chinese characters just in order to read more of these.

Full review on my blog
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Robert Hans van Gulik was a Dutch diplomat best known for his Judge Dee stories. His first published book, The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee, was a translation of an eighteenth-century Chinese murder mystery by an unknown author; he went on to write new mysteries for Judge Dee, a character based on a historical figure from the seventh century. He also wrote academic books, mostly on Chinese histor ...more

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Judge Dee (1 - 10 of 17 books)
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  • The Chinese Bell Murders (Judge Dee (Chronological order) #8)
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  • The Chinese Nail Murders (Judge Dee (Chronological order) #15)
  • The Haunted Monastery
  • The Red Pavilion
  • The Lacquer Screen (Judge Dee (Chronological order) #3)
  • The Emperor's Pearl
  • The Monkey and The Tiger