Gong'an fiction

Gong'an or crime-case fiction (Chinese: 公案小说) is a subgenre of Chinese crime fiction involving government magistrates who solve criminal cases. The Judge Dee and Judge Bao stories are the best known examples of the genre.


Judge Bao in Peking Opera, a frequent protagonist of gong'an novels.

There are no surviving works of Song gong'an, a genre of Song Dynasty puppetry and oral performances. Judge Bao stories based on the career of Bao Zheng, a common protagonist of gong'an fiction, first appeared during the Yuan Dynasty.[1] Bao was a historical figure who worked for Emperor Renzong of Song as a magistrate. Accounts of his life were recorded in historical documents that later inspired the mythological Judge Bao of gong'an fiction.[2]

The Circle of Chalk (Chinese:) is a Yuan zaju play that recounts a Judge Bao criminal case. The popularity of Judge Bao performances contributed to the success of written gong'an novels published in the 16th and 17th centuries.[3] The oldest collection of Judge Bao stories is the Bao Longtu Baijia Gong'an, the Hundred Cases of Judge Bao, also included in the Ming Dynasty Bao Gong An (Chinese:).[4]

The popularity of gong'an novels diminished in the early years of the Qing Dynasty. It was not until the latter years of the dynasty that the genre experienced a resurgence. Thematically, the gong'an works of the Qing Dynasty mixed elements of traditional gong'an fiction with the wuxia martial arts genre.[5] Qing Judge Bao stories were widespread in every medium, from operas to folk performances and novels.[6] Other magistrates like Judge Peng and Judge Li were also the subject of gong'an works. Shi Gong'an, Judge Shi's Cases, was published in 1798.[7]

In the 20th century, Di Gong An (Chinese:), an 18th-century collection of gong'an stories, was discovered at a second-hand book store in Tokyo, Japan and translated into English as the Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee by Dutch sinologist Robert Van Gulik. Van Gulik chose Di Gong An to translate because it was in his view closer to the Western tradition of detective fiction and more likely to appeal to non-Chinese readers. He used the style and characters to write a long running series of Judge Dee books that introduced the gong'an genre to Western audiences. The hybrid gong'an and wuxia stories of the Qing Dynasty remain popular in contemporary China. Wuxia writer Jin Yong's novels portray more elaborate martial arts and weapons than that of earlier gong'an works. [8]


The term gong'an originally referred to the table, desk, or bench of a Chinese magistrate. [9] It was later used as a name for unusual legal cases.[10] Gong'an as a genre of fiction has been translated into English as "court-case" fiction[11] or "crime-case" fiction.[12] It is noteworthy that the above etymological development is similar to that of "case" in English - a word which originally described the physical depository where documents of a particular criminal investigation were kept, and later came to refer to the investigation itself.

Themes and style

The protagonist of gong'an 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) most stories are written in the latter Ming or Qing period.

Gong'an novels are characterized by a number of distinct plot elements from other subgenres. The "detective" is the local magistrate who is usually involved in several unrelated cases simultaneously, while 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". Gong'an stories often have a supernatural element with ghosts contacting the living or even accusing the criminal. The plot can digress into philosophy or a series of official documents. The story may feature a large cast of characters, typically in the hundreds.

See also


  1. Kinkley 2000, p. 28
  2. Kinkley 2000, p. 29
  3. Hegel 1998, p. 32
  4. Hegel 1998, p. 32
  5. Hegel 1998, p. 33
  6. Kinkley 2000, p. 29
  7. Kinkley 2000, p. 29
  8. Hegel 1998, p. 33
  9. See The Zen Kōan (see note [1]) p4-6, and also "The form and function of kōan literature" (subtitle) "A historical overview", T. Griffith Foulk, in The Kōan (subtitle) Texts and contexts in Zen Buddhism, Steven Heine and Dale S. Wright, eds., 2000, Oxford University Press, p21-22. Assertions that the literal meaning of kung-an is the table, desk, or bench of a magistrate appear on page 18 of the article by Foulk, and also in Seeing Through Zen, (subtitle) Encounter, Transformation, and Genealogy in Chinese Chan Buddhism, John R. MacRae, 2003, University of California Press, p172-173 note 16.
  10. See 辨黄庆基弹劾剳印子, by:宋· 苏轼. And "京本通俗小说·错斩崔宁"
  11. Wang 1997, p. 117
  12. Hegel 1998, p. 32

References and further reading

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 10/24/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.