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. Gong'an fiction was first appeared in the colloquial stories of Song dynasty. Gong'an fiction was then developed and become one of the most popular fiction styles in Ming and Qing dynasties. The Judge Dee and Judge Bao stories are the best known examples of the genre.
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. 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 Accounts of his life were recorded in historical documents that later inspired the mythological Judge Bao of gong'an fiction.
The Circle of Chalk (Chinese:灰闌記) 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. 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:包公案).
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. During this period of time, Gong'an novels were politicized as a tool of shaping public opinions towards the government. “Wuxia” heroes, also known as martial heroes, rather than acting according to their own code of justice, would often swear loyalty and work in assistance to a government official figure- the initiative of justice derives from the government's actions, not the heroes'. Thematically, the gong'an works of the Qing Dynasty mixed elements of traditional gong'an fiction with the wuxia martial arts genre. Qing Judge Bao stories were widespread in every medium, from operas to folk performances and novels. 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.
In the 1940, Di Gong An (Chinese:狄公案), 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 in 1949. 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 as the "Sherlock Holmes of China". 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.
The term gong'an originally referred to the table, desk, or bench of a Chinese magistrate. It was later used as a name for unusual legal cases. Gong'an as a genre of fiction has been translated into English as "court-case" fiction or "crime-case" fiction. 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.
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.
The Gong'an fiction is a collection of seemingly unrelated short stories, however, they are connected based on their common tropes or crime-related conventions. These stories are usually represented by iconic figures, clothing, and characters. For example: Officials, Yamen Underling, and commoners all wear unique clothing. The depiction of these stories are typically presented to an audience, yet, if the stories are written down, illustrations are used. The stories are generally told by the working Magistrate, and involve a number of interrelated crimes occurring early in the story. Although, the stories have a common theme of social justice through punishment; the crimes are generally not didactic. In other words, they are crimes committed against other individuals (murder and rape are common examples) rather than society. The crimes are specific breaches in the law, and punishments are generally also pre-prescribed by law. Although the magistrate may have some supernatural knowledge aiding him in solving the case, he must always establish the facts of the case and prove the criminal guilty.
Gong'an fiction is very frequently accompanied by illustrations, such as Van Gulik's personal illustration to his Judge Dee novels. A re-occurring theme is the imitation of pictures. This repetition ensures readers have a common understanding of what each illustration represents.
This convention holds for pre-Ming full-page illustrations as well as shangtu xiawen illustrations. Thus many early sutras feature the Buddha seated on a lotus flower, facing three-quarters left, expounding doctrine or, more likely, the text of the accompanying sutra, while his disciples sit facing him, often with their backs to the reader. Likewise, if the illustration depicts action (many of them have a strong narrative element), the action tends to move from right to left. This is clearly seen in one of Zheng Zhenduo's illustrations, wherein the act of butchering animals is dramatically shown to lead straight to the gates of hell at left by means of a cloud-like cartouche.
There are multiple differences between Chinese gong'an fiction and western detective fiction. While western detective fiction focuses very much on realism, Chinese gong'an fiction stories may involve supernatural elements such as ghosts or spirits narrating their death, accusing the criminal, or aiding in the delivery of justice. The criminal being introduced at the beginning of the story is characteristic of gong'an fiction. His crime and reasoning are then explained in detail, therefore constituting an inverted detective story. Furthermore, the stories are filled with periodic breaks from the crime story and divert into philosophical lessons and moral practices that are emphasized in more complexed books. These stories contain a large amount of characters which are introduced in terms of their relations to the main characters. Moreover, the main characters are often modelled after popular characters from western stories. For example, Di Gong An is chosen by Robert van Gulik for its similarities to Western Detective fiction with the consideration that the western readers will have an easier time to comprehend the stories.
Based on traditional gong'an fiction works such as Di Gong An and Justice Bao, many television dramas has been derived to portray the stories with a modern touch. Some notable examples are:
Amazing Detective Di Renjie, also known as Shen Tan Di Renjie and Wu Chao Mi An, is a Chinese television series based on gong'an detective stories related to Di Renjie, a Tang dynasty magistrate and statesman. Written and directed by Qian Yanqiu, the series starred Liang Guanhua as the titular protagonist, and was first broadcast on CCTV-8 on 6 August 2004. The series was followed by three sequels: Amazing Detective Di Renjie 2 (2006), Amazing Detective Di Renjie 3 (2008), and Mad Detective Di Renjie (2010).Bao Zheng
Bao Zheng (包拯; Bāo Zhěng; 5 March 999 – 3 July 1062), commonly known as Bao Gong (包公; Bāo Gōng; 'Lord Bao'), was a government officer during the reign of Emperor Renzong in China's Song Dynasty. During his twenty-five years in civil service, Bao consistently demonstrated extreme honesty and uprightness, with actions such as sentencing his own uncle, impeaching an uncle of Emperor Renzong's favourite concubine and punishing powerful families. His appointment from 1057 to 1058 as the prefect of Song's capital Kaifeng, where he initiated a number of changes to better hear the grievances of the people, made him a legendary figure. During his years in office, he gained the honorific title Justice Bao (包青天) due to his ability to help peasants overcome corruption.
Bao Zheng today is honored as the cultural symbol of justice in Chinese society. His largely fictionalized gong'an and wuxia stories have appeared in a variety of different literary and dramatic mediums (beginning with The Seven Heroes and Five Gallants), and have enjoyed sustained popularity. In mainstream Chinese mythology, he is often portrayed wearing a judge miter hat and a crescent moon on his forehead. Some Chinese provinces later deified Judge Bao, equating him to the benevolent war god Guan Gong.Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is a 2010 Chinese-Hong Kong action-adventure mystery film directed and produced by Tsui Hark. The film tells a fictional story featuring Di Renjie (Andy Lau), one of the most celebrated officials of the Tang dynasty, who is tasked by the Empress Wu Zetian (Carina Lau) to solve a series of inexplicable murders in which victims suddenly burst into flames.
Principal photography for Detective Dee began in May 2009; the film was shot at Hengdian World Studios in Zhejiang, China. It features art direction and fight choreography by Sammo Hung, and co-stars Li Bingbing, Deng Chao with Tony Leung Ka-fai making a special appearance. Detective Dee was released in China on 29 September 2010 and in Hong Kong on 30 September 2010; in North American, it premiered at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival.The film grossed US$51.7 million and won six awards at the 30th Hong Kong Film Awards, more than any other film, including Best Director and Best Actress for Lau; it was also nominated for the Golden Lion at the 2010 Venice Film Festival. It was followed by two prequels, Rise of the Sea Dragon (2013) and The Four Heavenly Kings (2018), also directed by Tsui and starring Carina Lau, and with Mark Chao as a young Detective Di.Di Renjie
Di Renjie (630 – November 11, 700), courtesy name Huaiying (懷英), formally Duke Wenhui of Liang (梁文惠公), was an official of Tang and Zhou dynasties, twice serving as chancellor during the reign of Wu Zetian. He was one of the most celebrated officials of Wu Zetian's reign.Gongan
Gongan or Gong'an may refer to:
Gong'an County (公安县), Jingzhou, Hubei, China
Gong'an, Zhongshan County (公安镇), town in Guangxi, China
Gong'an fiction, a subgenre of Chinese crime fiction revolving around government magistrates solving criminal cases
Kōan, also known as Gongan, story, dialogue, question, or statement in Chán Buddhism
Gonganbu, or the Ministry of Public Security, the PRC's domestic security agency, civil registrar and police force
Gongan, the time span between gong ageng strikes in gamelan musicInside the Forbidden City
Inside The Forbidden City is a 1965 Hong Kong Huangmei opera musical film. Depicted is the famous tale known as "Civet for Crown Prince" which allegedly took place in China's Song Dynasty.Judge Bao fiction
Judge Bao (or Justice Bao (包青天)) stories in literature and performing arts are some of the most popular in traditional Chinese crime fiction (gong'an fiction). All stories involve the Song dynasty minister Bao Zheng who solves, judges and sentences criminal cases.Judge Dee
Judge Dee (also, Judge Di) is a semi-fictional character based on the historical figure Di Renjie, county magistrate and statesman of the Tang court. The character appeared in the 18th-century Chinese detective and gong'an crime novel Di Gong An. After Robert van Gulik came across it in an antiquarian book store in Tokyo, he translated the novel into English and then used the style and characters to write his own original Judge Dee historical mystery stories.
The series is set in Tang Dynasty China and deals with criminal cases solved by the upright and shrewd Judge Dee, who as county magistrate in the Chinese imperial legal system was both the investigating magistrate and judge.Judge Dee at Work
Judge Dee at Work is a collection of gong'an detective short stories written by Robert van Gulik and set in Imperial China (roughly speaking the Tang Dynasty). It is a fiction based on the real character of Judge Dee (Ti Jen-chieh or Di Renjie), a county magistrate and statesman of the Tang court, who lived roughly 630–700.
The book features eight illustrations by the author.
The book also has a postscript where the author places all the novels and stories into a coherent timeline for his semi-fictional character.Mad Detective Di Renjie
Mad Detective Di Renjie, also known as Amazing Detective Di Renjie 4, is the fourth installment in a four-season Chinese television series based on gong'an detective stories related to Di Renjie, a Tang dynasty magistrate and statesman. Written and directed by Qian Yanqiu, the series starred Liang Guanhua as the titular protagonist, and was first broadcast on CCTV-8 in 2010, two years after the third season.Murder in Canton
Murder in Canton is a gong'an detective novel written by Robert van Gulik and set in Imperial China (roughly speaking the Tang Dynasty). It is a fiction based on the real character of Judge Dee (Ti Jen-chieh or Di Renjie), a magistrate and statesman of the Tang court, who lived roughly 630–700.
The book contains twelve illustrations and a map of Canton by the author.Necklace and Calabash
Necklace and Calabash is a gong'an detective novel written by Robert van Gulik and set in Imperial China (roughly speaking the Tang Dynasty). It is a fiction based on the real character of Judge Dee (Ti Jen-chieh or Di Renjie), a magistrate and statesman of the Tang court, who lived roughly 630–700.
The book features eight illustrations by the author.
Necklace and Calabash was the last Judge Dee novel published during van Gulik's lifetime. One more book, Poets and Murder was published after his death. Necklace and Calabash is very highly regarded of all the Judge Dee mysteries.Poets and Murder
Poets and Murder is a gong'an detective novel written by Robert van Gulik and set in Imperial China (roughly speaking the Tang Dynasty). It is a fiction based on the real character of Judge Dee (Ti Jen-chieh or Di Renjie), a magistrate and statesman of the Tang court, who lived roughly 630–700.
The book features eight illustrations by the author along with a detailed layout of the residence where the action takes place.
Poets and Murder was the last Judge Dee novel written by Robert van Gulik. He completed it just before his death from cancer in 1967. The book was published one year after his death.Shi Shilun
Shi Shilun (施世綸, 1659 – July 3, 1722), popularly known as Shi Gong (施公; "Lord Shi") or Shi Qingtian (施青天; "Clear-Sky Shi"), was a much-praised Qing dynasty official during the Kangxi Emperor's reign. He was the son of general Shi Lang.
In the 19th century, fictionalized gong'an (crime fiction) stories featuring him as a central character appeared in the novel The Cases of Lord Shi (施公案). Subsequently, many operas also featured him as a central character.
Fictional television series featuring him as the central protagonist include:
The Great Arbitrator (大執法), a 1983 Taiwanese TV series starring Tsui Hao-jan as Shi.
The Strange Cases of Lord Shih (施公奇案), a 1997 Taiwanese TV series starring Liao Chun as Shi.
A Pillow Case of Mystery (施公奇案), a 2006 Hong Kong TV series starring Bobby Au-yeung as Shi.
A Pillow Case of Mystery II (施公奇案II), a 2010 Hong Kong TV series again starring Au-yeung.
Chinese Sherlock Shi (新施公案), a 2013 Chinese TV series starring Fan Ming as Shi.In addition, the 1987 Chinese martial arts film Golden Dart Hero (金鏢黃天霸) is also based on some stories from The Cases of Lord Shi, although the film portrays Shi Shilun in a negative light.The Chalk Circle
The Chalk Circle (traditional Chinese: 灰闌記; simplified Chinese: 灰阑记, sometimes translated The Circle of Chalk), by Li Qianfu, is a Yuan dynasty (1259–1368) Chinese classical zaju verse play and gong'an crime drama, in four acts with a prologue. It was preserved in a collection entitled Yuan-chu-po-cheng, or The Hundred Pieces. The Chinese language original is known for the beauty of its lyrical verse, and considered a Yuan masterpiece; a series of translations and revisions inspired several popular modern plays.The Red Pavilion
The Red Pavilion is a gong'an detective novel written by Robert van Gulik and set in Imperial China (roughly speaking the Tang Dynasty). It is a fiction based on the real character of Judge Dee (Ti Jen-chieh or Di Renjie), a magistrate and statesman of the Tang court, who lived roughly 630–700.
The book features six illustrations by the author and a map of Paradise Island (the setting for the story).
This novel is a mystery of the type known as a locked room mystery.The Willow Pattern (novel)
The Willow Pattern is a gong'an detective novel written by Robert van Gulik and set in Imperial China (roughly speaking the Tang Dynasty). It is a fiction based on the real character of Judge Dee (Ti Jen-chieh or Di Renjie), a magistrate and statesman of the Tang court, who lived roughly 630–700.
As the author says in a postscript, the use of the Willow Pattern as a motif in the book was a conscious anachronism. The book features 15 illustrations by the author.
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