“My surname,” Judge Dee answered, “is Liang, and my personal name Dee-goong. I am the representative of a large silk firm in Peking.”
Of course, Judge Dee is lying.
But his lie is honest, that most famous of paradoxes.
You see, Judge Dee is lying to discover the truth.
Lying is this famous sleuth’s most prominent characteristic, as everyone knows in China.
In China, Judge Dee is as famous as Sherlock Holmes in England.
The detective story was invented in China a thousand years ago, much earlier than the West, centuries before Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle.
Judge Dee is only one of many master detectives of Chinese popular fiction.
The Chinese detective story is a genre with its own distinct rules. It’s instructive that a genre can be popular by following rules foreign to what a Western reader of detective stories would expect
For example, in the Chinese detective story, the criminal in introduced at the beginning, and the motive for the crime explained.
Next, the supernatural intervenes, with even tableware testifying in court.
Third, the Chinese detective story is packed with hundreds of characters, interlocked in family trees.
Fourth, the narrative pauses for poems and philosophical digressions.
And fifth, instead of the discovery of the criminal, his or her execution is the “treasure” at story’s end, its grotesquely elaborate description highly anticipated.
The Dee Goong An, by Anonymous, written around 1750, is an example of the Chinese detective story in full flower. It’s available at Amazon under the title, The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee.
* Orlando Bartro is the author of Toward Two Words, a comical & surreal novel about a man who finds yet another woman he never knew, available at Amazon.