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[[quoteright:297:http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/tqkr4ac_2798.jpg]]
[[caption-width-right:297: Judge Dee at work.]]

->A judge must be as father and mother to the people,
->Cherishing the good and loyal, helping the sick and old.
->Though meting out stern punishment to every criminal,
->Prevention, not correction, should be his primary aim.

->A judge must brave the foaming billows of hate, deceit and doubt,
->The only bridge across is straight and narrow as a rapier's edge.
->He may not lose his foothold once, once pause to listen to his heart,
->Heed Justice only, lodestar unfailing, though always remote and cold.

A series of PoliceProcedural novels and short-stories set in ImperialChina, by Dutch diplomat and sinologist Robert van Gulik. Initially InspiredBy the 18th century Chinese novel 狄公案 (dí gōng ŕn) or ''Cases Of Judge Dee'', which van Gulik translated during his war service, and had published in 1949 as ''Celebrated Cases Of Judge Dee''.

It is the 7th century AD, and Tang dynasty China is the greatest power in Asia, if not the world. Peace and good order are maintained throughout the empire by a large, efficient bureaucracy of highly-educated gentleman-scholars. Dee Jen-Djieh begins his career as a District Magistrate, the lowest rung of the provincial government. Over the years, he confronts and solves mysteries ranging from conspiracies against the throne to domestic disputes, with the help of his small staff of assistants:
* ''Hoong Liang'' - An old family retainer who the Judge appoints his sergeant of the tribunal. Most often referred to as "Sergeant Hoong".
* ''Ma Joong'' - A former highwayman turned investigator. The uneducated son of a poor fisherman, in addition to his great size and strength he is a master martial artist, holding the "highest rank in boxing" (kung-fu, in modern terms). Admires strong-minded young women of common rank.
* ''Chiao Tai'' - Ma Joong's best friend. Another ex-highwayman and fellow investigator, he is a rather mysterious fellow, obviously of gentle if not noble birth, with peculiarly [[FatalAttractor fatal luck]] in love. He is an ex-soldier who [[{{Wuxia}} turned outlaw to pursue revenge]] on a superior officer who [[BestServedCold betrayed]] him and his men. However, when he finally catches up with his man, as a recent murder victim, he decides he wasn't worth the killing anyway.
* ''Tao Gan'' - con-man, swindler and gambler who, like his colleagues, turns over a new leaf as a member of Dee's staff.

The Judge's private life is a peaceful haven from his stressful public duties, shared with his three wives:
* The ''First Lady'' is the daughter of Dee's father's best friend, and their marriage was arranged between the two families. The Judge values her for her sophistication, intelligence, and the tact with which she runs his household.
* The ''Second Lady'' is not as highborn or well-educated as the First, but she is a handsome woman, at least in her husband's eyes, and possesses the kind of staunch, sensible character he admires.
* The ''Third Lady'' is the highly-educated daughter of Dr. Tsao Ho-Hsien, an ambitious scholar, whom Dee met in the course of the investigation described in ''The Chinese Gold Murders''. She was abducted and raped, and subsequently her husband and father disowned her because [[DrivenToSuicide she refused to kill herself as dictated by custom]]. The Judge first hired her as a companion for his ladies, and later married her at the urging of the First Lady.

The four of them get along famously and while away their evenings with endless, hard-fought games of dominos. Dee's wives are minor characters in Van Gulik's novels and short stories, but the "sequel" novels by Frédéric Lenormand (see the FanFiction section below) change this by having his wives appear far more often, to the point of the First Lady being a main character.

The Judge himself is an unusually tall, powerfully built man with a long black beard, piercing eyes and considerable presence. Men, especially wrongdoers, find him intimidating, but women, sensing the sensitivity and empathy under the formidable surface, tend to trust and confide in him. Particularly attractive young women in trouble.

Judge Dee believes in the spirit of justice, rather than the letter of the law. His aim is not just to punish the wrongdoer but to reward those who do right, and ameliorate the sufferings of the victims as far as is possible. He often goes out of his way to help somebody only tangentially connected with his cases.

'''Titles (in recommended reading order):'''
* ''The Chinese Gold Murders'' (1959): Judge Dee sets out to take up his first post and finds a couple of juicy murders and a missing person case waiting for him.
* ''Judge Dee At Work'' (1967): a collection of short stories including a chronology of the series. Features unrelated cases from various points of Dee's career.
* ''The Lacquer Screen'' (1964): The Judge tries to take a few days vacation incognito and finds himself solving a couple of cases of murder and embezzlement.
* ''The Chinese Lake Murders'' (1960): The mysterious death of a courtesan leads Judge Dee to a conspiracy against the Imperial throne.
* ''The Haunted Monastery'' (1961): Bad weather forces Dee and his wives to take shelter at an ominous Taoist monastery and the Judge spends a sleepless night dealing with murder, the occult and thwarted young love. [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGe9QwtYBAw This novel was adapted for television in 1974]]
* ''The Chinese Bell Murders'' (1958): The Judge brings an end to a [[FeudingFamilies generations-long vendetta between two wealthy merchant families]], solves a rape-murder and ends the corrupt practices of a famous Buddhist temple.
* ''Necklace and Calabash'' (1967): In Rivertown, an Imperial Enclave, the Judge is of service to the Emperor's favorite daughter the beautiful Third Princess.
* ''The Red Pavilion'' (1964): On his way home from the Capital the Judge reluctantly spends a night at the pleasure resort of Paradise Island and finds himself drafted into a temporary appointment requiring him to solve three murders, one having taken place thirty years before!
* ''The Emperor's Pearl'' (1963): Two murders, and the River Goddess, lead the Judge to a long lost Imperial treasure.
* ''Poets and Murder'' (1968): A poetic gathering in a fellow magistrate's mansion leads to murder and the whiff of scandal in high places.
* ''The Chinese Maze Murders'' (1957): An overgrown maze at an abandoned country manor provides the key to several mysterious murders.
* ''The Phantom of the Temple'' (1966): A long abandoned Buddhist temple is the site of all sorts of strange goings on, all somehow connected with a gold robbery years before.
* ''The Chinese Nail Murders'' (1961): A particularly cunning murderess almost foils the Judge and he comes close to ending his career in disgrace.
* ''The Monkey And The Tiger'' (1965): Two separate cases at far different times in the Judge's career. The first involving a murdered tramp who isn't just a tramp. The second the murder of a young girl - but which girl? - at a lonely manor under siege by bandits.
* ''The Willow Pattern'' (1965): Judge Dee, now Lord Chief Justice of the Empire, deals with the mysterious deaths of two great nobles in a Capital racked by plague.
* ''Murder in Canton'' (1966): Judge Dee's last case takes him to the city of Canton to discover what became of a high Imperial official who vanished there without a trace.

There was a live TV adaption in 1974, as well as [[Film/DetectiveDee two movies]] in 2010 and 2013.

----
!!These stories provide examples of:

* ActionGirl: Despite the fact that this is ImperialChina, where Confucian ideals confine women to the home, the Judge and his lieutenants encounter Violet Liang, a Mongolian wrestler with her own dojo in ''The Emperor's Pearl'' and Bluewhite, a skilled street-fighter in ''The Willow Pattern''. [[spoiler: Ma Joong marries the latter]].
* AffablyEvil: The BigBad [[spoiler: Sun Ming]] of ''The Haunted Monastery'', privately confesses his crimes (abduction, multiple rape and murder) to Dee, while pointing out, in the nicest possible way, that his eminence, prestige and connections at the imperial court put him beyond the reach of the law. Judge Dee, however, proves he is [[JudgeJuryAndExecutioner not beyond the reach of justice]].
* AloneWithThePsycho: The Judge's tendency to play a lone hand lands him in this situation more than once. In ''The Chinese Maze Murders'', a young girl detailed to question a witness finds herself in this position, but fortunately the Judge deduces her situation in time.
* AmazonChaser: Bluewhite's toughness and fighting ability are a large part of why Ma Joong finds her so attractive.
* AnachronismStew: Although they are nominally set in the Tang era, the stories describe the China of the much later Ming dynasty. This is partly to respect the convention of original Ming-era detective novels transposing Tang characters into the cultural world of the Ming, and partly because far more is known about everyday life in the later period.
* ArrangedMarriage: A normal feature of life in Dee's world. His own marriage to his senior wife was arranged by his father.
* AscendToAHigherPlaneOfExistence: The Taoist abbot in ''Haunted Monastery'' is believed to have done this, calling all the monks to his chamber, delivering a long speech filled with obscure references, then liberating his soul from his body. His annotated speech is later used as an instructional text in other Taoist monasteries. [[spoiler:He had in fact been poisoned, and the speech was a delirious rambling.]]
* AsYouKnow: The characters are presumably familiar with incense clocks, the Imperial government, manners in the 'Flower and Willow' world etc., but they are kind enough to give, and listen to, explanations of things they already know, for the benefit of western readers who do not.
* AuthorityEqualsAsskicking: The judge is a swordsman, stick fighter, and pretty good at kung-fu. He can handle most villains without the assistance of his loyal lieutenants, but he is not the best fighter on his team. Chiao Tai is a superior swordsman and archer, and Ma Joong a better boxer and wrestler.
* BabiesEverAfter: Ma Joong marries Blue-White and her sister Coral at the end of ''Willow Pattern'' and is reported to have a family of eight in ''Murder in Canton'' just four years later.
* BadassBeard: The Judge is very proud of his full black beard, which combined with his bristling brows and piercing eyes causes more than one guilty soul to confuse him with the Judge of the Underworld.
* BadassBoast: When trapped on a floating brothel, one of the {{Mooks}} tells another to get help from the other boat. Ma Jong's response? "[[BringIt Call all the bastards together!]]"
* BadassLongRobe: This being ImperialChina even the badasses wear dresses.
* BadGuyBar: There is at least one of these in every city to which the Judge is assigned.
* BadHabits: Ruffians in the Judge's 'verse like to dress themselves up as Taoist or Buddhist monks.
* BandOfBrothels: The sex trade is legal and licensed in Tang China. It is the dominant trade on Paradise Island, the setting for the ''Red Pavilion''. Unusually the guild head is portrayed sympathetically. Normally the Judge despises madams and pimps as much as he is sympathetic to the women themselves.
* BashBrothers: There are quite a few badass teams in the series:
** At the top of the list are Ma Jong and Chiao Tai of course, oath-brothers and comrades-in-arms from their days as outlaws.
** Crab and Shrimp from ''The Red Pavillion'' are a classic big power fighter/small precision fighter team.
* BeCarefulWhatYouWishFor: Shortly after their first meeting, Chiao Tai inspects the Judge's sword, the legendary ''Rain Dragon'', and exclaims in admiration: [[spoiler: "If it should be ordained that ever I should die by the sword, I pray that it may be this blade that is washed in my blood!" And in the last book, ''Murder In Canton'', a villain steals ''Rain Dragon'', and Chiao Tai is killed preventing him from killing Judge Dee with it.]]
* BittersweetEnding: [[spoiler:''Murder in Canton'': Chiao Tai's HeroicSacrifice, and Tao Gan's finding a wife.]]
* BlindfoldedTrip: In one story, the victim thinks he was taken somewhere in the mountains in a closed palanquin. Tao Gan, however, thinks it's a ruse- he thinks it more likely that they carriers simply tilted the palanquin and walked around the inner courtyard of a large house, with the occasional "Watch the cliff!" for effect.
* BloodBrothers: All three lieutenants consider themselves, and address each other, as such.
* BoisterousBruiser: Ma Joong.
* BottleEpisode: ''The Haunted Monastery'', compared to the other novels, takes place over an extremely compressed period of time, with a very tight cast of characters, and concerns only a single series of crimes. Perhaps not coincidentally, it is highly-regarded as an excellent jumping-on point for the series.
* BondageIsBad: Particularly depraved characters are fond of whipping young women.
* BornUnlucky: Hwang San feels this to be the case. One can't help but feel he has a point when the executioner's sword gets ''stuck in his neck'' during his decapitation.
* BoyMeetsGirl: happens ''all'' the time to Judge Dee's lieutenants, with comedic results if it's Ma Joong or tragic ones if it's Chiao Tai.
* BrotherSisterIncest / VillainousIncest: In ''Murder in Canton'', the BigBad tried to force himself on his sister during his youth, citing bygone rulers who did the same to keep bloodlines pure. When she refused, he [[spoiler: [[EyeScream poured boiling water in her eyes while she was asleep]], blinding her.]]
* BusmansHoliday: ''The Lacquer Screen'' and ''Necklace and Calabash'' as well. After that the Judge pretty much gives up on vacations.
* CardSharp: Tao Gan. He is also a ShortCon artist and general {{T|heTrickster}}rickster.
* CassandraTruth: After bluffing a local gangster lord with an imaginary regiment of regular soldiers the Judge reassures concerned civic leaders that there is no army unit just the deserters and former highwaymen he's recruited. They don't believe him. (What is more, he predicts that this is exactly what would happen)
* TheChessmaster: Mostly averted as far as the Judge goes, but many of his opponents ''are'' chessmasters, usually defeated by their inability to foresee ''all'' possibilities. In a handful of notable case, ''The Chinese Bell Murders'' especially, the Judge does, in fact, play chessmaster, with a politico-legal [[ThePlan plan]] or two.
* ChivalrousPervert: Even Ma Joong is a little bewildered by his own motives for buying out a prostitute then handing her over to the man she prefers along with twenty silver pieces to give them a start on married life.
* ColdBloodedTorture: In Judge Dee's world of Confucian justice, great importance is placed on obtaining confession of guilt from the accused. Even where Dee has a "water-tight case" (and remember he is investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury, all in one), he must obtain a confession in order to convict and pass sentence. Torture is applied as necessary to this end, and while Dee dislikes it, [[IDidWhatIHadToDo he does not hesitate to do his duty]].
* ConnectTheDeaths: Judge Dee does this ''all'' the time. Most of his cases turn out to be linked.
* ConspicuousGloves: In one story, a character keeps his gloves on to hide the fact that [[spoiler: he badly injured it by touching a freshly-lacquered table after murdering a woman]].
* ConsummationCounterfeit: Discussed when it's mentioned that Mongol women ''never'' have to do this because all the horseback-riding they do would tear their maidenhead.
* ConvenientlyPreciseTranslation: On at least two occasions Judge Dee is able to identify the BigBad by realizing that the last utterances of one of the mooks and TheDragon, respectively, were not after all common ''English'' words (how and you) but in fact their corresponding homonymic ''English'' transliterations of Chinese names (hao and yoo). Naturally, some ArtisticLicenseLinguistics and the MST3KMantra are needed to make this work, as Van Gulik himself acknowledges in his postscripts. Then again, the books have been successfully translated into several languages, and the real-life translators were able to handle these problems (occasionally by changing the characters' names); why should the TranslationConvention be any dumber?
* CriticalStaffingShortage: In one story, the judge is trapped by a flood in a country estate under siege by bandits. The inhabitants bitterly note that there used to be dozens of men hired just to guard it, now they'll be lucky if they have enough rusty lances and bows to equip all the old men and women that took refuge there.
* CrypticConversation: A speciality of Taoist recluses like Master Gourd (''Necklace and Calabash'') and Master Crane Robe (''The Chinese Maze Murders''). The Judge is pretty darn good at it himself; his conversations with the BigBad of ''The Chinese Bell Murders'' are a fine example of politely indirect threats.
* TheCynic: Tao Gan is, as the text puts it, "an adroit student of human nature" as a result of his [[ConMan former profession]]. Whenever discussing possible actions by suspects, Tao Gan always presents the most cynical possible interpretation of events. He's often wrong, but not always.
* DamselInDistress: Most cases involve at least one of these.
* DamselOutOfDistress: In ''The Chinese Lake Murders'' and ''The Willow Pattern'' the young ladies prove to be anything but helpless - even if they ''are'' distressed.
* DefiledForever: Present in Judge Dee's world, but much more nuanced than you might expect. On the one hand, women are expected to remain virgins until marriage, and to commit suicide if raped, especially if they're married. On the other, Dee's own Third Lady is a rape survivor, and he fully accepts her as his wife. After leaving their "unfortunate profession" even "common prostitutes" are depicted as able to find happy marriages with "honest farmers", and high-class courtesans are seen as suitable wives even for gentleman-scholars.
* DeliberateValuesDissonance: The original Dutch writer [[ShownTheirWork went to great lengths]] accurately to depict Chinese social values and attitudes in the period:
** The routine use of torture in the judicial system, and gruesome public executions of the guilty.
** The distressing practice of selling young girls into prostitution is treated as a matter of routine, even by the girls themselves. To be fair in most cases it's shown that it was that or starvation for the whole family. However one girl, sold by her gentleman-official father to pay his drinking debts, is clearly embittered.
** The judge telling the father of a PluckyGirl to marry her off quickly, despite her being against it.
** The central place of filial piety is repeatedly displayed, especially in the crime that gets the judge angriest we see in the series: [[spoiler: General Ting's son was having an affair with one of his father's concubines, and tried to poison him. [[DrivenToSuicide The judge outright tells him to commit suicide.]]]]
* DownerEnding: ''The Chinese Nail Murders'', which sees [[spoiler: Sergeant Hoong dead]] in a way that could have been avoided given a few more hours' time, the Judge worked to the brink by a combination of dealing with a crafty criminal who maneuvers him into mortal peril and unfulfilled and unfulfillable love with a married woman who [[spoiler: commits suicide after essentially admitting to a murder of her own to save him]]. Then he gets appointed to Chief Justice of the Empire, and quickly starts to learn that his father was right, and it's LonelyAtTheTop. No surprise that he starts going grey and looking his age after this one.
* DragonsUpTheYinYang: The correct orientation of the ''taijitu'' symbol is a plot point in "The Haunted Monastery".
* DressingAsTheEnemy: The Judge is only moderately convincing but his big ex-outlaw bruisers Ma Joong and Chiao Tai can easily pass. Tao Gan actually IS a barely-reformed criminal and MasterOfDisguise.
* DynamicCharacter:
** Not so much over the course of any single book, but Judge Dee's character undeniably evolve over the course of the series: the Judge Dee of ''The Chinese Lake Murders'' never could have pulled off what the more experienced Judge Dee of ''The Chinese Bell Murders'' does. And while he remains dedicated to the absolutes of Confucian ethics, the Judge becomes painfully aware of the ambiguities and gray areas implicit in Real Life over his long years as a District Magistrate, particularly when circumstances push him to the brink in ''The Chinese Bell Murders''.
** Also Ma Joong goes from a happy womanizer to a man looking to settle down - but having trouble finding a girl to settle down with. He finally does so in the next to last book ''The Willow Pattern''.
* EunuchsAreEvil: A given in the Judge's world; 'The necessary but horribly dangerous source of evil in every palace!'. And yet he clearly feels a certain respect for the Chief Eunuch in ''Necklace and Calabash''. It's mutual. [[spoiler: One biological eunuch is also driven mad by unfulfilled sexual lust in ''The Chinese Nail Murders'', and he even murders Sergeant Hoong.]]
* EvenEvilHasLovedOnes: Mo Mo-te in ''The Haunted Monastery'' presents himself as an itinerant Taoist friar, which means, of course, that he is actually a petty crook. [[spoiler: However, he is ''not'' the criminal behind the murders, and actually came to the monastery to hunt down the one responsible for killing his sister.]]
* EverybodyWasKungFuFighting: As this is ImperialChina not only the Judge and his lieutenants Ma Joong and Chiao Tai know kung-fu (or "Chinese boxing" as Van Gulik calls it), but so do a number of supporting characters, both friend and foe.
* EveryoneCallsHimBarkeep: The names of Dee's First and Second Ladies are never revealed. Only Third Lady, whom he met in the course of his work, is ever named, and even then we only learn her family name, not her personal name. Once married to the judge, all his wives are known simply as Lady.
* EveryoneHasStandards: The peasant providing the water buffalo for an execution by quartering refuses his compensation (a piece of silver) despite the fortune it represents, regarding it as unlucky.
* ExitPursuedByABear: [[BearsAreBadNews Literally]] in ''The Haunted Monastery''.
* {{Expy}}: Dee is pretty much universally considered by the Chinese as their answer to ''Literature/SherlockHolmes.''
* EyepatchOfPower: The Imperial Marshal in ''Coffins of the Emperor'' lost an eye to an arrow in a previous battle.
* FanFiction: In a sense, all of van Gulik's Judge Dee stories are fan-fiction based on the original Chinese novel, but in turn they have inspired quite a lot:
** French author Frédéric Lenormand wrote ''eighteen'' more Judge Dee books (2004-2011), but these have not yet been translated into English.
** The Chinese/American author Zhu Xiaodi wrote ''Tales of Judge Dee'' (2006), set in the same time period as ''The Chinese Bell Murders''.
* {{Fanservice}}: Robert van Gulik was a collector of Ming-era erotic art, and he illustrated his own work with line-drawings that usually include a naked lady or two. This might have been [[ExecutiveMeddling at the insistence of his publisher]].
* FantasticFoxes:
** In ''Poets And Murder'' from the original series, a girl lives in The Shrine Of The Black Fox, which is infested by foxes, and is believed to be possessed by a fox spirit. [[DownerEnding Unfortunately, she catches rabies from her foxes, goes mad, and dies horribly.]]
** The sequels have a Huli Jing show up (sort of): a priest explains that he was always sort of shunned because his father had been tricked into marrying a fox-woman, who turned back into a fox some time after he (the priest) was born. The judge (and everyone else) stare at him in silence for a while, because it's blindingly obvious that the wife ran off with another man, the father passing it off as the fox spirit going back to the wild.
* FatalAttractor: Chiao Tai
* FiveManBand: The main cast are classic examples.
** TheHero: Judge Dee, of course.
** TheLancer: Chiao Tai, though closest to Judge Dee in social class and education, is a definite contrast; brooding and abrupt where Dee is polished and urbane, unlucky in love where Dee is happily married, devoting his life to vengeance where Dee is committed to to perfect justice.
** TheBigGuy: Ma Joong, in spades. He freely admits that his only use around the place is beating down dangerous people. He also takes pride in that he's ''extremely good'' at beating down dangerous people. He has elements of the GeniusBruiser however, being capable, with the help of Chiao Tai, of pulling off schemes to apprehend criminals quietly. The arrest of [[spoiler: the Uigar chieftain Ooljin]] in ''The Chinese Maze Murders,'' is an example.
** TheSmartGuy: Tao Gan, the best detective of the bunch next to Judge Dee, and the go-to man for complicated schemes and tricks.
** TheChick: Sergeant Hoong, the kindly old man whom everybody likes and trusts, and to whom none of the team would dream of speaking harshly, even at their truculent worst. The worst fighter of the bunch, he differs from the classic portrayal only in that the chain of command leaves ''him'' in charge when Dee is absent, and that he's male.
* {{Foreshadowing}}: [[spoiler: Chiao Tai's death by the judge's sword]] is repeatedly, but subtly alluded to.
* GargleBlaster: If 'the amber liquid' isn't strong enough there's always 'rosedew' a white liquor (probably ''[[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baijiu baijiu]]'') capable of reducing even Ma Joong to incoherence followed by unconsciousness.
** There is also mention of a Mongol feast where he was invited, whatever it was he drank left him with the worst hangover of his life.
* GoodIsNotSoft: Dee is deeply committed to his moral code, while leavening it with considerable compassion, but he does not hesitate to act ruthlessly in the pursuit of law and his duty to the state. At times, he goes ''beyond'' the law in the interests of justice, particularly with villains who would otherwise use corrupt connections at the imperial court to escape.
* GracefulLadiesLikePurple: Gentlewomen and courtesans alike seem to favor shades of purple or violet for 'best'.
* GunStruggle: Knife variant. When the judge is told a man dead of stabbing was the result of a struggle, he asks Ma Joong to confirm. He thinks it plausible, though this isn't enough to clear the suspect.
* HappilyMarried: A possibly unique polygamous example. The harmony of the Judge's marriage is based on his genuine love and respect for each woman and their equally genuine liking for each other. Given the Judge's tendency to get wrapped up in a case First Lady would probably lead a very lonely life if not for the Second and Third ladies.
* HookerWithAHeartOfGold: Pretty much every prostitute except the high-class courtesans.
* HordesFromTheEast: Well, from the West. Several stories set on the western border involve the local tribes uprising (or threatening to).
* HornyDevils: A villainous witch in one story ([[spoiler: The Chinese Nail Murders]]) murdered her husband for failing to provide her with enough life force to absorb through coupling. She is able to sense the refined "[[KiManipulation vital essence]]" of a martial arts master, who has abstained from sex for many years, and uses her powers and hypnotism to seduce him against his will, draining it out of him to keep herself young, then murdering him when he threatened to reveal what she had done by [[spoiler: poisoning his tea]]. Once the Judge ([[MarathonBoss finally]]) manages to wring the truth out of her and break her spirit, the stolen life force leaves her and she ages twenty years in an instant in the sight of the whole court, leaving only a listless EmptyShell.
* InNameOnly: The 2010 feature film 狄仁杰之通天帝國 (English title: ''[[DetectiveDee Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame]]'') takes the name of its central character and Tang Dynasty setting for a ''{{wuxia}}'' fantasy, that otherwise bears no resemblance to the books.
* InspiredBy: Although the novels read like authentic Chinese detective novels, they mainly follow the Western mystery canons with Chinese flair. Van Gulik outlined the difference between these literary traditions in detail in the preface to his translation of ''Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee'' (which itself was rather unusual for Chinese mystery stories):
** Ancient Chinese detective novels would often reveal the culprit at the beginning (as in Series/{{Columbo}}), with the interest lying in following the development of the motive.
** Cases are almost always solved via the intervention of a DeusExMachina in the form of a deity, spirit, or ghost that either reveals a key clue or compels a suspect to confess. Or at least [[ScoobyDooHoax a simulation thereof]] [[GenreSavvy proffered by the Judge]]. Van Gulik often replaced this element with a more earthly one in adapting some classic Chinese detective plots.
** There would be practically no characterization other than describing people as they fit the contemporary stereotypes of their class and profession.
** Midway through the novels (as well as many works in other Chinese literary genres) a poem or short play having nothing to do with the story is presented as an "intermission."
* ItNeverGetsAnyEasier: To the end of his career as a detective Judge Dee is moved by the suffering of the victims, and hates witnessing the often brutal punishments of the guilty.
* JurisdictionFriction: The Judge must frequently deal with this when he's got a large military command in his district.
* JusticeByOtherLegalMeans: the Judge resorts to this in ''The Chinese Bell Murders''.
* JustOneLittleMistake: On the part of the perp solves many of Judge Dee's cases for him. He's also very good at BluffingTheMurderer. Both are common to Chinese crime fiction, where a confession on the part of the witness is required before conviction of a crime, and torturing someone into a false confession can have dire consequences.
* LampshadeHanging: Arguably a meta-example on the part of Van Gulik himself in the framing introductions to some of the books. These introductions are told from the point of view of a Ming dynasty gentleman - an AuthorAvatar for Van Gulik - who devotes his gentlemanly leisure time to studying the history of crime detection and jurisprudence. Invariably he has an encounter with a mysterious person or circumstance through which he learns of three cases solved by the famous Judge Dee "in antiquity" during the Tang era. The strangeness of the encounter compel him to record the cases and present them to the reader as the present work. This allows Van Gulik to lampshade the facts that a) the Ming-era novels upon which his series is based always transposed the historical characters (whether Judge Dee or some other famous magistrate) they described into the conventions and culture of the Ming era and b) that the situations into which he inserts Judge Dee are based on real or fictional cases from other sources but are largely embellished and invented.
* LargeAndInCharge: The Judge is somewhere around six feet tall. In the short story ''The Coffins Of The Emperor'', he meets the Marshal of the Imperial Army, who is still taller and towers over his officers.
* LeaveBehindAPistol: Suicide is an acceptable, face-saving alternative to execution:
** In ''The Coffins Of The Emperor'' the confessed murderer is permitted to "die as an officer" by cutting his own throat.
** The Judge allows a parricide and his partner in incestuous adultery ([[spoiler:one of his father's concubines]]) a chance to save the family reputation by committing suicide.
** In exchange for a list of those engaged in a conspiracy against the throne, Dee also permits the BigBad to take "medicine" knowing perfectly well it is poison.
* LightningBruiser:
** Ma Joong is not only one of the largest and strongest men in China, he's also a master martial artist, holding the highest rank (ninth degree) in "boxing" (kung-fu) and quick on his feet.
** Violet Liang from ''The Emperor's Pearl'', single-handedly cripples three armed male thugs, and drags them to Dee's tribunal, where they can't wait to confess and be locked up safely in jail.
* LockedIntoStrangeness: Dee himself after particularly trying events in ''The Chinese Nail Murders''. He ends up with graying hair and prematurely aged.
* LockedRoomMystery: The Judge is faced with one of these in ''The Chinese Maze Murders'' and ''The Willow Pattern''.
* MagneticHero: The Judge, definitely. Ma Joong, Chiao Tai and Tao Gan all decide to go straight as his assistants after their first encounter with him. He also has had some difficulty getting shut of attractive young females he's recruited as temporary assistants. Three wives are quite enough thank you!
* MaybeMagicMaybeMundane: The narratives remain creatively ambiguous about whether a rational explanation exists for every last strange phenomenon the Judge witnesses. See SkepticismFailure below.
* MotiveRant: The Judge hears a ''lot'' of these. Sometimes with disgust, other times with sympathy.
* MustLetThemGetAway: Judge Dee sometimes encounters criminals, as in''The Haunted Monastery'' and ''The Chinese Bell Murders'', who are of such high rank, and so well connected at the imperial court, that Dee cannot touch them legally. However, [[IDidWhatIHadToDo he finds ways]] to prove that they are ''not'' beyond the reach of justice.
* NamedWeapons: The Judge's sword is the ancient and legendary ''jian'' "Rain Dragon".
* NeverMyFault: Hwang San from ''The Chinese Bell Murders''. He loses a fight to Ma Joong because he makes a rookie mistake? Bad luck. His kung fu master had a beautiful daughter? What bad luck! He really had no choice but to rape her, and then had to flee for his life. He mugs a wealthy-looking merchant, kills him, and finds nothing but "worthless receipts"? Bad luck. He rapes and murders a young maiden and steals her gold hair pins (the only thing of value she had), which turn out to be cursed (and which allow the crime to be traced to him)? Bad luck.
* NiceHat: Hats denoted status in ImperialChina, so there are many, especially Judge Dee's winged cap of office.
** Tao Gan has a hat that can be turned inside out to suit different roles as part of his MasterOfDisguise kit.
* NoCelebritiesWereHarmed: The poetess accused of murder in ''Poets And Murder'' is essentially Yu Xuanji, the famous historical Tang Dynasty poet.
* ObfuscatingStupidity:
** In ''The Chinese Gold Murders'', a drunken, BrilliantButLazy poet is a lot more than he seems. By the middle of the story, Dee and his lieutenants think that he's a DiabolicalMastermind and behind all the criminal events of the book. [[spoiler: He's not]].
** Dee's colleague Lo at first glance seems a carefree man who bought his position, and spends his time on wine, women and poetry. However, on the occasion he and Dee work together the latter is impressed by Lo's competence and intuition.
* OOCIsSeriousBusiness: Judge Dee's behavior in setting up his scheme to take down [[spoiler: a gang-rape scam perpetuated by scoundrels posing as monks]] seemingly involves accepting a large bribe, buying two prostitutes and adding them to his household, and affecting sudden interest in military matters. From his First Lady to Sergeant Hoong, his household is very distressed, [[spoiler: though Tao Gan, at least, was certain it was all a clever plan from the beginning.]]
* OldRetainer: Hoong Liang, who was already old when Dee was a boy and has served him all his life.
* PassedOverPromotion: The reason one of the generals in ''Coffins of the Emperor'' accuses one of his younger colleagues of treason.
** Discussed in another story, where a group of high-ranking officials are trying to find an appropriate reward for Dee's work. (They decide that a promotion would be premature, and that an official commendation would be better suited to the occasion.)
* PlatonicProstitution: The Judge never accepts anything but information - and perhaps a cup of tea - from a prostitute, and he usually repays them by buying them out of their "unfortunate profession", or arranging for their regular lover to make honest women of them. Ma Joong, on the other hand, is more than happy to ignore the platonic side, and gets the information anyway. Chiao Tai too, though his tend to end in tragic romance instead.
* PleasePutSomeClothesOn:
** Yu-son, a young Korean prostitute in ''The Chinese Gold Murders'', is urged by a hot and bothered Chao Tai to not remain naked in his presence. Which she declines as she is in the mood to 'receive' him.
** A similar event happens to the judge in ''Necklace and Calabash''. The girl later apologizes for her attempt at seduction.
* PluckyGirl: The Judge and his staff frequently encounter these. They usually serve as a love interest for Ma Joong.
* PolarOppositeTwins: Twin sisters Blue-white and Coral in ''The Willow Pattern''. Blue-white is a tough, strong-minded, outspoken ActionGirl. Coral is quieter, more subtle, and excels at music and dancing rather than fighting. They play vital, but very different, roles in the book.
* PoliceBrutality: By our standards anyway, is the norm in Judge Dee's court where the accused ''and witnesses'' can be beaten and tortured to make them talk. The Judge uses such means (it is pretty much required by law), but with discretion.
* PsychicPowers: Various characters dabble in the occult, a practice of which the Judge strongly disapproves, however there are indications that he himself is psychic. At least he is extraordinarily sensitive to atmosphere, often sensing evil even before he knows a crime has been committed.
** He also explains a fortune-teller's SherlockScan as her having limited MindReading abilities, like most people in her profession.
* PsychoLesbian: The Judge is normally sympathetic to lovers, even unconventional ones, but not when their passions lead to murder.
* PublicExecution: The public execution of offenders is often described in detail, because this was an important feature of the original Chinese accounts that inspired van Gulik. One that stands out as particularly grim appears in ''The Chinese Bell Murders'', where the villain is quartered ''alive'' by having his limbs pulled apart by four water-buffalo.
* RealAfterAll: The ending of some stories imply that there was some supernatural influence at work (and in one case, the judge is about to investigate, but decides against it, citing that TheseAreThingsManWasNotMeantToKnow).
* RedOniBlueOni: Ma Jong and Chiao Tai are both [[TheBigGuy big men]], but Ma Jong is the more fight-happy one while Chiao Tai thinks more.
* ReformedCriminal: Ma Joong, Chiao Tai and Tao Gan, to varying degrees.
* ScoobyDooHoax: Ghost sightings in the novels are ''usually'' found to conclusively be this. van Gulik notes in the Postscripts to many novels that Judges using this to trick criminals into confessing (making them think they are speaking to the Judge of the Underworld) is common in Chinese crime fiction, but that he prefers to have the Judge show off his deductive prowess.
* ShamefulSourceOfKnowledge: PlayedForDrama in ''Chinese Nail Murders''. The judge is facing a crime that he cannot prove (examinations of the body show no poison and no wounds), so a young woman tells him offhandedly about wives married to abusive husbands, sitting in their rooms repairing their shoes with a hammer and tiny nails, and how easy it is to [[TitleDrop drive the nail into the skull of a sleeping man]]... The judge has the body reexamined, finds the nail, and has the victim's wife arrested. The young woman who told him commits suicide to prevent the judge agonizing between his conscience and his duty (she admitted to murdering her husband in front of him, [[AssholeVictim but she had every reason to]]).
** In one FanSequel (where the judge is looking for the head of a vast conspiracy to send troublemakers and criminals to an out-of-the-way town), a shopkeeper reports Tao Gan's shoplifting to the local judge. This turns out to be a mistake, since Dee deduces that if the shopkeeper caught Tao (a ''very good'' thief), he must be a professional himself. And if he can go and report it without caring that this automatically marks him as a criminal as well, then there is a very good chance the man he's looking for is in the town. [[MoleInCharge He's right.]]
* ShowSomeLeg: In ''The Chinese Lake Murders'', Moon Fairy, a young woman, distracts a rebel who was going to inspect the junk hold where Ma Joong and Chiao Tai were hiding by taking off her shirt and flashing her breasts at him.
* SherlockScan: One criminal tries this against the judge (as he's traveling incognito with Chiao Tai), explaining why the judge is not a peaceful merchant. He certainly gets a few points right, like the pair practicing stick-fighting (an activity favored by the lower class), but then he claims the judge's beard was grown to ape his local magistrate. Whoops.
* ShowWithinAShow: The theater play in ''The Chinese Gold Murders''.
* SingleWomanSeeksGoodMan: Mrs. Kuo, the doctor's wife in ''The Chinese Nail Murders'', is a remarried widow. Her first husband was a notorious DomesticAbuser, before his sudden death. Her second husband, though a hunchback, is also a sweet, supremely loyal man who loves her dearly and has helped her become a literate and educated woman with a very progressive position as a female doctor. ([[DeliberateValuesDissonance Male doctors are only allowed to take a woman's pulse.]]) She and Judge Dee, who has been separated from his beloved family for some time, also form a kind of mutually unfulfilled romance. [[spoiler: After she ultimately kills herself to spare Dee the pain of having to arrest her for murdering the first husband, Doctor Kuo comes forward to confess, expecting to be executed so that he may loyally follow her in death. Deeply moved, Dee instead puts a recently-orphaned young girl into his care, so that he will have something to live for.]]
* SkepticismFailure: The Judge prides himself on not being an impious man, meaning he does not deny the existence of the supernatural, but ''always'' looks for a natural explanation first. Usually he finds one. Usually.
* SocietyIsToBlame: while the Judge fully realizes that Tang China is no Utopia, he ''never'' accepts this as an excuse.
* SpotOfTea: The Judge hits the teapot like Sam Spade hits the bottle. His Lieutenants prefer 'the amber liquid' (ie: wine). A cuppa "bitter tea" is even offered to witnesses and accused in court to lubricate testimony or confession.
* TheSpymaster: Imperial Inquisitor Meng Kee.
* TheSummation: The Judge is prone to these, usually at the insistence of his bewildered lieutenants.
* SympatheticMurderer: The Judge occasionally encounters these, including one who means a great deal to him, but never lets them off. One killed herself to spare him from having to make that decision.
* TattooedCrook: One of the victims in ''The Phantom of the Temple''. According to the tattoo artist, ten coins extra would hvae gotten him the tiger's whiskers (and a different fate).
* ThoseTwoGuys: Ma Jong and Chiao Tai, though they get more screen-time than is usual, and one story even has them witness a crime, and take immediate action while the judge is away.
* ThirdPersonPerson: Chinese etiquette ''requires'' this in court or other formal occasions: "This person begs to report a crime."
* ThreeLinesSomeWaiting: Most novels concern a number of crimes that are all dealt with at once, in accordance with the Chinese traditions of crime fiction. Robert van Gulik comments in the postscript to ''The Chinese Bell Murders'' that he actually prefers this to "tighter" stories, as it corresponds closer to the toils of operating a court in real life.
* TokenEnemyMinority: As fits the Confucian POV of the original stories, Buddhists and Taoists are generally held in a certain amount of contempt by Dee, and a lot of stories will depict the local monastery as a CorruptChurch. However, there always seems to be at lest one good monk who is disgusted by the corrupt behavior of his fellows, if not a broad base of genuinely devout monks unaware of the scoundrels in their midst. Itinerant priests, however, are generally crooks ''pretending'' to be actual friars ''at best''.
* TomboyAndGirlyGirl: Blue-white and Coral from ''The Willow Pattern'' are a tough, outspoken fighter and a shy, discreet dancer and musician, respectively.
* TurnInYourBadge: In ''The Chinese Lake Murders'', the judge uncovers a conspiracy to overthrow the Emperor in a town not far from the capital. The Imperial Inquisitor arrives in response to Dee's report, only to reprimand and suspend him for taking so long to uncover the plot. Dee is only reinstated because he deduces the hiding-place where the key to an encrypted list of all participants in the plot is concealed.
* VeryLooselyBasedOnATrueStory: The character Judge Dee is based on a the real Di Renjie (c. 630?-c. 700), and most of the plots are from actual Chinese sources, either fiction or real cases recorded for the edification of judges and coroners of the era. The forewords and afterwords of each book are as fascinating as the books, since van Gulik was a noted and respected scholar of Chinese culture. He did the illustrations, too.
* WatchingTheReflectionUndress: The judge's lieutenant is sent to interrogate a girl, who tells him to turn around while she's changing. He complies, and she turns around, [[AllWomenAreLustful clothes dropping to the floor]]. She then tells him he can turn around now, but he replies that the mirror in front of him does the job just fine. A SexyDiscretionShot ensues.
* UsefulNotes/WhyMaoChangedHisName: The books include lots of idiosyncratic romanizations of the characters' names. Curiously some names, chiefly the religious names of monks, and the names of courtesans and some other female characters are ''translated.''
* TheWorfEffect: In a non-combat situation, surprisingly enough. Investigating a monastery where women are granted children by a goddess (staffed by male monks), the judge tells Tao Gan to look for hidden passages, which he does disguised as a carpenter. Once he's satisfied there aren't any, the judge discards that theory... and it turns out there is a passage after all.
* WoundedGazelleGambit: Tao Gan pulls one off when followed by a suspect much larger than he is. Passing by a rack of clay jars, he upsets the whole thing onto his pursuer. When the employees come rushing out, the man claims he was attacked. They take one look at the shrimpy Tao Gan and the accuser and decide for themselves what happened. Tao Gan ends his recollection saying that he left as they were breaking a jar on the man's head.

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