Illumincation - written words

Manga and Romance Blog Hop Post.

**Everyone who comments goes into the running for a grand prize. More information is here and at the blog hop main post. :)**

For Hayley's Blog Hop, I decided to write about a series of novels that are set during the T'ang Dynasty in the 7th century. They are the Judge Dee novels, semi-fictional detective novels based on Di Renjie, a magistrate and statesman in the T'ang court. Translator Robert van Gulik first came across Judge Dee in a secondhand book store in Tokyo in a book called "Dee Gong An", and he translated the book to English and then created his own Judge Dee stories. Judge Dee lived from 630 – 700AD.

What makes these stories so engaging, apart from the setting, which van Gulik describes with sparse detail that reveals just enough to give the reader a mental picture of the people and places is that they cover absolutely everything you can imagine.

Dee The first book is The Chinese Gold Murders, which sees Judge Dee traveling to a new posting in the countryside with his faithful family retainer, Sergeant Hoong. On the journey, they are waylaid by two highway men, who, after being beaten in a sword fight by Dee, become his retainers and assistants. Ma Joong and Chiao Tai are so impressed with Dee that they give up their life of crime and join his retinue on the spot. The novel is set in the spring of 663AD.

There are several murder threads to unravel in the book, and in the course of the story, we learn that the clerk who served Dee's predecessor was gay. His lover is dying, having been incarcerated and both men are overcome with guilt at how they have concealed information from Dee, and committed suicide.

This love between the two men is written in a sensitive way, the Judge feeling regret that the two of them chose to die to save their honour. He doesn't linger on the situation, for there are other things he has to deal with, not the least of which are solving the murders. He has the case of illegal immigration from Korea into China, the situation of a bride being dishonoured and disowned by her family, the illegal brothels operating in boats moored on the river, and an attempt on his own life.

All the characters are interesting and engaging, and the resolution of the mysteries and the murders are all very satisfying. The stories of Judge Dee and his three companions are well worth reading, not just for the mystery solving, but for the characters and, in the case of The Chinese Gold Murders, the secondary characters, including the very believable and sensitive story of the love between two men, two officials of the T'ang Dynasty government and the concept of honour within that Dyanasty.

There are over twenty Judge Dee novels by van Gulik, after his death, French author Frédéric Lenormand wrote a further nineteen novels, which have not yet been translated into English. Another French author, Sven Roussel wrote another Judge Dee novel and American Chinese author Zhu Xiao Di wrote the Tales of Judge Dee. The enduring appeal of the Judge Dee stories has led to two television shows, one made by Granada TV in the UK in 1969, and they were in black and white. In 1974, a TV movie of The Haunted Monastery was made, called Judge Dee and the Monastery Murders and starred Mako, Soon-Tek Oh, Keye Luke and James Hong. Lau

Some of van Gulik's Judge Dee stories have been made into TV movies on Chinese TV, and from 2010, the series was called Detective Di Renjie. In 2010, a film starring Andy Lau and Li Bingbing, called Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame was made. The film was directed by Tsui Hark. (Trailer.)


Homosexuality in China wasn't an issue for many, many years. In the Ming Dynasty, literature such as Biang Er Chai is said to portray homosexual love, and portray them as more loving and lasting than heterosexual ones. As in Ancient Rome and Greece, homosexuality in China was not considered morally deviant until the introduction of influence of foreign cultures. Confuscianism does not focus much on sexuality – heterosexual or homosexual. The Tao considers homosexuality as neutral in terms of life essence, because it has no beneficial or detrimental affect on that life essence.

The beginnings of opposition to homosexuality in China are during the T'ang Dynasty, due to the influences of Christianity and Islamic values, but did not become prevalent until the Qin Dynasty. This is not to say that homosexuality vanished from China entirely, because it didn't; rather that homosexual lovers had to be more discreet and hide their relationships far more than previously. The most popular view by sociologists is that anti-homosexual attitudes became most prevalent during the 19th and 20th centuries. Traditional terms for homosexuality in China include tongzhi, The Passion of the Cut Sleeve duànxiù zhi pi, and The Bitten Peach fentáo.

To close, here is a love poem by Li Bai, written to his lover.

ArtLonging, in springtime.
By Li Bai
701-762 CE (translated by William P. Coleman)

The northern grasses are just bright green threads;
but on eastern mulberries, green branches hang down.

Days when the lord is first eager to come back —
those are a wife’s heartbreak times.

The wind of desire and I no longer know each other;
what right has he to enter my silk gauze curtains?

Painting used above: Woman spying on male lovers, Qing Dynasty, Chinese Sexual Culture Museum, Shanghai

References/Further Reading:
Judge Dee Info:
Le Juge Ti:
Judge Di on Wiki:
Passions of the Cut Sleeve:
Great Queers of History:
Mizi xia and the Bitten Peach:
The bitten peach (NSFW):
The Gay Love Letters of Bo Juyi:
Chinese poetry:

(And my books that are available to buy can be found here.)
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Wow this is a fascinating post. It was all new information to me. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you! I might do a review of the film - the dvd just arrived in the mail, and my mum's as eager to see it as I am.

There's a LOT of beautiful love poetry written between gay and lesbian lovers from China. A lot of beautiful art, too, from 1200AD backwards.
Do you think if China never received that outside influence that being a gay man in China today would not be any different than being a straight man? It blows my mind that it wasn't a big deal for so long.
Hm. Interesting question. I think it would have become an issue when Mao came into power - after he got rid of Sun Yat Tsen, he implemented a LOT of purges, not just of intellectuals, whom he despised, but of anyone who he thought might be going against his own version of Communism. (It's interesting to me, on a sociological level, to see how different each nation that embraces/embraced Communism are in how they implement it. The USSR was different from China and both are far and away from North Korea, while Vietnam, Laos and Cuba, etc were/are completely different again.) So I think taking that into account, China might have gone for longer without problems if there'd been no invasions by the British or the Japanese, but overall, once Mao began the purges, it would have ended up the way it has.

(That's just my personal opinion - I'd be interested to see other people's thoughts on it.)
I know pretty much next to nothing about Chinese history so I can't really form an opinion myself on this matter. History is always an interesting topic because on paper there are points in time that can have a "what if this didn't happen" change. Like the invasion staying out reflecting in Chinese society until Mao purges.

It makes my head pleasantly distracted until the muses pick up on it and try to spin a story. >.>

I thank you again for the post. :) I'll be checking back for that movie review.
China's history is fascinating - and bloody - and also very confusing. So many dynasties! I'm a big history buff, 12th century is my period of main interest, the Third Crusade and the Byzantine Empire are my main things, and that's expanded as I work on "City of Jade" which travels along the Silk Road in mid-1100AD. Which leads to watching lots of historical epic films (China are amazing at producing these - I cannot recommend enough "Red Cliff", the director's cut, it's quite possibly the best movie I've ever seen).

You're very welcome, I'm glad you found it interesting. :D
man I remember reading The Chinese Gold Murders when I was in high school and loving it. Thanks for the post.
The series sounds fascinating! I'm not well-versed in Chinese history, and I often forget about m/m during that place and time...

Wow, thanks for that! I didn't know that about homosexuality in China. Very interesting.

eripike at gmail dot com
Thanks for all the information and the lovely poem!!

This was a really interesting post. I found it entertaining and informative. I learn something new every day!

Thanks for sharing.

Tracey D
booklover0226 at gmail dot com
I haven't really read a lot of traditional eastern books, but you have managed to pique my interest. I find it really interesting that the bigotry against man love wasn't prevalent until outside cultures came in. I always did like Chinese/Asian culture more than american...
If you like a story with lots of intrigue, some humour, and detectives, then you'll enjoy Judge Dee.

There really wasn't much bigotry about m/m or f/f in China at all until outside influences got more of a hold. In the books, it's interesting to read that Dee, as a Confusist, has little respect for Buddhists, and vice versa. That surprised me just as much as the lack of bigotry towards the same sex relationship.