During the Tang dynasty, Dee Jen-dijeh, commonly known as Judge Dee, is the district magistrate of Chang-Ping. The novel, Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee, revolves around three complicated murders that Judge Dee and his advisors investigate. Judge Dee is a revered man who is well known for maintaining justice and resolving difficult cases. Each case he acquires demands a certain set of expertise that Judge Dee possesses. Judge Dee is able to solve each case because he is a good Confucian scholar, he applies the concept of the five relationships, he implements Legalist ideas, and he is a good Daoist.
One of the first things that makes Judge Dee an effective magistrate is that he demonstrates his comprehension of Confucianism through filial piety and other Confucian beliefs. Confucianism originates from the teachings of the famed Chinese philosopher Confucius. One of the main ideas Confucians value is education. To gain his position as district magistrate of Chang-Ping, Judge Dee had to take the civil service tests, that are based on the Confucian Classics. Because of this, all government officials and scholars are well versed in the classics, and practice many of the Confucian philosophies.
It can be seen throughout the novel that Judge Dee utilizes many of the Confucian ideas to help him solve his cases. Not only is Judge Dee well educated, he is also a “ gentleman”. Throughout the book, Judge Dee utilizes the Confucian philosophy of a Junzi: a “ gentleman” or “ superior individual”. The three important characteristics of a Junzi, are, Ren, Li, and Xiao. Someone who carries the attribute of Ren, is benevolent and kind. Li is a sense of propriety, meaning, someone who possesses this quality is respectful of others.
The third trait, Xiao, means filial piety; which demands children be obedient and appreciative of their parents and elders (China-Unit One). With these three features, Judge Dee is courteous, respectful, and diligent. He shows his use of the three characteristics when he disguises himself as a doctor and aids an elderly woman. ‘“ If I did not possess this skill, how would I dare to travel hither and thither,”’ (31). Judge Dee demonstrated kindness towards this woman, and eventually he discovered a new case from it. Confucians highly value the third attribute of a Junzi, known as filial piety.
Judge Dee implements this concept in the second case, “ The Strange Corpse”, where Judge Dee discovers that the widow of the man killed is the murderer. When he first suspects that she murdered her husband, Judge Dee releases her on bail so she could look after her aging mother-in-law. Throughout the course of the case, it seemed as though he was showing leniency towards Mrs. Djou. Instead, he is practicing the Confucian philosophy of filial piety. This concept describes the right way to behave towards one’s parents; the main ideas are, being respectful, considerate, helpful, dutiful, obedient, loyal, and loving one’s parents (China-Unit One).
One instance of this is when he alters her punishment. ‘“ Her possessions shall not be forfeited, in consideration of the fact that she leaves behind an old mother. ”’ (214). This is not the only instance where, the Confucian thought of filial piety was involved in the three cases. Judge Dee applied this philosophy on various occasions to help him solve his cases. In the book, Judge Dee constantly upholds the belief of the five relationships, and that each person in a society has a job to do. The five relationships are, ruler and subject, parent and child, spouse and spouse, older sibling and younger sibling, and members of a community.
Since Judge Dee is a magistrate, he is considered the ‘“ Father and Mother of the common people”’ (60). This means that it is Judge Dee’s job, as the superior, to maintain and bring justice to those who have been mistreated. By solving each of the cases, Judge Dee is bringing justice to the families and people who were wronged. Besides Confucianism, Legalism is also a good philosophy to maintain to be a superior judge. Through Judge Dee’s actions of gathering information, it is evident how one might think his methods are extreme; however, he was just practicing Legalist ideas.
Legalists believe that if the people are scared to commit small crimes, then they would be deterred from committing any type of felony. Because of this, they implemented harsh penalties for even small offenses (China-Unit One). During the first case of the novel, when Judge Dee discovers that Warden Pang moved the bodies from the scene of the crime, he sentences the Warden to be ‘“ beaten with the heavy bamboo,”’ (15). As a magistrate, Judge Dee was applying Legalist philosophies in order to solve the cases. With each case Judge Dee acquires, he utilizes multiple Daoist ideas.
Daoism, also known as Taoism, is a philosophy that is based on one’s relationship with nature. In contrast to the Confucians, the Daoists disengaged from the world of politics and administrations, and instead, lead a natural way of life (China-Unit One). Judge Dee uses the Daoist philosophy when he trusts his intuition and decides to exhume Bee Hsun’s body without any evidence that foul play was involved. ‘“ I am going to risk my black cap in order to find the truth. I therefore decide that his exhumation shall take place,”’ (66).
Eventually, by following Daoist ideas, Judge Dee uncovers who killed Bee Hsun. Throughout the novel, Judge Dee demonstrates that he is able to solve each case because he is a good Confucian scholar, he applies the concept of the five relationships, he implements Legalist ideas, and he is a good Daoist. Judge Dee shows he is a good Confucian scholar through utilizing his education, the philosophy of a junzi, the idea of filial piety, and the concept of the five relationships. By incorporating Confucianism, Legalism, and Daoism, together, Judge Dee is able to resolve all three cases.