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Robert van Gulik (1910-1967) and his Judge Dee detective fiction: a case of cultural hybridity

posted on 2022-03-28, 02:43 authored by Yuan Hao
This thesis focuses on Robert van Gulik (1910–1967) and his Judge Dee detective fiction. Inspired and influenced by his translation of a 19th century Chinese gong’an (court-case) novel, Dutch sinologist, diplomat, and detective writer Robert van Gulik wrote detective stories set in ancient China and featuring a Chinese Judge — Judge Dee. Between 1949 and 1967, the author produced in English fourteen novels and two collections of detective short stories. While faithfully following formulae offered by Anglo-American detective fiction, van Gulik’s fiction also drew heavily upon Chinese sources for plots, stories and even narrative features. His scholarly research and profound knowledge of Chinese culture and literature, especially the time-honoured tradition of Chinese crime writing, are evident in his works. Van Gulik’s European background and his choice of Oriental China as a setting both give rise to the idea that one obvious way to approach his work would be through the lens of Said’s work on Orientalism, which talks of binary oppositions between colonised and coloniser. Following this line of argument, some critics hold that writing about the colonised by the coloniser is an attempt to recolonise. Yet van Gulik’s detective fiction indicates more complexities. This thesis argues that van Gulik’s work is not that of a European orientalist reinforcing cultural hegemony. Rather it is a pioneering example of blending two crime writing traditions, Western and Chinese, to achieve the kind of cultural hybridity suggested by Homi Bhabha. This research endeavours to use van Gulik’s detective stories to explore the possibility of cultural hybridisation in the field of detective fiction, a popular literary genre that increasingly transcends national boundaries. It interrogates present critical limitations in the area of detective fiction from a transcultural perspective in the hope that new critical impulses will be added to the study of the internationalisation of this literary genre.


Alternative Title

Robert van Gulik and his Judge Dee detective fiction

Table of Contents

1. Robert van Gulik: life and scholarly work -- 2. Gong 'an literature and the translation of the Chinese Judge Dee novel -- 3. Hybridity and the narrative -- 4. Hybridity and representations of gender -- 5. Judge Dee returns home: the Chinese translation in the 1980s.


Includes bibliographical references

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of English

Department, Centre or School

Department of English

Year of Award



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1 online resource (259 pages) illustrations

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