Teaching Unit II:
and Judge Dee
(Two different approaches by age)
Kingman High School—North Campus
Teaching E. Asia Seminar
Purpose: In world history courses we deal with world religions and philosophy, trying to help
students better understand those outside their sphere. Confucianism can be dealt with in a
number of ways, but would ultimately be best served through examples, which are ample in the
Judge Dee cases. This lesson specifically covers the Confucian Relationships then applies them
through the examples in Judge Dee. IT also gives insight into the Mandate of Heaven concept.
Target groups: Grades 6-8 and Grades 9-12
Arizona State Standards: World History: 1SS-E9.2,.3
1. Students will recognize the five basic relationships in Confucian society.
2. Students will identify the relationships in situations from The Celebrated Cases of
3. Students will be able to verbalize why the relationships were properly managed or not.
4. Students will determine what responses should have been to work properly within a
(Having read The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee would be beneficial for the teacher to
understand more of the customs of the time and place. In fact, I would really hesitate to teach this
without that background or a firm grounding in Confucianism.)
1) Read introduction information, explaining the relationships while writing them on the board
so students can see them.
2) Discuss with students how each relationship interacts.
Confucius taught people to have respectful relationships that keep peace in society and the
universe. These relationships are generally based on a superior and an inferior. One is not really
better than the other, but usually has lived longer and has more experience or more
responsibility. Each has responsibilities to the other. Confucius said the superior is required to
be good, wise and merciful, while the inferior partner is bound to obedience and respect. Because
both have responsibilities to each other, the lower member is not required to do something they
know is bad just because the superior tells them to—that would mean the superior had broken
their obligation. Confucius taught that highest duty for anyone is to do what is right.
The Five Relationships
Parent Husband elder brother Ruler Friend
Child Wife Younger brother Subject Friend
What is the parent's responsibility to their child?
What is the child's responsibility to their parent?
(Follow this line of questioning so the students can see that each pair have their own jobs to do.)
Confucius believed that if everyone would live up to his relationship obligations then the world
and the universe could be perfect and there would be no need for governments.
In the Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee, we follow a famous Chinese judge through some of
his cases in the 700's C.E. At that time in China it was normal for the judge to do much of the
detective work and then decide how the crime was committed and by whom before he decides on
a punishment. If the judge was sure who had committed the crime he could put them under
torture to get them to confess, which was very important in the case.
In the Judge Dee cases we see many relationships as Judge Dee deals with various
members of society that participate in his court cases. He is a local magistrate, a judge who
represents the Emperor in his district of China and must be fair and proper to those he serves. He
must learn the truth in his cases and find justice for those who have been hurt.
Here are some situations from Judge Dee's court cases. Let's see what the relationships are.
—An older woman comes into Judge Dee's court, kneels and bows her head to the ground
three times before talking to the judge.
What is the relationship? ( Subject/ruler)
Is this the proper way for her to treat him? (Yes, very respectful of authority)
What will his response be?
(Judge Dee treats her with respect because she is older AND because it is his job
as a public servant to listen to the people's pleadings. )
—Two silk merchants are traveling together to prevent highway robbery. One of them, wanting
to be rich, decides to rob the other, sell his silk and live richly. He kills his friend, takes his silk
and when caught, blames the whole thing on someone else.
What is the relationship? (friend/friend)
What should the relationship be like?
What kind of world would we have if we could not trust our friends?
(This young man, after he is tortured into confessing, is executed and his head put
on display. All of the stolen goods and his goods are sold to support to murdered
man's family. He has broken the trust of friends and society.)
—A respected teacher of the classics is in charge of a group of scholars studying for their civil
service exams. They spend all day studying and then all evening discussing their lessons. One of
the students finds a way to sneak into the adjoining house to meet a woman and becomes
involved in the murder of her husband. The Judge blames the teacher for the behavior of his
What relationships would the student and teacher fall into?
(elder brother, younger brother, ruler/subject. In fact, some scholars actually add
a relationship of teacher/student to make six categories.)
Why does the judge blame the teacher, who had no knowledge of the crimes?
How did the teacher fail? How did the student fail in this relationship?
(The teacher is responsible for the conduct of those entrusted to him, just as a
ruler or magistrate is responsible for those he rules and serves. He is charged with
their care and moral behavior. The judge censures him because he had no clue
what was going on. Judge Dee forbids him to teach young students any more,
since he obviously can’t be trusted. The student failed to keep the trust of his
family or teacher. He brought dishonor to all those he knew.)
—A young married woman fell in love with the rich student we just read about. She realized that
her husband's shop would never be able to provide her with all the riches the student could. So
she made the student fall in love with her and then murdered her husband in a way she thought
no one would be able to detect so she could marry the student.
What relationship should be the most important to her? (husband/wife)
Who is the superior in that relationship?
What does that relationship require of each of the people? (loyalty, faithfulness, trust)
How did the young widow fail? (Did not trust her husband, killed him, disloyal)
Is she living the virtuous life that Confucius required? (no. Lives for herself)
—Once the Judge thinks this death is suspicious he begins to believe that the widow committed
the murder. She refuses to confess, always claiming that she is innocent and the judge is
persecuting her. Having put her through torture without a confession, the Judge begins to believe
he might be wrong. The widow is very loud about telling people the Judge is corrupt in her
persecution and should be punished.
What is the relationship? (Subject/ ruler)
What is the judge's responsibility in this case? ( To execute justice in behalf of the
emperor. To keep the public safe from danger. To be fair to the woman.)
To whom is his responsibility the greatest?
What should the judge's response be?
What are his choices?
(The punishment for false prosecution by judges is the same punishment that
would have been meted out if the accused were actually guilty. When the judge
begins to doubt his own judgment he actually writes out a report to his superiors
stating that he may have been guilty of false accusations and torture. He submits
himself to their judgment and the possibility that he may have to be tortured and
killed. He is following the rules of conscience for a man of his position.)
—The woman is actually proven guilty by a false dream. After a grueling torture fails to bring
out a confession, the judge makes the widow think she is facing the eternal judges of her soul.
Thus met, she confesses to them (the constables, dressed like demons) that she plotted and killed
her husband to marry the rich young man. She explains how she killed him so secretly. She also
confesses to drugging their daughter so she could not tell anyone about the love affair. She has
fooled her mother-in-law into thinking the widow is innocent and her son died of natural causes.
How many relationships are here?( husband/wife, ruler/subject, parent/child x2)
What is the woman's responsibility in each one?
How must society treat her?
(This woman is treated as the vilest of criminals. She killed her husband for greed,
endangered her daughter, failed in her responsibility to care for a parent, and lied
to the court for many weeks. She lured a young man into losing his life and
bringing shame to his family. She is sentenced to a “lingering death” where she is
killed, but her body is dismembered and her head put on a pole at the city gates
for all to see her punishment.)
The cases presented here show the importance that the judge and the society in which he lived
put on correct activities and relationships. Without correct behavior, families and friends and
society itself are injured. Damage is done that strains resources and leaves problems for others to
An extension of the relationships is the concept of The Mandate of Heaven. As long as a
ruler is good and conscientious, the heavens smile on him and the people are happy. When he
begins to neglect or ignore his responsibilities to the people, the people are hurt and heaven
withdraws the mandate, or authority for this man to rule. In Chinese history it becomes important
to keep these relationships healthy in order to keep the Mandate of Heaven and keep the family
or dynasty ruling. Once the mandate is lost, in other words if the relationship is dishonored, the
people will rise up and remove the emperor or even a judge because of his mismanagement and
replace him with someone better. (This is what the widow was accusing the judge of.)
When each Chinese dynasty began they wrote the account of the dynasty that just fell. This
gives those who read the accounts the reasons for the loss of the Mandate—what they did wrong
that brought their dynasty down. These accounts serve as a record and a warning to keep the
traditional relationships healthy by tending to your responsibilities to others.
Arizona State Standards:
1. Students will recognize the five basic relationships in Chinese society.
2. As they read students will identify situations from The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee
where the classic relationships are challenged and maintained.
3. Student will be able to analyze what went wrong in the relationship that lead to
problems or what went well.
4. Students will project from the situations what problems would have been created for
society and why that relationship needs to be maintained.
5. Students will determine what responses should have been to work properly within a
1. Discussion of the relationships in society will go on basically the same as above,
adding in the Mandate of Heaven info from the end.
2. As students read The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee they will keep a list of
relationships and tell how they fit into the matrix:
What is the relationship?
Is it being kept or not? If not, what is wrong?
Who is being affected and how so? (Think of the extended possibilities)
3. Write an essay describing three relationships in this novel, including the Judge’s.
Describe how people relate to one another and what is the Judge’s job in regards to the
relationships? What actions could have made these situations end better? Why are the
punishments so harsh? Why would Confucius say the Judge so valued?
Suggested Readings and Resources
Van Gulik, Robert. Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee (Dee Goong An): An Authentic
Eighteenth-Century Detective Novel. New York: Dover,1776. (Very readable for the secondary
reader. It’s easier to read than the introduction, which is, nonetheless, important.)
deBary, Theodore and Irene Bloom. Sources of Chinese Tradition from earliest times to 1600. New York:
Columbia Press, 1999. (Particularly chapter 3.)
Schirokauer, Conrad. A Brief History of Chinese and Japanese Civilizations. Melbourne, Australia: Thomson
Learning, 1989. (pages 29 - 32)
Dominguez, J. “Confucianism”. Online. http://www.religion-cults/Eastern/Confucianism/confuci.htm.
Hooker, Richard. “Confucius, The Analects (selections)”. World Civilizations. Online.
Ross, Kelley L. “Confucius—K’ung-fu-tzu or Kongfuzi”. Online. http://www.friesian.com/confuci.htm .