August 16, 2002

Tales of Magistrate Bao and his Valiant Lieutenants, Susan Blader, ed.

A little background for a low taste in Hong Kong historical action flicks here. (If you want a lot of background, try F. W. Mote's Imperial China 900-1800. Furry hats, evil eunuchs of the east chamber, scholar-heroes, the peasant who founded an empire; all real.)

Back to the Tales, which are about incorruptible magistrate Bao, the heroes and gallants who do his legwork, and the scandals Imperial and petty that they unravel. I can't think of a European analogy offhand; they're too rapscalliony to be like the main Arthurian tales, and overtly too accepting that anything Bao and the gallants do is right to be exactly like picaresque collections. In the name of justice and ?gentility?, the heroes hide evidence, commit torture, steal from innocent fishermen and beat them up for complaining; if it reminded me of anything Western, it was of Don Quixote, except that the Don looked deluded when attacking innocents. Bao and the gallants are assumed to be right in their judgements even when they're sneaky in their ends.

Given that, and a stiff effort to not think "That's no way to run a justice system" on every other page, it's as fun as stories full of violence, betrayal and death can be. (Loyal servants dash their brains out to prevent giving up information. If torture for evidence is common, I guess this is more likely. Still: eurgh. Also: with my hands tied together, on the ground floor, and under armed guard, could I possibly get up enough momentum to dash my brains out? I have the awful suspicion that there're plenty of historical examples.)

There are peasant feasts, scholarly love affairs complicated by over-helpful servants getting in each other's way, beautiful imperial courtesans (Good and Bad, a matched set), a lost heir; I don't remember any actual ghosts, but I probably just forgot.

So wrote clew in Fiction (19th c.).

And thus wrote others:
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