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Robert van Gulik

Robert van Gulik

The four academic and artistic accomplishments of a traditional Chinese scholar-official are painting, poetry or calligraphy, weiqi (the game of go in Japan), and qin (musicologically closest to zither but culturally to lute), and these are the lifelong pursuits of Robert van Gulik (1910–1967) who, at the time of his death, was the Dutch ambassador to Japan and Korea. Yet, he was different from these literati; unlike them, RvG did not mind getting his hands dirty. He loved framing Chinese pictorial art and mounting calligraphy scrolls. In his younger days, the staging of Javanese shadow plays (wayang) brought him great joy. In Malaya, he teamed up with a Chinese printer to produce the first books from his New Judge Dee Mysteries series. He raised gibbons, and he was an avid collector of objects regardless of their price or condition: he collected them for their historical, cultural, or scientific value.

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Judge Dee

Judge Dee

Judge Dee, the hero of Robert van Gulik’s JD mystery series, is purportedly based on the historical Di Renjie (630–700), chancellor of Empress Wu Zetian during the Tang Dynasty, who earlier in his career served as a district magistrate.

The fictitious JD also assumed the role of a district magistrate in most of these novels. Throughout imperial Chinese history, the district magistrate was the link between the emperor and his people and was responsible for maintaining harmony among those under his charge. For crimes committed in his district, the magistrate is expected to solve the crimes and to mete out justice, hence his honorific title Judge.

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Now available…          Dee Goong An, Second Part: Judge Dee Defies the Empress

The role of Buddhism

The Robert van Gulik days at the Rijksmuseum last year contained amongst others an interesting lecture by Paramita Paul. Its subject was the role of Buddhism in the wordks of Robert van Gulik. She has recently put her findings in an article very much worth reading. It has appeared in Aziatische Kunst (Asian Art), a periodical of the Royal Asian Art Society in the Netherlands. It is presented here with their consent.

Of Temple Phantoms and Bell Murders
Paramita Paul, "Of Temple Phantoms and Bell Murders: On Representations of Buddhism in Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee Mysteries".
Aziatische Kunst, 52.1: 6-18 (2022).
Publication of the Royal Asian Art Society in the Netherlands.

Rijksmuseum receives collection of sinologist Robert van Gulik

The Rijksmuseum has received a special collection of works by Robert van Gulik from his family. Robert van Gulik (1910–1967) was a sinologist and diplomat in China and Japan, and was recognized as a Chinese literate (civil servant scholar). The donation includes 54 objects, including a unique collection of Chinese seals, a 13-meter scroll with seal prints, two calligraphies and a painting. Particularly special are the 50 seals, some of which he cut himself. These are of exceptional quality and form a bridge between the Netherlands and Chinese culture. Examples of Chinese seal cutting are rare in Dutch museum collections.

Read the entire press release: pdf.

The Hot Springs of Odawara

To celebrate the conference The Dutch Mandarin: Robert van Gulik’s place in contemporary Chinese Culture held on 20 April in Shanghai, has published a booklet. It contains the essay The Hot Springs of Odawara that Robert van Gulik wrote in 1936 following a New Year’s holiday trip to the Japanese spa of Odawara.

Besides the original English version, a Chinese translation has been added, made especially for this booklet by Prof. Shiye of Shanghai Normal University.

The image shows the de-luxe version which was published in a strictly limited edition of only 50 numbered and signed copies and of which supply is running low already. For the time being, the standard version is in plentiful supply. The standard version is sold out.

However, on the occasion of my early retirement in September 2020 I have prepared a second edition with a slightly different yet equally beautiful binding (see image above). You can order this booklet by contacting

China’s Sherlock Holmes

The Life and Times of Robert van Gulik’s Judge Dee
Pasquale Accardo

You can order this book by contacting