Compiled in the 13th century, the T'ang-Yin-Pi-Shih is a record of 144 criminal and civil court cases judged in the courts of ancient China, spanning some 1,400 years of the country's history, commencing about 300 BC. During this period, China's judiciary was chosen from among the ranks of the country's scholar-officials, who, dispatched to various parts of the Empire often with little or no prior training in the legal arts, fulfilled the role of both investigative detective and court judge in the provincial centers of the land.
Casebooks such as the T'ang-Yin-Pi-Shih were thus essential tools of the appointees, providing guidance and precedence to which to refer, when the courts were confronted with challenging cases. In Crime and Punishment in Ancient China, the author provides us with an informative and highly entertaining translation and commentary on the ancient text.
R. H. van Gulik was also the author of a popular series of detective novels, based in ancient China and featuring the semi-historical Judge Dee Gong-An. It will soon become evident to fans of Judge Dee that van Gulik drew much inspiration for his novels from the T'ang-Yin-Pi-Shih.