An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Peng gong'an 彭公案

Jan 3, 2024 © Ulrich Theobald

Peng gong'an 彭公案 "Cases of Justice Peng" is a late Qing-period novelistic collection of criminal cases (gong'an xiaoshuo 公案小說) compiled by a certain Tanmeng Daoren 貪夢道人, who is identical with Yang Yidian 楊挹殿 from Fujian.

The stories focus on the historical figure Peng E 彭鵬 (1637-1704; called Peng Gong 彭公 "Justice Peng"), who was a district magistrate of Sanhe 三河 and eventually capital magistrate and was known as an incorruptible official. The novel has a length of 341 chapters. Most of the episodes in the book are fictional, describing how Justice Peng, with the help of heroic characters of the region of Jiang-Hu 江湖 (central China), punished corrupt officials, bullies, and bandits in the forests like Zuo Kui 左奎 or Wu Wenhua 武文華 - all with the motto "loyal to the country, protector of the people" (wei guo jin zhong, yu min chu hai 為國盡忠,與民除害). It portrays a group of chivalrous and righteous men such as Li Qihou 李七侯, Huang Santai 黃三太, Zhang Huizon 張耀宗, Yang Xiangwu 楊香武 or Ouyang De 歐陽德. Quite a few episodes of the book are actually not court cases, but narrate local conflicts and feuds. Justice Peng tries his best to convert evil-doers, if possible, and if not, to bring them to justice.

A famous episode is "Yang Xiangwu steals the Nine-Dragon Jade Cup" (Yang Xiangwu dao jiulong yubei 楊香武盜九龍玉杯), which is also found as an often-played piece of the Peking Opera. Some stories also found entrance in TV series.

The Peng gong'an was influenced by the criminal story collections Shi gong'an 施公案 and Sanxia wuyi 三俠五義. It was first published by the Liben Hall 立本堂 in 1891, but the identity of Tanmeng Daoren cannot be solved. This edition has a length of 100 chapters in 23 fascicles (juan). Later on, sequels were compiled with a total amount of 17 collections (ji 集). The full version of 341 chapters was published in 1987 by the Baowentang Shudian 寶文堂書店.

A sequel of 80 chapters is called Xu Peng gong'an 續彭公案, and the sequel Zaixu Peng gong'an has 81 chapters. Both only survive in very mediocre prints.

Hou Zhongyi 侯忠義 (1992). "Peng gong'an 彭公案", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Zhongguo wenxue 中國文學 (Beijing; Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), Vol. 1, 609.
Wu Feng 吳楓, ed. (1994). Zhonghua gu wenxian da cidian 中華古文獻大辭典, Vol. Wenxue 文學卷 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 664.
Zheng Yunbo 鄭雲波, ed. (1992). Zhongguo gudai xiaoshuo cidian 中國古代小說辭典 (Nanjing: Nanjing daxue chubanshe), 337.