Episode 138: Justice Bao

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Today we will talk about a figure who appears in many Chinese folklore and is respected by Chinese people for almost a thousand years. His name is Bao Zheng 包拯, also is known is Lord Bao 包公.

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Bao Zheng was a government officer from the Song dynasty 宋朝, during the reign of Emperor Renzong of Song 宋仁宗, which is between the year 1022 to 1063. Bao Zheng was appointed as the prefect of the capital then Kaifeng 开封 during the year 1057 to 1058. His uprightness and grievance of the people made him a legendary figure and fictionalized in many stories. He gained a title Justice Bao 包青天 and is a symbol of justice in Chinese culture.

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Since he was Justice Bao, most the stories and folklore he appears are related to a crime case, maybe he is the Chinese Sherlock Holmes. Since Yuan dynasty 元朝, around the year 1271 to 1368, many plays have featured Bao Zheng. During the Ming and Qing dynasty 明清朝, fictions involve Baozheng were popular. Until today, people still can’t get enough TV shows and movies about his stories. We will talk about those crime cases in our future episodes.

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He is usually depicted as wearing a judge miter hat and outfit. He is really easy to recognize since he has a crescent moon on his forehead. He is a ironic figure in Chinese opera and he is often portrayed with a black face and a white crescent moon shaped birthmark on his forehead.

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In most stories, he used a set of guillotines or lever-knives to execute criminals. He has a guillotine decorated with a dog’s head 狗头铡 to execute commoners, one decorated with a tiger’s head 虎头铡 to execute government officials and one decorated with a dragon’s head 龙头铡 to execute royal personages. He is usually accompanied by his skilled bodyguard Zhan Zhao 展昭 and an intelligent secretary Gongsun Ce 公孙 策. When the book of Sherlock Holmes was first translated to Chinese, Watson was compared as Gongsun Ce.

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