Thanks to t'Internet, I've been rereading Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee books at work. They were childhood favorites, not least thanks to the illustrations, which were very enlightening when I was ten.
I think these were my first introduction to traditional Chinese culture (in a deliberate Ming/Tang fusion), other than the dragon dance at Chinese New Year and my dad telling us a very long and elaborated (yes, even compared to the original) version of Journey to the West at bedtime for, oh, about five years. (And a series of stories about Yi the Archer, to the degree that I find it hard to remember what's "genuine" myth and what my dad made up.)
Anyway, I could have done a lot worse, since van Gulik makes a strong effort to put across a sort of humane Confucianist viewpoint. Dee wanders about dispensing justice, even when it clashes with his conservatism ("Disapproval for a man's morals is no reason to allow him to die in misery," he mutters at one point, and he's always busy redeeming minor criminals and securing a better life for aging prostitutes.) There's no cover-up of injustices, especially when it comes to Chinese imperialism (Korean freedom fighters and displaced Uigur both feature), women being sold into prostitution, etc.
Contrary to the overblown essay here, though, Dee never treats others with "nationalist brutality" - he expressly muses on the cruelty and injustice of the treatment of the Tanka, for instance, and the need for the restrictions on them to be lifted so that they can be brought into normal society. Chiao Tai, one of his assistants, given to falling in love with beautiful-but-doomed foreign women who betray him for their countrymen, muses "Eventually everyone will be Chinese" at one point, which is a reasonable reflection of the ideal of "Chinese-ness" as a cultural/civilizational identity with a universalist tone.
There's a double irony in Dee's reflections on necessary reforms, which crop up quite a lot: they're the kind of thing you can find throughout Chinese scholarly history, but, as van Gulik was quite aware, the impact of all those considered essays was very small until the very end of imperial China.
A few odd things crop up when you read them all at once, like that Dee actually marries a raped women (as his Third Wife) after her (just married) husband refuses to take her back because she should have committed suicide after being raped. (And it's never quite clear, I think, whether he actually sleeps with her - after being "put off normal relations between man and woman" by her rape, or whether he just marries her to give her a clear social role as companion to his first two wives and helper with the kids.)
You can also see van Gulik's skills as a writer improving dramatically as the series goes on; the first ones (the "Chinese X Murders," where Dee is always coming into a new tribunal) are relatively clumsy, but the last few, particularly Necklace and Calabash and Poets and Murder, are superb crime stories. Necklace and Calabash also has my favorite illustration in the series: Judge Dee scrubs his boot with unnecesssary vigor.