Cai Jing

For the Ming dynasty general who went by the name Cai Jing for some time in his life, see Zhang Jing (Ming dynasty).
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Cai.
Cai Jing
Traditional Chinese 蔡京
Simplified Chinese 蔡京

Cai Jing (1047–1126), courtesy name Yuanchang (元長), was a government official and calligrapher who lived in the Northern Song Dynasty. Cai Jing is also featured as one of the antagonists and nemesis of the 108 Liangshan heroes in the Water Margin, one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature.


Cai Jing was from Xianyou, Xinghua (present-day Putian, Fujian). In 1070, he participated in the imperial examination and was a jinshi (a successful candidate). He served as a civil official in Qiantang before moving on to work in the Grand Secretary's office.

In 1086, Cai Jing was posted to the administrative office in Kaifeng, the capital. He supported the conservative faction in the imperial court, headed by Sima Guang, and won the praise of Sima. In 1094, Cai Jing became the Minister for Revenue. He helped Zhang Dun (章惇) revive the New Policies of reformist chancellor Wang Anshi, although he set out on a campaign of attrition to destroy or radically alter the written work of his predecessors and especially conservative enemies, thereby probably also purging much of Shen Kuo's written work.[1]

During the reign of Emperor Huizong, Cai Jing was impeached and ordered to retire in Hangzhou. Cai Jing collaborated with the eunuch-general Tong Guan to win back his place in the imperial court. After rising to prominence in politics and becoming chancellor at one point, Cai Jing introduced the policy of huashigang (花石綱), for officials to focus on offering precious gifts and tribute to the emperor. In 1102 and 1113, he introduced reforms to the taxation laws on tea and salt trading, as well as increasing human labour. Cai Jing's policies were unpopular among the common people and led to corruption in the government.

Cai Jing and Tong Guan were two of the officials Emperor Huizong asked in 1115 to evaluate the proposal that the Song ally themselves with the Jurchen against the Liao. Huizong was not interested at first, and continued "to get mixed reports from his officials... [In 1118], Tong Guan, in a memorial that has not been preserved, proposed taking advantage of the disorder in Liao to regain Yan and Yun [to former Song territories]....Huizong wanted Cai Jing's opinion of Tong Guan's proposal and several times sent a eunuch to ask Cai Jing what he thought of it. It was not until Huizong kept Cai Jing after an audience and asked him directly, however that Cai Jing was willing to express his opinion. He told Huizong that he did not have confidence in Tong Guan."[2] Despite other warnings, Huizong disregarded Cai Jing's concerns. "Not long afterwards, in 1120/6, Cai Jing retired, quite possibly because Huizong was tired of his resistance to the new alliance [between the Song and the Jurchen, who later betrayed their Song allies]."[3]

In 1125, Imperial Academy official Chen Dong submitted a report to Emperor Huizong, denouncing six "traitors" in the imperial court, deemed responsible for the government's decline. The six were Cai Jing, Wang Fu (王黼), Tong Guan, Zhu Mian (朱勔), Li Yan (李彥), and Liang Shicheng (梁師成), with Cai as the group's leader. Cai Jing was stripped off his official post and banished to Lingnan (present-day Guangdong) after Emperor Qinzong came to the throne. Song Scholar Ebrey devotes an appendix in her biography of Huizong reporting how it "is not uncommon to find modern historians who portray Cai Jing as a strong supporter of the alliance"[4] and hence a traitor. She concludes, however, that this was untrue and the result of An Yaochen's 1118 memorial directed against Tong Guan and Cai Jing. Later, "Huizong told the eunuch Liang Shicheng that Cai Jing was the only one who consistently had argued against the northern campaign."[5] Cai Jing starved to death along the journey at Tanzhou (present-day Changsha, Hunan) "as merchants reportedly refused to sell him food. Ill and over eighty, he died within ten days on his way to his site of banishment. On the same day, it was ruled that no future amnesties would lighten the exiles of twenty-three of [his] sons and grandsons [who had also been banished]."[6]

In fiction

Cai Jing
Water Margin character
Imperial Tutor (太師) of Imperial court
Ancestral home / Place of origin Xianyou, Xinghua (present-day Putian, Fujian)
Simplified Chinese 蔡京
Traditional Chinese 蔡京
Pinyin Cài Jīng
Wade–Giles Tsai Ching

In Water Margin, Cai Jing is depicted as a corrupt and treacherous government official, who wields considerable political power as the Imperial Tutor (太師). Together with Gao Qiu, Tong Guan and others, Cai Jing frames many loyalists for treason and other crimes, forcing some of them to join the outlaws at Liangshan Marsh. His son-in-law, Liang Shijie, is the Grand Secretary (中書), while his son, Cai Jiu, is the governor of Jiangzhou (江州; east of present-day Chongzuo, Guangxi). This further illustrates nepotism in Chinese politics of that time.

Cai Jing and Gao Qiu strongly oppose Emperor Huizong's decision to grant the Liangshan outlaws amnesty, after the outlaws attempt to ask the emperor to redress their grievances and grant them an opportunity to serve the country. Eventually, with help from righteous and honest officials, the outlaws are granted amnesty and sent on military campaigns to eliminate the Liao invaders in the north and suppress rebel forces in China (Fang La, Tian Hu and Wang Qing). After the campaigns, the surviving heroes return to the imperial court to report their victory. They are granted official posts by the emperor in recognition of their contributions. However, Cai Jing and Gao Qiu later have some of them framed and killed on false charges of treason or other "reasons".

Despite his villainy, Cai Jing is portrayed as a master of Chinese calligraphy. He is named as one of the best calligraphers of his time, along with Su Shi (Su Dongpo), Huang Tingjian and Mi Fu. In one chapter, the Liangshan heroes have to recruit the scholar Xiao Rang, who holds a reputation for his ability to imitate the handwriting of famous calligraphers, to forge a letter in Cai Jing's handwriting to authorise Song Jiang's release from prison.


  1. Sivin, Nathan (1995). Science in Ancient China: Researches and Reflections. Brookfield, Vermont: VARIORUM, Ashgate Publishing. III, 44.
  2. Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. Emperor Huizong. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2014, p. 382
  3. Ebrey, p. 385.
  4. Ebrey, p. 523
  5. Ebrey, p. 525
  6. Ebry, p. 446

External links

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