The Amazing Vision of a Tutor in the House of Cai Jing

A page from a rare Chinese book showing a line drawing of people in traditional Chinese clothing at a banquet.

A tutor in the household of treacherous court official Cai Jing had foreseen his loss of power. (Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia)

In today’s world, it can be easy to get caught up in the pursuit of fame and fortune. However, it is important to remember that those who can look beyond the present and anticipate the future will be better prepared for whatever life throws their way.

This is exemplified in the story of Zhang Yu, a tutor in the house of Cai Jing, a treacherous court official in the late Northern Song Dynasty. Despite the family’s wealth and power, Zhang Yu had the vision to foresee the impending downfall of Cai and his descendants. His wise advice was ultimately ignored, though.

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This story serves as a reminder that it is important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture in order to make the best decisions for our future.

Cai Jing was a treacherous court official during the late Northern Song Dynasty (A.D. 1047-1126) in China. He was known as the first of the “Six Thieves” who disrupted the imperial government. For over 20 years, he held a position of power in the imperial government, and during this time he was corrupt, extravagant, and embezzled money from the people. He also framed loyal individuals for wrongdoing. However, a tutor in Cai Jing’s household had foreseen his loss of power.

Cai Jing’s grandchildren and the tutor

In ancient times, large families often invited tutors to teach at home, and Cai Jing was no exception. When his grandchildren reached school age, he asked his nephew to find a good tutor. The nephew recommended Zhang Yu, who just passed the advanced level of the imperial examination. Cai nodded in agreement.

When his grandchildren reached school age, Cai Jing asked his nephew to find a good tutor for them.
When his grandchildren reached school age, Cai Jing asked his nephew to find a good tutor for them. (Image: via Public Domain)

Zhang Yu was a native of Huai’an, Fujian Province, and was by nature an upright man who did not want to cater to the corrupt government of the time. When he heard that he was recommended to be a tutor in Cai Jing’s household, he repeatedly refused, but finally, he had to agree to it reluctantly.

When Zhang Yu arrived at Cai Jing’s house to start classes, he found that the grandchildren already behaved like rich playboys at a young age and did not know how to respect their teachers. The children of the Cai family also disliked the demanding teacher.

Zhang Yu’s advice

One day, Zhang gave some advice to Cai Jing’s grandchildren: “You only need to learn how to run away and nothing else!” The students asked why they needed to learn how to run away, and Chang replied: “Your father and grandfather are treacherous and corrupt, and the times will soon be turbulent, so if you learn how to run away, you may be able to avoid death. What else do you need to know?”

They thought that Zhang was crazy and told Cai Jing about it, thinking that they could drive him away. Instead, he hosted a banquet for Zhang Yu.

Cai Jing’s request

It turned out that Cai Jing had done a lot of bad things and he knew that many people resented him. At the banquet, he asked Zhang Yu in a low voice for a strategy to guarantee his safety, and Zhang Yu told him bluntly: “The situation has reached a point where there is no good solution. All you can do now is win over talented people, reform yourself, and make up for any potential losses. But it’s already too late.” When Cai Jing heard this, he burst into tears.

It turned out Cai Jing had done a lot of bad things in his position as a court official and many people resented him.
It turned out Cai Jing had done a lot of bad things in his position as a court official and many people resented him. (Image: Public Domain)

Cai Jing’s response

From then on, based on Zhang Yu’s advice, he did not do anything bad, and he also appointed Yang Shi and other upright people as officials. However, it was too late for Cai Jing.

Cai Jing’s fate

Later, when Emperor Qin of Song came to the throne, he banished Cai Jing. When in exile, he became sick and poor, and he was insulted by many people. Eventually, he died of poverty and starvation. Some of Cai’s children and grandchildren were killed and some were exiled to remote states. As an outsider, Zhang Yu saw the fate of the Cai family clearly, and his judgments were fulfilled one by one.

The lesson of Cai Jing

As the Chinese poem says: “I do not know the true face of Mount Lu, only that I am on this mountain.” Cai Jing’s descendants only wanted to enjoy their glory and wealth, not knowing that danger was approaching. No matter what era, those who can look farther ahead will suffer fewer losses. One has to get out of the nets of fame and desire, not being tightly bound by these things, in order to walk a stable and good path in life.


The story of Cai Jing and the tutor, Zhang Yu, serves as a reminder of the importance of looking beyond the present moment. His fate serves as a warning to those who are too focused on their own power and wealth, and neglect to consider the consequences of their actions. Zhang Yu’s wisdom and foresight saved Cai Jing’s grandchildren from a similar fate, and serves as an example of the power of looking ahead and making wise decisions.

Translated by Audrey Wang

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