Treason by Bilingualism? Xenophobia, Clique, and the Impeachment of Yu Jing

Isaac Yue


A gifted linguist, diplomat, and negotiator, Yu Jing (1000-1064) is uniquely qualified among Northern Song officials in his extensive knowledge of Khitan language and culture. At a time when Liao-Song relationship was at its most contentious, the advantage of having an official who could communicate fluently in both languages cannot be overstated. However, according to official history, not only did his bilingualism not endear him to the court, it aroused constant suspicion and led to his eventual impeachment, which occurred after he composed a poem in the Khitan language and presented it to the Emperor of the Liao State as a token of gratitude. The purpose of this paper is to reexamine the cause of Yu Jing’s indictment in the context of political machination. By contextualizing his composition
of the Poem in the Language of the Barbarian
and subsequent impeachment within the politics
of the court, my goal is to supplement, even
challenge, our above conventional acceptance of
xenophobia as the sole cause of Yu’s downfall. In
doing so, I hope to point out the potential flaw
of our current understanding of Song diplomacy
as guilelessly dictated by its inferiority complex
and0xenophobic sentiments.


Yu Jing; Liao-Song relationship; Barbaric Tongue Poem; xenophobia.



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