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送子由使契丹 Upon Ziyou’s Departure on a Mission to Qidan


原作: 苏轼(字子瞻, 号东坡居士; 11世纪北宋)

英译: 闵晓红(2024.01)






Upon Ziyou’s Departure on a Mission to Qidan

Chinese original: Su Shi (11th AC, social name 'Dongpo')

English translation: Julia Min (Jan. 2024)

A broad sea of clouds will set us apart, north and south.

But don’t shed tears over the shared distance, near or far.

After a rough ride braving frost and snow in desert wind,

You’re yet to outbeat the ‘God’s Elites’ with your wisdom.

When you look back at the moon on the Forbidden City,

Keep your dreams alive around the hills and lakes of spring.

Should the Chief wish to know your family status in Court,

Don’t respond it’s renowned as the first in Middle Kingdom.


1.     Ziyou: the social name of Su Shi’s brother Su Zhe, also starting with ‘zi’, like Su Shi’s social name ‘Zizhan’, which defines the same generation.

2.     Qidan: a nation of herdsmen tribes in the north of the Song territory that established itself as Liao State for about 200 years. Strong in fighting on the horse, it had been a threat to Great Song along northern borders. An agreement of peace was reached between the two countries where the Song contributed silk and silver to Liao every year.

3.     ‘God’s Elites’: the Huns claimed themselves as the chosen tribes by heaven, their God.

4.     The Forbidden City: referring to Royal Palace in Bianliang City, the capital of Northern Song, also the centre of Middle Kingdom (Kaifeng today);


1089 saw Su Shi governing Hangzhou for the 2nd time amid his second rise in political status after his first banishment to Huangzhou. He was 58 years old then, still the same man with the same character and eloquence, but touched with more confidence and caution. As the Senior Scholar of Hanlin Academy( 翰林大学士), similar to today’s Secretary General of State, Su Zhe was sent by the Emperor to Qidan to celebrate the birthday of the Huns’ Chief of state. It was a humiliating period in history where the Song, an old Empire, had to pay tribute to a new nation of barbarian tribes.  


Su Shi had every reason to feel concerned for his dear brother as the Qidan men had killed ambassadors before. Yet the last couplet could be often pointed out by critics for its boldness in claiming the Su family as the first in the Song. Modesty is embraced in Chinese culture as a very important virtue of a gentleman, so critics would comment that he shouldn’t say it even though the Su’s were and had been so throughout history as there are three Su gentlemen in the “Eight Greatest Minds of the Tang and the Song” – Su Xun (the father), Su Shi (the older son) and Su Zhe (the younger son).


  1. 百度百科

  2. picture from 知乎@榆木斋


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