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Heqin (Chinese: 和親; pinyin: Héqīn; Wade–Giles: Ho-ch'in; literally: "peace marriage"), or marriage alliance, refers to the historical practice of Chinese emperors marrying princesses (usually members of minor branches of the royal family) to rulers of neighbouring states.[1] It was often adopted as an appeasement strategy with an enemy state which was too powerful to defeat on the battlefield. The policy was not always effective, and it implied an equal diplomatic status between the Chinese emperor and the foreign ruler. As a result, it was controversial and had many critics.[1]

Lou Jing (Chinese: 娄敬, later granted the royal surname Liu), the architect of the policy, proposed granting the eldest daughter of Emperor Gaozu of Han to the Modun Chanyu of the Xiongnu Empire. His proposal was adopted and implemented with a treaty in 198 BC.[2][3] Wang Zhaojun of the Han dynasty and Princess Wencheng of the Tang dynasty are among the most famous heqin princesses. Heqin was never again practiced by any Han Chinese dynasty after the Tang.

20th-century scholar Wang Tonglin praised heqin for facilitating the "melting of races" in China.[4]

Han Dynasty[edit]

There were a total of fifteen instances of heqin marriage alliances during the Han Dynasty.[5][3]

Sixteen Kingdoms Period[edit]

During the Sixteen Kingdoms period, there were a total of six recorded instances of heqin marriage. Heqin marriage alliances during the Sixteen Kingdoms period differed from those practiced during the Han Dynasty in two main ways. First, they involved "real" princesses (i.e. daughters of emperors or rulers). Second, unlike during the Han Dynasty, when most heqin marriages were aimed at establishing peace with foreign nations, heqin marriages during the Sixteen Kingdoms period were made primarily to settle rivalries and maintain a balance of power between the various states in China at the time.[5]

Southern and Northern Dynasties[edit]

During the Southern and Northern Dynasties, China was also divided into many rival states. A complicated system of rivalries and vassalage existed. Heqin marriage was employed as a method to maintain a balance of power or to solidify alliances between states.[5]

During the Southern and Northern Dynasties, there were five instances of Heqin marriage.

Sui Dynasty[edit]

With the establishment of the Sui Dynasty in 581 A.D., China was once again unified under one dynasty. Heqin marriage during the Sui Dynasty therefore returned to its original purpose of trying to appease barbarian tribes on China's borders.[5]

There were a total of seven instances of Heqin marriage during the Sui Dynasty.

Tang Dynasty[edit]

During the Tang Dynasty, heqin marriage alliances were aimed primarily at five major states that bordered the Tang Empire: The Tuyuhun Kingdom, Tibet, the Khitans, Orkhon Uyghur, and the Kingdom of Nanzhao.[5]

There were a total of twenty-one instances of heqin marriage alliances during the Tang Dynasty:

There were a total of seventeen instances of heqin marriage alliances during the Tang Dynasty.

640—690: 5 instances, to Tuyuhun, and 1 instance to Tibet.
710—745: 4 instances, to Khitan, 3 instances, to Xi, and 1 instance, to Tibet.
758—821: 7 instances, to Orkhon Uyghur (including two daughters of the Chinese Emperor, i.e. real princesses, and 3 of Tiele descent).
883: 1 occurrence, to Nanzhao (second daughter of Emperor Yizong of Tang).

Non-Han dynasties and states[edit]


The Xiongnu practiced marriage alliances with Han dynasty officers and officials who defected to their side. The older sister of the Chanyu (the Xiongnu ruler) was married to the Xiongnu General Zhao Xin, the Marquis of Xi who was serving the Han dynasty. The daughter of the Chanyu was married to the Han Chinese General Li Ling after he surrendered and defected.[6][7][8] The Yenisei Kirghiz Khagans claimed descent from Li Ling. Another Han Chinese General who defected to the Xiongnu was Li Guangli who also married a daughter of the Chanyu.

Northern Wei[edit]

The Xianbei Tuoba royal family of Northern Wei started to arrange for Han Chinese elites to marry daughters of the royal family in the 480s.[9] Some Han Chinese exiled royalty fled from southern China and defected to the Xianbei. Several daughters of the Xianbei Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei were married to Han Chinese elites, like Princess Lanling 蘭陵公主 to Liu Hui 刘辉, who was a descendant of Liu Song royalty who fled north to the Xianbei in exile, Princess Huayang 華陽公主 to Sima Fei 司馬朏, a descendant of Jin dynasty (265–420) royalty, Princess Jinan 濟南公主 to Lu Daoqian 盧道虔, Princess Nanyang 南阳长公主 to Xiao Baoyin 萧宝夤, a member of Southern Qi royalty.


The Rouran Khaganate arranged for one of their princesses, Khagan Yujiulü Anagui's daughter Princess Ruru 蠕蠕公主 to be married to the Han Chinese ruler Gao Huan of the Eastern Wei.[10][11]

Turkic Khaganate[edit]

The Kingdom of Gaochang was made out of Han Chinese colonists and ruled by the Han Chinese Qu family which originated from Gansu. The Qu family was linked by marriage allianes to the Turks, with the King Qu Boya's grandmother being a Turk.

Uighur Ganzhou Kingdom[edit]

The Chinese Cao family ruling Guiyi Circuit established marriage alliances with the Uighurs of the Ganzhou Kingdom, with both the Cao rulers marrying Uighur princesses and with Cao princesses marrying Uighur rulers. The Ganzhou Uighur Khagan's daughter was married to Cao Yijin in 916.[12][13][14]

Kingdom of Khotan[edit]

A daughter of the King of Khotan married to the ruler of Dunhuang, Cao Yanlu, is here shown wearing elaborate headdress decorated with jade pieces. Mural in Mogao Cave 61, Five Dynasties.

The Chinese Cao family ruling Guiyi Circuit established marriage alliances with the Saka Kingdom of Khotan, with both the Cao rulers marrying Khotanese princesses and with Cao princesses marrying Khotanese rulers. A Khotanese princess who was the daughter of the King of Khotan married Cao Yanlu.[15]

Liao dynasty[edit]

The Khitan Liao dynasty arranged for women from the Khitan royal consort clan to marry members of the Han Chinese Han 韓 clan, which originated in Jizhou 冀州 before being abducted by the Khitan and becoming part of the Han Chinese elite of the Liao.[16][17][18]

Lý dynasty[edit]

The Lý dynasty which ruled Dai Viet (Vietnam) married its princesses off to regional rivals to establish alliances with them. One of these marriages was between a Lý princess (Lý Chiêu Hoàng) and a member of the Chinese Trần (Chen) clan (Trần Thái Tông), which enabled the Trần to then topple the Lý and established their own Trần dynasty.[19][20]

A Lý princess also married into the Hồ family, which was also of Chinese origin and later established the Hồ dynasty which also took power after having a Tran princess marry one of their members, Hồ Quý Ly.[21][22]

Qing dynasty[edit]

The Manchu Imperial Aisin Gioro clan practiced marriage alliances with Han Chinese Ming Generals and Mongol princes. Aisin Gioro women were married to Han Chinese Generals who defected to the Manchu side during the Manchu conquest of China. The Manchu leader Nurhaci married one of his granddaughters to the Ming General Li Yongfang w:zh:李永芳 after he surrendered Fushun in Liaoning to the Manchu in 1618.[23][24] Aisin Gioro women were married to the sons of the Han Chinese Generals Sun Sike (Sun Ssu-k'o), Geng Jimao (Keng Chi-mao), Shang Kexi (Shang K'o-hsi), and Wu Sangui (Wu San-kuei).[25]

Geng Zhongming, a Han bannerman, was awarded the title of Prince Jingnan, and his son Geng Jingmao managed to have both his sons Geng Jingzhong and Geng Zhaozhong become court attendants under Shunzhi and get married to Aisin Gioro women, with Haoge's (a son of Hong Taiji) daughter marrying Geng Jingzhong and Prince Abatai's granddaughter marrying Geng Zhaozhong.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Slobodník (2006), p. 268.
  2. ^ Di Cosmo (2004), p. 193.
  3. ^ a b Rui Chuanming (芮传明). 古代和亲利弊论 (PDF) (in Chinese). Retrieved 18 October 2014. 
  4. ^ Bulag (2002), p. 83.
  5. ^ a b c d e Cui (2005), pp. 631–688.
  6. ^ [1], p. 31.
  7. ^ Sima 1993, p. 161.
  8. ^ Monumenta Serica, Volume 52 2004, p. 81.
  9. ^ eds. Watson, Ebrey 1991, p. 80.
  10. ^ eds. Lee, Stefanowska, Wiles 2007, p. 316.
  11. ^ Gao Huan, as demanded by Yujiulü Anagui as one of the peace terms between Eastern Wei and Rouran, married the Princess Ruru in 545, and had her take the place of Princess Lou as his wife, but never formally divorced Princess Lou. After Gao Huan's death, pursuant to Rouran customs, the Princess Ruru became married to Gao Huan's son Gao Cheng, who also, however, did not formally divorce his wife.
  12. ^ 2013, p. 44.
  13. ^ Russell-Smith 2005, p. 63.
  14. ^ Duan 1994, p. 189.
  15. ^ Russell-Smith 2005, p. 23.
  16. ^ Biran 2012, p. 88.
  17. ^ Biran 2012, p. 88.
  18. ^ Cha 2005, p. 51. [2][3][4]
  19. ^ ed. Hall 2008, p. 159.
  20. ^ Embree & Lewis 1988, p. 190.
  21. ^ Taylor 2013, p. 166.
  22. ^ ed. Hall 2008, p. 161.
  23. ^ ed. Walthall 2008, p. 148.
  24. ^ Wakeman 1977, p. 79.
  25. ^ eds. Watson, Ebrey 1991, pp. 179-180.
  26. ^ Wakeman 1986, p. 1017.