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Princess Wencheng

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Princess Wencheng
Princess Wencheng
Queen consort of Tibet
Tenure641–680 or 682
alongside Bhrikuti, Rithigman, Shyalmotsun, Pogong Mangsa Tricham
Tang China
Died680 or 682[2]
Lhasa, Tibetan Empire
HusbandSongtsen Gampo
HouseHouse of Li
House of Yarlung (by marriage)
FatherUnknown, presumptively Li Daozong[3]

Princess Wencheng (Chinese: 文成公主; pinyin: Wénchéng Gōngzhǔ; Tibetan: མུན་ཆང་ཀོང་ཅོ, Wylie: mun chang kong co[4]) was a princess and member of a minor branch of the royal clan of the Tang dynasty, who married King Songtsen Gampo of the Tibetan Empire in 641.[2][5] She is also known by the name Gyasa or "Chinese wife" in Tibet.[6] Both Wencheng and Songtsen Gampo's first wife, Nepali princess Bhrikuti, are considered to be physical manifestations of the bodhisattvas White Tara and Green Tara respectively.[7]

Ramoche Gonpa, Wencheng's legacy, built originally to house the statue Jowo Shakyamuni Rinpoche[8]

Marriage proposal[edit]

In 634, King Songtsen Gampo sent an envoy to Luoyang, the Tang capital. When Songtsen heard that both the Turks and Tuyuhun had marriage alliances with the Tang, he sent an envoy to the Tang capital to make a marriage proposal. The Tang turned it down and the Tibetan envoy told Songtsen that initially the Tang had accepted but the Tuyuhun were responsible for changing their decision. Songtsen attacked the Tuyuhun and the Dangxiang. Following his attack on the Tuyuhun, Songtsen stationed large numbers of troops on the western border of Songzhou in modern Sichuan and demanded a princess in marriage or else he would lead 50,000 troops to attack. In 638, the Tibetans attacked Songzhou and conquered two prefectures but withdrew after Tang counterattacks. Tibetan sources state that they were victorious while Chinese sources say they were victorious. In 640, Songtsen made a marriage proposal to which the Tang accepted in order to prevent further attacks.[9]

In 638, Tang and Tuyuhun envoys arrived in Tibet. Tibetan sources say they came to pay tribute while Chinese sources say Tibet did not object to being a vassal within their tributary system. Thirteen Tibetan missions arrived at the Tang court during this time which were described as tribute missions.[10]

In 641, Princess Wencheng left for Tibet with Gar Tongtsen Yulsung.[10] Both Chinese and Tibetan sources agree that Wencheng was not a daughter of the Chinese emperor.[11]

Life in Tibet[edit]

According to the Old Book of Tang, Princess Wencheng was married to Songtsen Gampo. Songtsen received the princess at Bohai Lake. A palace was built for the princess to live in. The princess did not like the Tibetans painting their face red so Songtsen banned this custom. In the Biography of Senior Monks Who Went to Western Regions for Scriptures, written by Jing Yi, a Tang monk, Dharma Master Xuanzhao met the princess while passing through Tibet. She gave him a warm reception.[12]

Tibetan sources describe Princess Wencheng as “Rgya-Mo-Bzav”, literally meaning “the goddess from the Central Empire”.[12]

According to Tibetan history, before entering Tibet, she did a geographical observation and found that Tibet's territory was shaped like Brag-srin-mo (an indigenous demoness) lying on her back. Temples were built to suppress the demoness. Princess Wencheng oversaw the construction of the Ramoche Temple. Together with Songtsen's wife from Nepal, Princess Wencheng assisted Songtsen with national affairs and contributed to the development of Buddhism in Tibet.[12]


According to the Tibetan history, the Songtsen Gampo's and Princess Wencheng's union brought hopes of promoting a harmonious, matrimonial relationship between the peoples of Tibet and China.[13]

Princess Wencheng's life is depicted in texts such as the Maṇi bka' 'bum and the famed historiographies of Rgyal rabs Gsal ba'i Me long.[14]

Tradruk Temple in Nêdong commemorates Princess Wencheng: a thangka embroidered by the Princess is kept in one of its chapels.[15]

In literature[edit]

In the first narrative, which is from Chinese classical literature, Princess Wencheng was treated as an insignificant figure and the text paid much more attention to the ceremony of the “peace-making marriage” than to the princess's individual traits.

In the second narrative, which is from ancient Tibetan literature, the princess was portrayed as the incarnation of “White Tara”, a female deity in Tibetan Buddhism, and supposedly possessed goddess qualities.

The third narrative, which was shaped by the Republic of China nationalist discourse beginning c.1928 depicted a "re-imagined" history[16] and image of Princess Wencheng. The re-imagined image gradually transformed her into a “transmitter of technology.”[12]

In legends[edit]

The seated statue of Sakyamuni brought by Princess Wencheng is enshrined in the Jokhang.[17]

According to legend, Rishan and Yueshan (Riyue Mountain) were transformed by the precious mirror of Princess Wencheng. Princess Wencheng walked to the dividing line between Tang and Tubo, and threw the Sun and Moon Mirror given by her parents behind her to cut off the endless thoughts of her relatives.[18]

Legend has it that when Princess Wencheng and her party went to Lhasa by way of Chaya, they made a short stop in the beautiful Renda. In order to commemorate this place that made the princess feel relaxed and happy, the princess showed 9 Buddha statues including the Great Sun Tathagata on the Danma Cliff with her extraordinary good fortune and merit. The princess also plans to build a temple here. However, although there are towering mountains in this area, there is not a single tree. The princess used her magic power, just like Sun Wukong, the great sage of the sky, pulling out a few hairs from her head and blowing it on the mountain. On the cliff rock, a large forest miraculously grows. So the local people cut down the trees and built the Renda Hall. At the same time, the princess also taught the locals to open up wasteland and farm fields, divert water for irrigation, and use water mills. Later, the local people regarded the statue of Renda as a magical creation of Princess Wencheng, and regarded it as a sacred place. Good men and women from far and near came to the Renda Hall to worship the Buddha, burn incense and kowtow, to pray for peace in the world, good weather and happiness for the people.[19]

Modern culture[edit]

Since the 2000s, the Chinese state has been presenting a propaganda spectacle in Lhasa which features Princess Wencheng. The spectacle is presented 180 times a year, both in a theatre or outside on a plaza. According to many observers, the propaganda spectacle misrepresents Tibetan Buddhism, the Tibetan Empire era, and Tibet's historically independent relationship with China.[20]

The work "Princess Wencheng" was written by Zhang Minghe, a famous Chinese lyricist. From when Princess Wencheng first entered Tibet to the life of the Tibetan people, to her being praised and sung by the Tibetan people.[21]


  1. ^ Peterson (2000), p. 186, "Princess Wencheng".
  2. ^ a b Warner (2011), p. 6.
  3. ^ Wang, Yao (1982). 吐蕃金石录 [Tu fan jin shi lu] (in Chinese). Beijing: 文物出版社 [Wen wu chu ban she]. pp. 44–45. OCLC 885539828.
  4. ^ "Old Tibetan Annals, P.T. 1288". Archived from the original on 1 Jan 2018. (11) [---] [b]tsan mo mun chang kong co / mgar stong rtsan yul zung gyIs spyan drangste bod yul
  5. ^ Slobodník (2006), p. 268.
  6. ^ Dowman (1988), p. 41.
  7. ^ Powers (2004), p. 36.
  8. ^ "Ramoche", Treasury of Lives, nd
  9. ^ Pan, Yihong (1997). Son of Heaven and Heavenly Qaghan: Sui-Tang China and Its Neighbors. Bellingham Center for East Asian Studies: Western Washington University. p. 236-237.
  10. ^ a b Pan 1997, p. 238.
  11. ^ Powers 2004, p. 169.
  12. ^ a b c d Wang, J.; Cedain, D. (2020). "Princess Wencheng in historical writing: The difficulty in narrating ethnic history in multi-ethnic China". Chinese Journal of Sociology. 6 (4): 615–645. doi:10.1177/2057150X20963264. S2CID 225056789.
  13. ^ "The Marriage of Wencheng", Women in World History Curriculum.
  14. ^ "The Treasury of Lives: A Biographical Encyclopedia of Tibet, Inner Asia and the Himalayan Region".
  15. ^ Richardson (1985), p. 83.
  16. ^ Tsomu Yudro, "Taming the Khampas: The Republican Construction of Eastern Tibet. Modern China 39(3):319-344, May 2013
  17. ^ 王, 生生 (2003). "拉萨的中心——大昭寺". 中国房地产业 (2): 38–39.
  18. ^ 熊, 佳林 (2005). "日月山的传说". 中国印刷 (2): 83–85.
  19. ^ 吐呷 (1998). "文成公主与仁达造像". 中国西藏 (5): 49–50.
  20. ^ Denyer, Simon (October 12, 2016). "A romantic opera in Tibet just happens to bolster China's historical position there". The Washington Post.
  21. ^ 雨婵, 沈 (2016). "歌曲《文成公主》". 中文科技期刊数据库(文摘版)教育 (1): 154-154.

References and further reading[edit]