Princess Wencheng

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Statues of Songtsen Gampo (centre), Princess Wencheng (right), and Bhrikuti of Nepal (left)
Died680 or 682[1]
Lhasa, Tibet
HusbandSongtsen Gampo
Family name: Li (李)
Given name:

Princess Wencheng (Chinese: 文成公主; pinyin: Wénchéng Gōngzhǔ; Tibetan: མུན་ཆང་ཀུང་ཅོ, Wylie: mun chang kung co) was a member of a minor branch of the royal clan of the Tang Dynasty who married King Songtsen Gampo of the Tibetan Empire in 641.[1][2] She is also known by the name Gyasa or "Chinese wife" in Tibet.[3] Some Tibetan historians consider both Princess Wencheng and Songtsen Gampo's other wife Bhrikuti to be physical manifestations of the bodhisattva Tara.[4]

Chinese accounts of Princess Wencheng[edit]


Wencheng's and Bhrikuti's legacy—Jokhang in Lhasa—founded to house statues of the Buddha which each bride brought with her dowry.

According to Chinese accounts, in the spring of 634 on an official state visit to Imperial China, Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo fell in love at first sight and had relentlessly pursued the princess hand by sending envoys and tributes but was refused.[citation needed]

Allegedly, in 635/636, Royal Tibetan forces were deployed, attacking and defeating the peoples of Tuyuhun who strategically lived near the Lake of Koko Nor in present-day Qinghai, impeding a trade route into Imperial China.[citation needed] News of Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo's attack on Songzhou quickly spread from the ground to the Royal Courtiers, and Emperor Taizhou despatched his Militia and defeated Songtsen Gampo's army, causing Songtsen Gampo's retreat.[5] He then sent a written expressed apology to the Tang Emperor.[6] The Tang Emperor upon seeing Songtsen Gampo's sincerity, then agreed to marry the princess to the Tibetan king.[7]

Tibetan sources (and Chinese sources not aligned with the PRC government), by contrast, say Songtsen Gampo sent an envoy to Luoyang, the Tang capital demanding (rather than requesting) a Chinese bride and insisting he would lead 50,000 battle-hardened Tibetan troops to the sparsely defended capital and slaughter the inhabitants if he was not given this tribute.[8]


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.[9]

Princess Wencheng's life is depicted in novels such as the Maṇi bka' 'bum and the famed historiographies of Rgyal rabs Gsal ba'i Me long.[10]

Tradruk Temple in Nêdong commemorates Princess Wencheng: a thangka embroidered by the Princess is kept in one of its chapels.[11]

Two traditional days, the fifteenth day of the fourth month and the fifteenth day of the tenth month of each Tibetan year, are marked by singing and dancing in honor of Princess Wencheng.[12]

Historical relics such as the statues of Songtsen Gampo with Princess Wencheng are still worshiped and displayed for all to see along the trail of their wedding trip as well as in the Potala Palace at Lhasa.[12]

Chinese claims of influence[edit]

Allegedly, Princess Wencheng brought with her promises of trade agreements, maps on the Silk Road and a substantial amount of dowry which contained not only gold, but fine furniture, silks, porcelains, books, jewelry, musical instruments, and medical books.[9][citation needed]

Also, Princess Wencheng allegedly arrived with new agricultural methods. This possibly included the introduction of seeds of grains, and rapeseed, other farming tools and advice on how to increase Tibetan agricultural productivity in the region.[citation needed]

Chinese sources[which?] credit Princess Wencheng for introducing Tibet with other skills in metallurgy, farming, weaving, and construction.[vague][citation needed] However, at least one of these is questionable because the Tang Historian Du Fu notes Tibet's metallurgical skills in terms suggesting they surpassed those known to Tang China.[13] The Tang Annals report that Songsten Gampo wrote to Emperor Taizong in 648, requesting paper, ink, and other writing utensils. This has been taken by some modern Chinese sources to mean that the princess was involved in the request, and thereby introduced the methods of Chinese ink and paper production to Tibet. However, archaeological evidence indicates that papermaking technology was known in Tibet before the princess' arrival, likely spreading through southern trade routes.[14]

Princess Wencheng is revered in China for being one of the brides who brought Chinese culture to the peoples beyond their borders - expanding their civilization with culture and knowledge.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]

Since the 2000s, the Chinese state has been presenting an opera in Tibet which tells the story of Princess Wenchang. According to some observers, this opera whitewashes Tibet's history and its historical relationship with China.[15]


  1. ^ a b Warner (2011), p. 6.
  2. ^ Slobodník (2006), p. 268.
  3. ^ Dowman (1988), p. 41.
  4. ^ Powers (2004), p. 36.
  5. ^ 旧唐书 列传. 941. pp. 第一百四十六上 吐蕃上. 弄赞大惧,引兵而退,遣使谢罪。因复请婚,太宗许之。弄赞乃遣其相禄东赞致礼,献金五千两,自余宝玩数百事
  6. ^ 旧唐书 列传. 941. pp. 第一百四十六上 吐蕃上. 弄赞大惧,引兵而退,遣使谢罪。因复请婚,太宗许之。弄赞乃遣其相禄东赞致礼,献金五千两,自余宝玩数百事。
  7. ^ Powers (2004), p. 168.
  8. ^ Pan, Yihong. (1997). Son of Heaven and Heavenly Qaghan: Sui-Tang China and Its Neighbors. Bellingham Center for East Asian Studies: Western Washington University.
  9. ^ a b "The Marriage of Wencheng", Women in World History Curriculum.
  10. ^ "The Treasury of Lives: A Biographical Encyclopedia of Tibet, Inner Asia and the Himalayan Region".
  11. ^ Richardson (1985), p. 83
  12. ^ a b Jay (2014), p. 205.
  13. ^ Laird, Thomas (2007). The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama. Grove Press. ISBN 978-0-8021-4327-3.
  14. ^ Helman-Wazny, Agnieszka (2016). Overview of Tibetan Paper and Papermaking: History, Raw Materials, Techniques and Fibre Analysis.
  15. ^ Denyer, Simon (2016). "A romantic opera in Tibet just happens to bolster China's historical position there". The Washington Post.

References and further reading[edit]