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Princess Wencheng

Statues of Songtsen Gampo (centre), Princess Wencheng (right), and Bhrikuti of Nepal (left)
Died680 or 682
Songtsen Gampo
Full name
Family name: Li (李)
Given name:

Princess Wencheng is an ancient historical figure who holds great significance in China proper and Tibet (which are both currently parts of the People's Republic of China). According to modern Chinese propaganda, she is responsible for bringing civilization to a previously barbaric Tibet and for establishing a lasting peace and unity between the peoples of China and Tibet. As such, Princess Wencheng, regardless of her true historical significance, is a part of the greater Sinicization phenomenon and has now been transformed into a political tool used to justify the Sinicization of Tibet.

According to Chinese history, Princess Wencheng (Tibetan: Mun Chang Kungchu; Chinese: 文成公主; pinyin: Wénchéng Gōngzhǔ; Wade–Giles: Wen-ch'eng Kung-chu; 628–680/2[1]), surnamed Li, was a member of a minor branch of the royal clan of the Tang Dynasty (daughter of Li Daozong, the Prince of Jiangxia). She allegedly 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]

Chinese nationalists credit Princess Wencheng for introducing civilization (of a Chinese extraction) to Tibet, including the religion of Buddhism.[4] Conversely, Nepalese nationalists credit Songtsen Gampo's Nepalese wife, Bhrikuti, for introducing Buddhism to Tibet.[5][6] Some Tibetan historians consider both Princess Wencheng and Bhrikuti to be physical manifestations of the bodhisattva Tara.[7]

Chinese accounts of Princess Wencheng


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.[citation needed] He then sent a written expressed apology to the Tang Emperor.[citation needed] The Tang Emperor upon seeing Songtsen Gampo’s sincerity, then agreed to marry the princess to the Tibetan king.[8][citation needed]


Allegedly, 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][citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

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

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.[citation needed]

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.[10][citation needed]

Introducing civilization claims

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 credit Princess Wencheng for introducing Tibet with other skills in metallurgy, farming, weaving, construction, manufacturing of paper and ink as well as developing the Tibetan alphabet and writing system.[citation needed]

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]

Princess Wencheng as propaganda

Princess Wencheng is used as a political tool to justify the Sinicization of Tibet in the People's Republic of China. Claims about Princess Wencheng generally credit her with bringing civilization to Tibet.

Since the 2000s, the Chinese state has been presenting an historical drama in Tibet which outlines the history of Tibet and especially the history of Chinese influence in the region. The drama seems to focus on the life and legacy of Princess Wencheng, depicting her relationship with King Songtsen Gampo and all of the cultural influences which she allegedly had on Tibet.[11]

The historical drama about Princess Wencheng is considered by analysts to be a deliberate attempt by the Chinese state to rewrite and eradicate Tibetan history and culture.[12][13]


  1. ^ a b Warner (2011), p. 6.
  2. ^ Slobodník (2006), p. 268.
  3. ^ Dowman (1988), p. 41.
  4. ^ Powers (2004), p. 32.
  5. ^ Laird (2007), p. 35.
  6. ^ Powers (2004), p. 35.
  7. ^ Powers (2004), p. 36.
  8. ^ Powers (2004), p. 168.
  9. ^ a b "The Marriage of Wencheng", Women in World History Curriculum.
  10. ^ Jay (2014), p. 205.
  11. ^ Denyer, Simon (2016). "A romantic opera in Tibet just happens to bolster China's historical position there". The Washington Post.
  12. ^ "Multi-million dollar propaganda spectacle opens in a Lhasa under lockdown". Save 2013.
  13. ^ "China-Tibet Propaganda Opera Staged During Olympics". VOA News. 2009.

References and further reading