Wencheng – The Chinese Princess who became Tibet’s beloved Queen




Queen Wencheng is one of Tibet’s most beloved queens. She was a Tang Dynasty princess and married King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet as part of a marital alliance. She brought many Chinese customs to Tibet, such as agriculture, architecture, and music. Yet, her greatest contribution was spreading Buddhism throughout Tibet. Thus, Queen Wencheng remains a popular icon in both China and Tibet. In Tibet, her arrival and her birthday are still being celebrated.

Queen Wencheng (also known by the Tibetan name, Mun-sen Kon-co) was born around 623 C.E.[1] She was a member of a minor branch of the Li imperial family.[2] Her father was Li Daozong, a cousin of Emperor Taizong. She was adopted and raised by Emperor Taizong of Tang.[3] Emperor Taizong gave his adopted daughter the rank of Princess and educated her in Confucian classical texts.[4] 

In 640 C.E., King Songtsen Gampo (the founder of Tibet) asked Emperor Taizong for a Chinese bride.[5] This was to exchange cultures between Tibet and China.[6] Emperor Taizong also saw the benefits of a marital alliance between Tibet and China.[7] It would secure peace along the borders of China and Tibet.[8] He agreed to the marriage alliance and made Princess Wencheng King Songtsen Gampo’s bride.

In 641 C.E., Princess Wencheng left the capital of Chang’an and journeyed to Lhasa to become Tibet’s Queen.[9] Before she left, Emperor Taizong instructed her in the role she was to play as Queen of Tibet.[10] She was to bring China’s culture and religion to Tibet.[11] She was also to foster good relations between the two countries.[12] Thus, Princess Wencheng understood that she was China’s ambassador in Tibet.[13] Emperor Taizong also gave her silk clothing, jewellery, books (many of which would be housed in Tibetan libraries), and furniture.[14] He also gave her seed-grains and farming equipment that the Tibetans would find useful when they adopted Chinese methods of agriculture and the use of the Chinese lunar calendar.[15] Emperor Taizong also sent instruments that would later inspire Tibetan music.[16] Emperor Taizong also sent artisans who were skilled in science and technology. This would also prove beneficial to the Tibetans, for they would learn how to make paper, weave textiles, make pottery, learn architecture, and ferment wine.[17] Yet, the greatest gift that Emperor Taizong sent to accompany Princess Wencheng was a bronze statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha.[18]

Princess Wencheng was escorted on her journey by Li Daocheng, who was one of her imperial relatives.[19] When she arrived in Tibet, the Tibetans welcomed her by giving her gifts of yaks, cattle, horses, and boats.[20] They also provided her retinue drinks, food, and songs welcoming the Princess to their country.[21] A month after leaving Chang’an, she finally met her groom, King Songtsen Gampo, near Lake Zalin.[22] He accompanied her to Lhasa. He took her to the grand Potala palace that had a thousand rooms (later, it would be the home of the Dalai Lama).[23] They were married in the Guanyin temple.[24] After they were married, King Songtsen Gampo bestowed on her the status of Queen.[25]

Queen Wencheng did not bear King Songtsen Gampo any children.[26] King Songtsen Gampo had four other wives. His four wives were a Princess of Nepal and three other women from Tibet.[27] It would be King Songtsen Gampo’s three Tibetan wives who would have sons to continue his dynasty.[28] Even though she remained childless, Queen Wencheng still changed Tibetan culture through her gifts that she brought with her from China. The Tibetans gave up their nomadic way of life and embraced the Chinese culture.[29] They no longer lived in tents but lived in houses of Chinese architecture.[30] They adopted Chinese agriculture and used the Chinese lunar calendar.[31] They used Chinese stringed instruments.[32] They adopted the Chinese postal service that proved a quicker way of communicating in the country.[33] Many nobles in Tibet also adopted silk clothing.[34] Because they knew how to make paper, King Songtsen Gampo created a new writing system in Tibet based on Sanskrit.[35] This writing system helped the Tibetans write laws, court records, and Buddhist scriptures.[36] They also established trade between Tang China and Tibet.[37] Ever since Queen Wencheng’s arrival, Tibet was never the same.

Queen Wencheng’s greatest contribution to Tibet was spreading Buddhism throughout Tibet.[38] Before Buddhism, the Tibetans practiced a local religion called Bon in which they believed in magic and demons.[39] When Queen Wencheng arrived in Tibet, she built the Jokhang Buddhist temple where she housed her Sakyamuni Buddha statue.[40] She and King Songtsen Gampo planted willow trees in front of the temple.[41] This temple proved so popular among the Tibetans that they abandoned their religion of Bon and began to adopt Buddhism.[42] The Jokhang Buddhist Temple can still be seen today.[43]

In 649 C.E., Emperor Taizong died, and King Songtsen Gampo and Queen Wencheng were greatly saddened. King Songtsen Gampo sent sacrificial offerings for his funeral.[44] He also sent a letter to the new Emperor, Gaozong, assuring him of his loyalty and would aid China militarily whenever they needed help.[45] Emperor Gaozong was grateful to King Songtsen Gampo and gave him the position of Magistrate of Xihai.[46]  A year later in 650 C.E., King Songtsen Gamp died. Emperor Gaozong was saddened by his death. He sent an eminent court official to attend the Tibetan King’s funeral and to pay his condolences to Queen Wencheng.[47] Queen Wencheng asked Emperor Gaozong to provide a Tang Princess for the new King of Tibet.[48] He ignored the request.[49] It would be another fifty-seven years before the Tang Dynasty would send another princess to Tibet. It would be Princess Jincheng who married Emperor Tride Tsuktsen of Tibet in 707 C.E.[50]

Queen Wencheng never went back to Tang China. She lived in Tibet for forty years.[51] She died in 680 C.E. The Tibetans greatly mourned her death and gave her a funeral that no Tibetan woman ever had before.[52] Her good deeds are recited and recorded. She still remains loved by both China and Tibet today. The dates of her arrival and birthday are still celebrated in Tibet every year.[53] Her story has been told for centuries through plays and songs in both China and Tibet.[54] Tibetans will always remember their Queen and the contributions she has made to help strengthen her adopted country.

Sources:

Peterson, B.B. (2015). “Princess Wencheng”. Notable Women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century. (B. B. Peterson, Ed.). London: Routledge.

Jay, J.W. (2014). “Li, Princess Wencheng.” Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women, Volume II: Tang Through Ming 618 – 1644. (L. X. H. Lee, Ed.; A. D. Stefanowska, Ed.; S. Wiles, Ed.). NY: Routledge.

Yuan, H. (2008). Princess Peacock: Tales from Other Peoples of China. (Z. Chunde. Fwd.) Westport: CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.


[1] Jay, p. 204

[2] Peterson, p. 186

[3] Peterson, p. 186

[4] Peterson, p. 186

[5] Yuan, p. 168

[6] Peterson, p. 186

[7] Yuan, p. 168

[8] Yuan, p. 168

[9] Jay, p 204

[10] Peterson, p. 187

[11] Peterson, p. 187

[12] Peterson, p. 187

[13] Peterson, p. 187

[14] Peterson, p. 187

[15] Peterson, p. 189

[16] Peterson, p. 189

[17] Peterson, pp. 188-189

[18] Peterson, p. 187

[19] Peterson, p. 187

[20] Peterson, p. 187

[21] Peterson, p. 187

[22] Peterson, p. 187

[23] Peterson, p. 188

[24] Peterson, p. 188

[25] Jay, p. 204

[26] Peterson, p. 188

[27] Peterson, p. 188

[28] Peterson, p. 188

[29] Peterson, p. 188

[30] Peterson, p. 188

[31] Peterson, p. 189

[32] Peterson, p. 189

[33] Peterson, p. 189

[34] Peterson, p. 188

[35] Peterson, p. 189

[36] Peterson, p. 189

[37] Peterson, p. 189

[38] Jay, p. 205

[39] Peterson, p. 188

[40] Peterson, p. 188

[41] Yuan, p. 170

[42] Peterson, p. 188

[43] Yuan, p. 170

[44] Peterson, p. 189

[45] Peterson, p. 189

[46] Peterson, p. 189

[47] Peterson, p. 189

[48] Jay, p. 204

[49] Jay, p. 204

[50] Jay, p. 204

[51] Peterson, p. 190

[52] Peterson, p. 190

[53] Peterson, p. 190

[54] Jay, p. 205






About Lauralee Jacks 98 Articles
I am a third grade elementary teacher in Tennessee. I have a bachelor’s degree in Liberal and Civic Studies from St. Mary’s College of California, a master’s in Elementary Education from the University of Phoenix, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the College of Saint Mary. Because my family are from East Asia, I have a passion for historical Chinese and Korean television shows. I always wanted to separate fact from fiction in dramas. Writing articles from History of Royal Women gives me a chance to dig deeper and explore these royal women as they might have been in real life. Also, it gives me a chance to look at the history and culture of where my family originated. I love researching East Asian royalty because they rarely get enough attention in the West often being overshadowed by European royalty. I find these royal women to be just as fascinating and their stories deserve to be told. Thus, I am excited to write for History of Royal Women!

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