A tile mural and stele in the Memorial Hall dedicated to Princess Wencheng in Tibet. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN

Princess Wencheng was the niece of the Chinese emperor Tang Taizong; she was sent to Lhasa to marry the Tibetan king Songzan Gambo. In contemporary China, she is famous as a symbol of “the unity of the nationalities” (minzu tuanjie ????) and credited with the spread of Chinese culture among the Tibetans. She is also the subject of many Tibetan artistic and literary works.

Princess Wencheng was a Chinese princess who married a Tibetan king and became a symbol of intercultural exchange and of the unity of the two nationalities (minzu tuanjie). The Tibetan king Songzan Gambo (reigned 629–650 CE) is the most famous monarch of the ancient kingdom, credited with consolidating royal authority and expanding his territory. He developed a Tibetan script that survives to this day. He introduced Buddhism to Tibet, and the great Jokhang Monastery, which still stands at the center of the capital, Lhasa, dates from his reign.

King Songzan Gambo sent an envoy to the court of Li Shimin (599–649), who reigned as emperor in China from 627 to 649 under the title Tang Taizong, requesting a diplomatic marriage. In 640 Tang Taizong adopted his niece, Princess Wencheng, as his daughter and sent her to Lhasa, where she arrived early the next year.

Like a Nepalese wife whom Songzan Gambo had already married, Princess Wencheng bore him no children (he had offspring by Tibetan wives). But legend claims that a place in the great Potala Palace in Lhasa was their bridal chamber.

Princess Wencheng was a devout Buddhist and probably exerted considerable religious influence on the king. In the holiest innermost part of the Jokhang Monastery stands a statue of Sakyamuni Buddha that is said to be the only surviving Buddha statue dating from the time of Buddha himself and consecrated by him. According to tradition, Princess Wencheng brought this statue from China to Tibet.

Princess Wencheng was reputed to be talented, cultured, well mannered, and versed in divination and other branches of learning. She introduced Tibet to Chinese skills, such as those of the medical doctor and miller, calendar calculation, weaving, pottery, and paper and wine production. Her retinue from China also included thousands of craftsmen. She remained in Tibet after the king died, teaching weaving and embroidery to Tibetan women.

After her death Princess Wencheng was deified in Tibet, and statues of her are still found in Tibetan temples. She became the subject of wall paintings, folksongs, and legends. One of the eight great dramas in the Tibetan tradition is entitled A-lca-rgya-za (Princess Wencheng). Two Tibetan works, one dated to 1388, the other to 1643, record the story in some detail, the latter being closer to the version performed nowadays. Actually this drama is set in the Chinese capital and concerns the successful attempts of the Tibetan envoy in winning a competition for her hand against royals from elsewhere and in overcoming resistance from Tang Taizong to grant the marriage of Princess Wencheng to the Tibetan king. At the end Tang Taizong encourages her to spread Buddhism in Tibet as she leaves for Lhasa at the head of a mighty convoy.

In contemporary Chinese historiography (the writing of history) Princess Wencheng is given an important role in spreading Chinese culture to Tibet. By enhancing the close relationship between Chinese and Tibetans she symbolizes “the unity of the nationalities.” Her marriage with the Tibetan king is considered by some as evidence that Tibet belongs to China.

Further Reading

Princess Wencheng—Bridging the different cultures. (2004). Retrieved December 18, 2007, from

Richardson, H. (1997, Spring). Mun Sheng Kong Co and Kim Sheng Kong Co: Two Chinese princesses in Tibet. The Tibet Journal, 22(1), 3–11.

Wang, Yao. (Ed.). (1986). Tales from Tibetan opera. Beijing: New World Press.

Source: Mackerras, Colin. (2009). Wencheng, Princess. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 2435–2436. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

The temple of Princess Wencheng in Tibet. Prayer flags flutter in the wind outside the temple. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.

Wencheng, Princess (Wénchéng G?ngzh? ????)|Wénchéng G?ngzh? ???? (Wencheng, Princess)

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