The Cultural Ambassador Princess Wencheng (Part 1)

Tang Taizong accepted Songtsan Gambo’s request and selected a daughter from his clan to be appointed as Princess Wencheng. (Image:  Secret China)
Tang Taizong accepted Songtsan Gambo’s request and selected a daughter from his clan to be appointed as Princess Wencheng. (Image: Secret China)

In the 7th century A.D., Tibetan prince Songtsan Gambo became the successor to the Tibetan royal throne. After unifying many tribes, he established a strong kingdom around the capital of Lhasa.

In the 12th year of Emperor Taizong’s reign, Song Zanganbu led the Tibetan army to attack Sichuan in western China. The emperor sent General Hou Jun to repel the invasion; his troops brought Tibet under their control. The defeated Songtsan Gambo had to bow down to the court and pleaded guilty for his aggression. He even proposed the establishment of marital ties as an expression of loyalty to the Chinese Tang Dynasty.

Emperor Taizong accepted Songtsan Gambo’s request. He selected a daughter from his clan and appointed her Princess Wencheng (文成公主), a title meaning “establishing culture.” Wencheng was the daughter of an aristocratic family. She was dignified, mature, and literate, reading poetry since childhood. Though apprehensive about life in the faraway land of Tibet, she was also filled with curiosity, so she accepted the proposal. One winter, Princess Wencheng left for Tibet, escorted by a large troupe of attendants and guards.

In the 7th century AD, Qizong Nongtsan, also known as Songtsan Gambo, became the successor of the Tubo kingdom. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

In the 7th century A.D., Tibetan prince Songtsan Gambo became the successor of the Tibetan royal throne. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

It took over a month for the procession to travel from the Tang imperial capital at Chang’an to Tibet. In addition to her sizeable dowry, Wencheng’s soldiers also carried a large number of books, musical instruments, cymbals, and grain seeds. Among her servants were a team of scribes, musicians, and agricultural technicians. They were, in effect, on a cultural mission.

Leading his soldiers personally, Songtsan Gambo went to Heyuan to meet the princess and her entourage. The Tibetan king was immediately smitten when he saw the princess’s delicate and feminine features, which contrasted with the sturdier looks of the local women. Wencheng, for her part, found Songtsan Gambo primitive and rough, but when she took note of his tall build, strong body, and valiant personality, which he expressed through a bold temperament, the princess rejoiced to herself that she was marrying a good husband.

Tibetan King Srongtsong Gampo and his wives, Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal (left) and Princess Wencheng of China (right). (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Tibetan King Songtsan Gampo and his wives, Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal (left) and Princess Wencheng of China (right). (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Escorted by the two military units, Princess Wencheng and Songtsan Gambo entered the city of Lhasa together for the grand wedding, which was held in accordance with the etiquette of the Han people. The people of Lhasa sang and danced to celebrate the great occasion.

Songtsan Gambo said to his entourage: “For my father and my entire clan, there is no precedent for such a marital alliance to a mighty country. Today, it is my great fortune to marry a princess of the Tang empire, so I have decided to build a magnificent palace for her to show our children.”

Soon, a beautiful palace was built, and everything inside looked magnificent. The interior was modeled to mirror the palaces of the Tang Dynasty, which the king hoped would help Wencheng settle into her new home and alleviate her homesickness. To show his closeness to her, Songtsan Gambo took off the leather jacket that he was fond of wearing and changed into the silken Tang robe that the princess sewed for him personally. He also began to learn the Chinese language. In this way, the inter-ethnic couple began their new life together with harmony and respect.

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