Princess Wencheng was sent by China’s Emperor Taizong to Tubo, now known as Tibet, to marry the ruler, Songtsan Gambo, and ensure peace between the two kingdoms. Emperor Taizong felt that it was necessary to strengthen the bond with Tubo, so he tried his best to assist them economically and culturally by sending a large number of books, musical instruments, cymbals, and grain seeds along with a team of scribes, musicians, and agricultural technicians to accompany the princess. Thus, Princess Wencheng began to impart the etiquette and culture of the Han people to the Tubo kingdom.
One of the traditional customs Tubo people practiced was the use of ochre soil to coat the cheeks every day to ward off evil spirits. Princess Wencheng carefully examined this habit and thought that it was unreasonable and unhygienic. She carefully offered her opinion to Songtsan Gambo. After listening to her, Songtsan found her advice very reasonable and immediately abolished the custom. At first, people were not used to it, but slowly felt that it was more convenient and made them good-looking. Soon everyone accepted it.
After settling down into her new life, Princess Wencheng’s Han musicians began to play the most popular music in the Tang Palace for Songtsan Gambo and his wife. The music was soothing and beautiful. Moved by its tranquillity, Songtsan Gambo chose a group of qualified and intelligent young people to learn from the Han musicians and soon the music of the Han people gradually spread throughout the Tubo territory.
The Han scribes also began to help sort out the literature of Tubo and recorded the important talks between Songtsan and his ministers so that the politics of Tubo went from its colloquial form and became formalized. Songtsan Gambo was delighted and asked the ministers and the nobles to become sincere students of the Tang scribes and learn the Han culture. Later, he sent groups of aristocratic children to travel to Chang’an and enter the Tang Dynasty to learn and bring the Han culture back to Tubo.
The agricultural technicians planted the grain seeds of the Central Plains on the fertile soil of the plateau of Tubo and then carefully irrigated, fertilized, and weeded. At the harvest season, the strong crops with amazing high yields surprised the Tubo people who had not previously managed their own crops well so that the output was usually extremely low. Under the order of Songtsan Gambo and Princess Wencheng, the agricultural technicians began to systematically teach the Tubo people about agricultural technology so that they could harvest an abundance of food while they were nomadic. In particular, the technique of mulberry sericulture was passed on to them so that Tubo gradually developed homemade silks to beautify the life of the Tubo people.
Princess Wencheng carefully observed the public sentiments of Tubo and then made suggestions to help her husband govern the country. She participated in the management of the country behind the scenes. During major political decisions, she only put forward her own views and did not try to interfere. Hence, Songtsan Gambo and the ministers often asked her about the political system of the Tang Palace as a reference for their administration. The Tubo people even saw her as a goddess.
In the 23rd year of the Zhenguan Period, the Tang Emperor Taizong died, and the Prince’s position was take up by Tang Gaozong. He appointed Songtsan Gambo as Commandant and gave him the name of the King of West Sea County. Tang Gaozong asked his special envoy to send a large amount of gold and silver, enamel, poetry, and grain, along with particular ornaments and cosmetics to Princess Wencheng, as a reward for bringing harmony between them.
Songtsan Gambo was grateful and offered many different jewels to put in front of Taizong’s memorial to express the grief and respect of Tubo. Tang Gaozong was very moved, so he promoted Songtsan to be the Bing King and sent him more than 3,000 colored silks. The Tubo messenger went to Chang’an and asked Gaozong for the techniques of winemaking, milling rice, and making paper and ink. Tang Gaozong agreed to pass on everything. Princess Wencheng had cemented the relationship between the Tang Kingdom and Tubo.
Due to Songtsan Gambo and Princess Wencheng’s efforts, Tubo achieved rapid development in military, political, economic, cultural, and other aspects, and thus dominated the Western Region and became a powerful barrier that protected the Western Tang Dynasty.
In the first year of Emperor Gaozong of Yongzong, Princess Wencheng died in Luoxie City. The Tubo people created a temple to commemorate her. Some of the artisans who came with her were always treated with generous courtesy. After they died, they were buried on either side of Princess Wencheng’s tomb. Even today, Princess Wencheng and these friendly messengers are still regarded as gods by Tibetans.
Part One can be found here
Translated by Judy Yang and edited by Helen