A Miscarriage of History: Wencheng Gongzhu and Sino-Tibetan Historiography

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    In this article, I examine how Wencheng Gonghzu, the Chinese consort to the first Tibetan emperor Songtsen Gampo, served as a contentious rhetorical site for Tibetan and Chinese historiographers for over 1,000 years. I argue present exile Tibetan and Chinese propaganda on such topics as Tibetan political, cultural, and hereditary independence from China is at least analogous and possibly influenced by historiographic traditions found in texts such as the Tang Annals and post-imperial Tibetan Buddhist works like the Vase-shaped Pillar Testament. However, as Central Tibetan and Chinese historians used Wencheng to index the complex relationship between Tibet and China, Eastern Tibetan historians preserved lesser-known, potentially subversive narratives of Wencheng's travels, especially regarding her possible love-affair with the Tibetan minister Gar Tongtsen and their illegitimate child. After briefly reviewing Central Tibetan and Chinese metanarratives, I focus on Eastern Tibetan narratives, including the apparently lost Secret Autobiography of Wencheng Gongzhu, which I argue point to the former political autonomy, and cultural hybridity of areas of Eastern Tibet, especially Minyak and Powo. My investigation into Wencheng-narratives from Eastern Tibet demonstrates that her journey from China to Tibet should not be thought of a mere liminal period of her life, but rather central to debates among Tibetans and Chinese regarding the politics of national unity (minzu tuanjie) and constructions of pan-Tibetan identity.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalInner Asia
    Pages (from-to)239-264
    Number of pages26
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


    • Wencheng
    • hybridity
    • historiography
    • China
    • Tibet


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