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Heqin, also known as marriage alliance, refers to the historical practice of Chinese emperors marrying princesses--usually members of minor branches of the royal family--to rulers of neighboring states.[1] It was often adopted as an appeasement strategy with an enemy state that was too powerful to defeat on the battlefield. The policy was not always effective. It implied an equal diplomatic status between the Chinese emperor and the foreign ruler. As a result, it was controversial and had many critics.[1]

Lou Jing (Chinese: , later granted the royal surname Liu), the architect of the policy, proposed granting the eldest daughter of Emperor Gaozu of Han to the Modu Chanyu of the Xiongnu. His proposal was adopted and implemented with a treaty in 198BC, following the Battle of Baideng two years prior.[2][3]Wang Zhaojun, of the Han dynasty, and Princess Wencheng, of the Tang dynasty, are among the most famous heqin princesses. Heqin was never again practiced by any Han Chinese dynasty after the Tang.

The 20th-century scholar Wang Tonglin praised heqin for facilitating the "melting of races" in China.[4]

Han Dynasty

There were a total of fifteen instances of heqin marriage alliances during the Han Dynasty.[5][3]

Sixteen Kingdoms Period

During the Sixteen Kingdoms period, there were a total of six recorded instances of heqin marriage. Heqin marriage alliances during the Sixteen Kingdoms period differed from those practiced during the Han dynasty in two main ways. First, they involved "real" princesses (ie daughters of emperors or rulers). Second, unlike during the Han Dynasty, when most heqin marriages were aimed at establishing peace with foreign nations, heqin marriages during the Sixteen Kingdoms period were made primarily to settle rivalries and maintain a balance of power between the various states in China at the time.[5]

Southern and Northern Dynasties

During the Southern and Northern Dynasties, China was also divided into many rival states. A complicated system of rivalries and vassalage existed. Heqin marriage was employed as a method to maintain a balance of power or to solidify alliances between states.[5]

During the Southern and Northern Dynasties, there were five instances of heqin marriage.

Sui Dynasty

With the establishment of the Sui dynasty in 581, China was once again unified under one dynasty. Heqin marriage during the Sui Dynasty therefore returned to its original purpose of trying to appease barbarian tribes on China's borders.[5]

There were a total of seven instances of heqin marriage during the Sui Dynasty.

Tang Dynasty

During the Tang Dynasty, heqin marriage alliances were aimed primarily at five major states that bordered Tang China: Tuyuhun, the Tibetan Empire, the Khitans and the allied Kumo Xi, the Uyghur Khaganate, and Nanzhao.[5]

There were a total of twenty-one instances of heqin marriage alliances during the Tang Dynasty, including:

  • 640: Emperor Taizong of Tang marries Princess Honghua (?) to Murong Nuohebo, Khan of Tuyuhun.
  • 641: Emperor Taizong of Tang marries Princess Wencheng to Emperor Songtsän Gampo of the Tibetan Empire.
  • 642: Emperor Taizong proposed the marriage of his fifteenth daughter, Princess Xinxing (?), to Zhenzhu Khan, Khan of Xueyantuo. The heqin was called off.
  • 664: Emperor Gaozong of Tang marries Lady Jincheng (?), the third daughter of Li Dao'en, Prince of Guiji (?), to Prince Sudumomo of Tuyuhun ().
  • 664: Emperor Gaozong marries Lady Jinming (?), the daughter of a Tang imperial clansman, to Prince Talumomo of Tuyuhun ().
  • 698: A daughter of Qapaghan, Khagan of the Second Eastern Turkic Khaganate marries Wu Zetian's great-nephew Wu Chengsi, Prince of Huaiyang ().
  • 703: A daughter of Qapaghan Khagan marries Crown Prince Li Dan's eldest son Li Chengqi, Prince of Song.
  • 709: Empress Wu Zetian marries her great-granddaughter Princess Jincheng (?), the daughter of her grandson Li Shouli, Prince of Bin, to Emperor Me Agtsom of Tibet
  • 712: Emperor Ruizong of Tang marries his granddaughter, Princess Jinshan (?), the daughter of his son Li Chengqi, to Qapaghan Khagan
  • 717: Emperor Xuanzong of Tang marries Princess Yongle (?), the daughter of Yang Yuansi () and a daughter of Li Xu, Prince of Dongping (, son of Li Shen, Prince of Ji , the seventeenth son of Emperor Taizong), to Li Shihuo (), leader of the Khitans.
  • 717: Princess Jianghe (?), the daughter of Ashina Nahuaidao, 10th Khagan of the Western Turkic Khaganate, marries Sulu Khan, Khagan of Turgesh.
  • 722: Emperor Xuanzong of Tang marries Princess Yanjun (?) (surname Murong ()), a Tang "princess", to Khitan prince Li Yuyu ().
  • 726: Emperor Xuanzong marries his niece, Princess Donghua (?, surname Chen ?), to Khitan prince Li Shaogu ().
  • 726: Emperor Xuanzong marries Princess Dongguang (?), the daughter of Emperor Xuanzong's first cousin Li Jijiang, Princess Cheng'an (?) (eighth daughter of Emperor Zhongzong of Tang) and Wei Jie (), to Li Lusu (), ruler of Kumo Xi.
  • 744: Emperor Xuanzong marries Princess Heyi (?), a daughter of Li Can, Magistrate of Gaocheng (), to Axilan Dagan (), King of Ningyuan (?) in the Fergana Valley.
  • 745: Emperor Xuanzong marries his granddaughter, Princess Jingle (?, daughter of his fifteenth daughter Princess Xincheng ? and Dugu Ming ), to Khitan prince Li Huaixiu ().
  • 745: Emperor Xuanzong marries Princess Yifang (?), daughter of Princess Changning (?, daughter of Emperor Zhongzong of Tang) and Yang Shenjiao (), to Khitan prince Li Yanchong ()
  • 756: Princess Pijia (?), daughter of Bayanchur, Khagan of the Uyghur Khaganate, marries Li Chengcai (), Prince of Dunhuang (), son of Li Shouli, Prince of Bin.

Song dynasty

The Khitan Liao dynasty asked for a Song princess to marry the Liao Emperor in the negotiations leading up to the Chanyuan Treaty but the Song dynasty refused to give a princess. The Jurchen Jin dynasty later rebelled against the Liao dynasty, sacked and destroyed the Khitan Liao supreme capital and burned the ancestral tombs of the Liao Emperors. Emperor Tianzuo of Liao was executed by the Jurchens during a polo match. Khitan Liao royal princesses from the Yelü family and Xiao family were also distributed to Jurchen Jin princes as concubine. Jurchen Prince Wanyan Liang married the Khitan women Lady Xiao (), Consort Chen ()Lady Yelü (), Consort Li () Lady Yelü (), Consort Rou () and Lady Yelü (), Zhaoyuan (). The Jurchens then attacked the Northern Song dynasty in the Jingkang incident and seized a large number of the Song imperial family. Song princesses were married off to Jurchen princes such as Emperor Xizong of Jin. The Song male Chinese princes who were captured were given Khitan women to marry from the Liao dynasty palace by the Jin Jurchens, who had also defeated and conquered the Khitan. The original Chinese wives of the Song princes were confiscated and replaced with Khitan ones. One of the Song Emperor Huizong's sons was given a Khitan consort from the Liao palace and another one of his sons was given a Khitan princess by the Jin at the Jin Supreme capital. The Jin Jurchens continued to give new wives to the captured Song royals, the grandsons and sons of Song Emperor Huizong after they took away their original Chinese wives.[6] The Jin Jurchens told the Chinese Song royals that they were fortunate because the Liao Khitan royals were being treated much worse by the Jurchen than the Song Chinese royals, Jurchen soldiers were given the children of the Liao Khitan Tianzuo Emperor as gifts while the Song Emperor was allowed to keep his children while he was in captivity.[7]

Yuan dynasty

The Jurchen Jin Emperor Wanyan Yongji's daughter Princess Qiguo was married to Genghis Khan in exchange for relieving the Mongol siege upon Zhongdu (Beijing) in the Mongol conquest of the Jin dynasty.[8]

The Southern Song Han Chinese Emperor Gong of Song (personal name Zhao Xian) surrendered to the Yuan dynasty Mongols in 1276 and was married off to a Mongol princess of the royal Borjigin family of the Yuan dynasty. Zhao Xian had one son with the Borjigin Mongol woman, Zhao Wanpu. Zhao Xian's son Zhao Wanpu was kept alive by the Mongols because of his mother's royal Mongolian Borjigin ancestry even after Zhao Xian was ordered killed by the Mongol Emperor Yingzong. Instead Zhao Wanpu was only moved and exiled. The outbreak of the Song loyalist Red Turban Rebellion in Henan led to a recommendation that Zhao Wanpu should be transferred somewhere else by an Imperial Censor in 1352. The Yuan did not want the Chinese rebels to get their hands on Zhao Wanpu so no one was permitted to see him and Zhao Wanpu's family and himself were exiled to Shazhou near the border by the Yuan Emperor. Paul Pelliot and John Andrew Boyle commented on Rashid-al-Din Hamadani's chapter The Successors of Genghis Khan in his work Jami' al-tawarikh, identified references by Rashid al-Din to Zhao Xian in his book where he mentions a Chinese ruler who was an "emir" and son-in-law to the Qan (Khan) after being removed from his throne by the Mongols and he is also called "Monarch of Song", or Suju ( Songzhu) in the book.[9]

Ming dynasty

The Oirat leader Esen Taishi captured the Chinese Ming dynasty Zhengtong Emperor. Esen Taishi tried to force the Zhengtong Emperor to marry Esen's sister in a heqin marriage[10] and then placing him back in Beijing with his new wife.[11][12][13] The emperor rejected the marriage proposal.[14]

A Mongol account in the Altan Tobchi said that Zhengtong Emperor had a son with a Mongol woman he married while he was prisoner.[15]

A Mongol girl was given in marriage by the Gün-bilig-mergen Mongol Ordos leader Rinong (Jinong) to a Han Chinese, Datong Army officer Wang Duo's (Wang To) son Wang San because Rinong wanted to hold on to Wang San and make him stay with the Mongols. The Ming arrested and executed Wang San in 1544 because Mongol soldiers were being guided by Wang San. Builders, carpenters, officers, and important prisoners such as the Ming Zhengtong Emperor often received Mongol wives.[16]


The Xiongnu practiced marriage alliances with Han dynasty officers and officials who defected to their side. The older sister of the Chanyu (the Xiongnu ruler) was married to the Xiongnu General Zhao Xin, the Marquis of Xi who was serving the Han dynasty. The daughter of the Chanyu was married to the Han Chinese General Li Ling after he surrendered and defected.[17][18][19][20] The Yenisei Kirghiz Khagans claimed descent from Li Ling.[21][22] Another Han Chinese General who defected to the Xiongnu was Li Guangli who also married a daughter of the Chanyu.[23]

Northern Wei

The Xianbei Tuoba royal family of Northern Wei started to arrange for Han Chinese elites to marry daughters of the royal family in the 480s.[24] More than fifty percent of Tuoba Xianbei princesses of the Northern Wei were married to southern Han Chinese men from the imperial families and aristocrats from southern China of the Southern dynasties who defected and moved north to join the Northern Wei.[25] Some Han Chinese exiled royalty fled from southern China and defected to the Xianbei. Several daughters of the Xianbei Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei were married to Han Chinese elites, the Han Chinese Liu Song royal Liu Hui , married Princess Lanling ? of the Northern Wei,[26][27][28][29][30][31] Princess Huayang ? to Sima Fei , a descendant of Jin dynasty (265-420) royalty, Princess Jinan ? to Lu Daoqian , Princess Nanyang to Xiao Baoyin , a member of Southern Qi royalty.[32]Emperor Xiaozhuang of Northern Wei's sister the Shouyang Princess was wedded to The Liang dynasty ruler Emperor Wu of Liang's son Xiao Zong .[33]

When the Eastern Jin dynasty ended Northern Wei received the Jin prince Sima Chuzhi ? as a refugee. A Northern Wei Princess married Sima Chuzhi, giving birth to Sima Jinlong ?. Northern Liang Xiongnu King Juqu Mujian's daughter married Sima Jinlong.[34]


The Rouran Khaganate arranged for one of their princesses, Khagan Yujiulü Anagui's daughter Princess Ruru ? to be married to the Han Chinese ruler Gao Huan of the Eastern Wei.[35][36]

Turkic Khaganate

The Kingdom of Gaochang was made out of Han Chinese colonists and ruled by the Han Chinese[37][38] Qu family which originated from Gansu.[39] Jincheng commandery (Lanzhou), district of Yuzhong was the home of the Qu Jia.[40] The Qu family was linked by marriage alliances to the Turks, with a Turk being the grandmother of King Qu Boya's.[41][42]

Uighur Ganzhou Kingdom

The Chinese Cao family ruling Guiyi Circuit established marriage alliances with the Uighurs of the Ganzhou Kingdom, with both the Cao rulers marrying Uighur princesses and with Cao princesses marrying Uighur rulers. The Ganzhou Uighur Khagan's daughter was married to Cao Yijin in 916.[43][44][45]

Kingdom of Khotan

A daughter of the King of Khotan married to the ruler of Dunhuang, Cao Yanlu, is here shown wearing elaborate headdress decorated with jade pieces. Mural in Mogao Cave 61, Five Dynasties.

The Chinese Cao family ruling Guiyi Circuit established marriage alliances with the Saka Kingdom of Khotan, with both the Cao rulers marrying Khotanese princesses and with Cao princesses marrying Khotanese rulers. A Khotanese princess who was the daughter of the King of Khotan married Cao Yanlu.[46]

Liao dynasty

The Khitan Liao dynasty arranged for women from the Khitan royal consort Xiao clan to marry members of the Han Chinese Han ? clan, which originated in Jizhou before being abducted by the Khitan and becoming part of the Han Chinese elite of the Liao.[47][48][49]

Han Chinese Geng family intermarried with the Khitan and the Han ? clan provided two of their women as wives to Geng Yanyi and the second one was the mother of Geng Zhixin.[50] Empress Rende's sister, a member of the Xiao clan, was the mother of Han Chinese General Geng Yanyi.[51]

Han Durang (Yelu Longyun) was the father of Queen dowager of State Chen, who was the wife of General Geng Yanyi and buried with him in his tomb in Zhaoyang in Liaoning.[52] His wife was also known as "Madame Han".[53] The Geng's tomb is located in Liaoning at Guyingzi in Chaoying.[54][55]

Lý dynasty Vietnam

The Lý dynasty which ruled Dai Viet (Vietnam) married its princesses off to regional rivals to establish alliances with them. One of these marriages was between a Lý princess (Lý Chiêu Hoàng) and a member of the Chinese Tr?n (Chen) clan (Tr?n Thái Tông), which enabled the Tr?n to then topple the Lý and established their own Tr?n dynasty.[56][57]

A Lý princess also married into the H? family, which was also of Chinese origin and later established the H? dynasty which also took power after having a Tran princess marry one of their members, H? Quý Ly.[58][59]

Qing dynasty

The preferred marriage partners for imperial daughters in Qing dynasty was Mongols rather than Chinese. More than 58 percent of imperial son-in-law were Mongols.[60] The Manchus considered Mongols as their "brother state" since they shared similar values. In early period of Qing, a large amount of intermarriage between the two groups happened, and the Manchu rulers used this tie to gain the military support of Mongolia. The marriage also benefited the Qing Dynasty in expanding its empire to the best during the first decades. The marriage between Manchu princesses and Mongol princes continued to the end of Qing Dynasty, although becoming less prominent after the 18th century due to the decline of Mongolia's political and military influence.[60]

Han Chinese Generals who defected to the Manchu in early Qing were sometimes married to imperial daughters, although this is much less frequent than the case where Aisin Giroro women married to Mongolian aristocrats or other Manchu elite. Unlike the marriage between Manchu and Mongolians that lasted throughout the Qing Dynasty, the marriages between Emperor's daughters and Han Generals ceased before 1750.[60]

The Manchu Imperial Aisin Gioro clan practiced marriage alliances with Han Chinese Ming Generals and Mongol princes. Aisin Gioro women were married to Han Chinese Generals who defected to the Manchu side during the Manchu conquest of China. The Manchu leader Nurhaci married one of his granddaughters, a daughter of Abatai, to the Ming General Li Yongfang ,[61][62][63][64] the ancestor of Li Shiyao .[65][66][67] The offspring of Li received the "Third Class Viscount" (?; s?n d?ng z?jué) title[68] after he surrendered Fushun in Liaoning to the Manchu in 1618 and a mass marriage of Han Chinese officers and officials to Manchu women numbering 1,000 couples was arranged by Prince Yoto (Prince Keqin) and Hongtaiji in 1632 to promote harmony between the two ethnic groups.[69][70] Aisin Gioro women were married to the sons of the Han Chinese Generals Sun Sike (Sun Ssu-k'o) , Geng Jimao (Keng Chi-mao), Shang Kexi (Shang K'o-hsi), and Wu Sangui (Wu San-kuei).[71]

The "Dolo efu" ? rank was given to husbands of Qing princesses. Geng Zhongming, a Han bannerman, was awarded the title of Prince Jingnan, and his son Geng Jingmao managed to have both his sons Geng Jingzhong and Geng Zhaozhong become court attendants under the Shunzhi Emperor and get married to Aisin Gioro women, with Prince Abatai's granddaughter marrying Geng Zhaozhong and Haoge's (a son of Hong Taiji) daughter marrying Geng Jingzhong.[72] A daughter of the Manchu Aisin Gioro Prince Yolo (Prince An) was wedded to Geng Juzhong who was another son of Geng Jingmao.[73]

The 4th daughter of Kangxi () was wedded to the son () of the Han Chinese Sun Sike (Sun Ssu-k'o) .[74]

Imperial Duke Who Assists the State () Aisin Gioro Suyan's () daughter was married to Han Chinese Banner General Nian Gengyao.[75][76][77] She was Manchu Prince Ajige's great-great-granddaughter.[78]

Manchu Prince Aisin Gioro Yuntang's fourth daughter married Han Chinese Bannerman Zhao Shiyang () in 1721. Manchu Prince Aisin Gioro Yunsi's first daughter married Han Chinese Bannerman Sun Wufu () in July/August 1724. Manchu Prince Aisin Gioro Yunzhi, Prince Zhi's second daughter married Han Chinese Bannerman Li Shu'ao () in September/October 1707 and his fourth daughter married Han Chinese Bannerman Sun Cheng'en () in February/March 1710.

Joseon Korea

After the Qing invasion of Joseon, Joseon Korea was forced to give several of their royal princesses as concubines to the Qing Manchu regent Prince Dorgon.[79][80][81][82][83][84][85] In 1650, Dorgon married the Korean Princess Uisun ().[86] She was a collateral branches of the Korean royal family, and daughter of Yi Gae-yun ().[87] Dorgon married two Korean princesses at Lianshan.[88]

Nguyen Lords in Vietnam

The Cambodian King Chey Chettha II married the Vietnamese Nguy?n lord Princess Nguy?n Th? Ng?c V?n, a daughter of Lord Nguy?n Phúc Nguyên, in 1618.[89][90] In return, the king granted the Vietnamese the right to establish settlements in Mô Xoài (now Bà R?a), in the region of Prey Nokor--which they colloquially referred to as Sài Gòn, and which later became Ho Chi Minh City.[91][92]

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