Tibet and the Tang and Song dynasties

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Meeting tablet of Tang and Tibet Tang-Tibetan alliance stele.jpg
Meeting tablet of Tang and Tibet

This article elaborates on the historical relationship development between imperial China and Tibetan regime in Tang and Song dynasty. For detailed information of the history of Tibetan regime, see Tibetan regime.


The history of the relationship between Tang, Song and Tibetan regime is a diplomatic history between central China and Tibetan regime.

Tang Dynasty

Although some materials show that Tibet has long been established as a political entity, no concrete historical evidence has recorded the situation before the end of the sixth century. In the late period of sixth century A.D, the leader of a tribe called Yalongxibuye in Shannan Prefecture of Tibet, Namri Songtsen, started to launch a unification war and then conquered a tribe named Supi. Thereafter Songzain Gambo, the son of Namri Songtsen established capital in Luoxie after defeating the tribe of Yangtong, Bailan, Dangxiang and Fuguo successively, building a strong Tibet kingdom then, which made him be regarded as the first person who has successfully united Tibet. Tang dynasty, at that time, was also in its prime. In the year of 630 A.D, Li Shi-min, the second emperor of Tang, was called respectfully as Heavenly king by leaders from western areas of China. Since then, Tang and Tibet started an unavoidable relationship in economy, politics and other areas. [1]

Envoys sent by Songzain Gambo came to central China to pursue a friendly relationship with Tang in the 8th year of Zhenguan (the reign title of Li Shi-min), [2] i.e. 634A.D, bringing back officials of Tang entering and settling down in Tibet. In 636A.D, Songzan Gambo invaded Tuyuhun, a vassal country of Tang, in an excuse of attributing the decline of political marriage proposal by Tang to Tuyuhun. Tang entitled Hou Jun-ji, the minister of official personnel affair department, to the Chief Administer of Dangmi Vennue; Zhi shi Si-li, the Leading General of the Right, to the Chief Administer of Bailan Vennue; Niu Jin-da, the military defense general of left, to the Chief Administer of Kuoshui Venue; Liu Jian, the Leading General of the Left, the Chief of Taohe Vennue, to lead the army of Tang to defend Tuyuhan. [3] Songzan Gambo was frightened after being defeated by the spearhead of Tang led by Niu Jin-da and therefore withdrew his army from Tuyuhun, Dang Xiang and Baiyuqiang before the arrival of the principal force led by Hou, sending envoys to Tang to apologize for the attack .

The First political marriage between Tang and Tibet

Songzan Gambo then decided to change the marriage proposal into a peaceful one after seeing the prosperity of Tang and it is recorded that Songzan sent his chancellor, Lv Dong, to Tang with five thousand golds and hundreds of antique treasures to show his sincerity. Two years later, after receiving the third political marriage proposal made by the Geer Dongzanyusong, an envoy sent by Songzan Gambo, the emperor of Tang selected a daughter from royal nobility, crowned her as Princess Wen-cheng, to be the wife of Songzan Gambo. What's more, the emperor of Tang appointed Li Dao-zong, the Minister of Rites and the Highness of Jiangxia, to convoy the Princess with a tally symbolized the power of the Tang emperor to Tibet. Princess Wen-cheng entered into Tibet in 641 A.D, and brought various techniques in production of central China, including 60 books on manufacturing and constructing skills, over 100 prescriptions that could curing up to 404 illness,5 methods of medical diagnosis, 6 medical devices and 4 medical weighty tomes, along with a myriad of living items and crop seeds, to Tibet region. According to the classics of The New Book of the Tang Dynasty, Songzan Gambo welcomed his bride in Baihai and Princess Wen-cheng lived in Tibet for nearly 40 years until she passed away in 680 A.D. This is the first formal contact established between Tang and Tibet. [4]

Tang and Tibet regime maintained a peaceful and friendly relationship when Songzain Gambo was alive and the diplomatic communication increased gradually every year, making Tibet region a transportation hub between Tang and Sindhu(now India) [5] at that time. In the year of 645 A.D, emperor Li Shi-min returned to Chang-an, the capital of Tang, after conquering Koguryo and Songzan Gambo immediately sent envoy, Garl Donzawickson, to Chang-an to congratulate on Li's triumph with a gift of seven-feet-tall gold goose. Three years after, Wang Xuan-ce, the Tang envoy who visiting Sindhu, was looted there as Sindhu was in military disorder then and escaped to Tibet where Songzain Gambo dispatched armies and recruited soldiers from Nepal to assist Wang to suppress the conflicts in Sindhu, safely bringing back the whole diplomatic mission along with hundreds of prisoners of war to Chang-an. The cliff stone tablet of Tang envoy visiting Sindhu is still kept in the Gilong town of Tibet, recording Wang's revisit to Sindhu bypassing Tibet in the third year of Xianqing (658A.D), the reign title of emperor Gaozong.

Songzan Gambo King Songsten Gampo's statue in his meditation cave at Yerpa.jpg
Songzan Gambo

Emperor Li Shi-min passed away in the year of 649 A.D whose throne was then acceded by his son, Li Zhi, namely Emperor Gaozong. Li Zhi sent an envoy to Tibet to inform the obituary of his father and offer an honorary title of Groom martial supervisor and Highness of Xihai to Songzan Gambo while Gambo also in return sent a special representative to Chang-an to attend the funeral of Li Shi-min with a tribute of 15 gold, silver and jewelry, as well as congratulating and expressing his support for Li Zhi. Zhang Sun Wu-ji, the civil and administrative official, also received a diplomatic statement from Gambo saying that Tibet would not hesitate to send armies to help if there are any unfaithful officials in Tang who dare to threaten the authority of the emperor. Thereafter Li Zhi progressed Songzan Gambo's title into ‘the king of Cong’ and put a stone statue of Songzan Gambo before Zhao mausoleum, the mausoleum of Li Shi-min.

Manglunmangzan, the grandson of Songzan Gambo, took over his grandfather's crown in 650 A.D after Songzan Gambo died. However, the actual executive power was in the hand of Geer Dongzanyusong who continued to adopt Songzan Gambo's political policy of improving and revising the law, checking the family registration and implementing tax policy to ensure the inner stability of Tibet. He also availed himself of the inner turmoil in Tuyuhun, attacking it for several times even at the risk of conflicting with Tang who has supported Tuyuhun for a long time. After the death of Geer, his son(someone said his grandson), Lun Qing-lin, took over the control of Tibet. In order to support Tuyuhun, Tang convoyed the king of Tuyuhun, Murong nuohebo, back to his country in 670 A.D, with an army of over 100 thousand soldiers, but encountered a Tibetan army of over 200 thousand soldiers deployed by Lun Qing-lin, and was defeated in the battle of Dafeichuan. From then on, Tibet has strengthened its control over the west region of Qinghai Lake but thereafter lost in a warfare fighting with Tang for the east region of Qinghai Lake and 4 towns in Anxi. [6]

The posthumous Sons of Manglunmangzan, Dusongmangbojie, became the king of Tibet after his father's death in 676 A.D but the political power was still in the hand of Lun Qing-lin then. As Dusongmangbojie grew up, from 695 A.D to 698 A.D, Lun's family was denounced guilty and crusaded against for threatening the power and authority of the king, as well as conflicting with other noble families. Lun Qing-lin finally suicided in Zongke, Qinghai province after a war rout. Zan Po, the brother of Lun, and his son Mang Bu-zhi surrendered to Tang after the military defeat and were separately entitled to ‘Assisting general and Highness of GuiDe’ and ‘Marquis of Anguo’. Mang Bu-zhi progressed to Highness of Ba Chuan for outstanding contribution in wars and his descendants all stayed in Tang to be Tang's officials.

The Second political marriage between Tang and Tibet

The kingship of Tibet kingdom, therefore, was strengthened. However, shortly after he eliminated the threat of Geer family, Dusongmangbojie died during a war vanquishing a region called ‘Nanzhao’, and his one-year-old son, Me agtsom, succeeded to become the new king of Tibet under the help and supervision of his grandmother, Chi Ma-tou. With hope for peace and friendship as both Tang and Tibet at that time suffered the painful results of years’ war, Chi Ma-tou sought for political marriage with Tang again for Me agtsom as she had once done such for her son. Emperor Zhongzong agreed the marriage proposal by Tibet and sent Princess Jin-cheng along with a special gift of part of the Yellow River region(the region that above Gui-de whose name was Tangmu town and this region later was taken back by Wang Zhong-si and Ge Shu-han in a later war that defeating Tibet) to enter into Tibet in 710 A.D. The emperor himself leads a group of Tang officials saw Princess Jin-cheng off with a solemn farewell ceremony in Shiping town. In 731 A.D, Me agtsom and Princess Jin-cheng dispatched an envoy to Tang to ask for ancient Chinese classics of Mao's Explanation on the Book of Songs, Books of Rites, and Spring and Autumn Annals, as well as seeking for open market and boundary division, with a statement from Me agtsom saying that Tang and Tibet are of the same family as he was the remote nephew of the former emperor and now the husband of Princess Jin-cheng, therefore, people of the two countries should enjoy a peaceful and joyful life. Tang and Tibet then established a monument in Chiling(now ‘sun and moon mountain’ in Qinghai province) to set the boundary between the two country. Frontier generals and officials from two countries attended the open market set in Chiling and Gan Song-ling and official announcement that prohibiting robbery and attack, as well as maintaining a friendly relationship was released.

However, wars still broke out shortly after as both Tang and Tibet wanted to expand their territory and power, as well as frontier generals wanted to grab for more fame and military exploits. Military officers such as Li Wei, Zhang Shou-gui, Wang Zhong-si, Ge Shu-han defeated Tibet in the region from east to west successively, making Tibet sue for peace for several times. In 754 A.D, the prime minister in Tibet, Modongzebu and Langgese, rebelled and killed their king Me agtsom. In 755 A.D, a 13-year-old new king, Thrisong Deutsen, took over the reign. At the same year, the cataclysmic ‘An Shi Rebellion’ broke out in Tang. Emperor Xuanzong fled from Chang-an to Sichuan and the deployment of Tang's army to suppress the rebellion gave Tibet the opportunity to occupy the Tang's territory of Longyou, Hexi and four towns in Anxi. In October of 763 A.D, availing themselves of the opportunity that there was a discord among the emperor and officials in Tang, in addition to that Shuofang army turned a blind eye on their aggression towards the east, Tibet occupied the Chang-an city with an army of 200 thousand soldiers, making emperor Daizong escape to Shanzhou, and selected Li Cheng-hong, brother of Princess Jin-cheng, to be the new emperor. Tibetan army withdrew after occupying Chang-an for 15 days on hearing that Tang's army of loyalty was marching toward the city. The Tibet kingdom expanded its territory to a great extent in the reign of Thrisong Deutsen. At that time, Tibet bordered itself in east by Long Mountain with Tang (the Tibetan army even occupied to Baoji once, threatening the safety of Chang-an), in north by Helan Mountain that connecting Huiqi, conquering Nanzhao in east-south to be its tributary. [7] In 790 A.D, Tibet occupied the four towns in Anxi and Beiting in the west direction and stretched its northern territory to the north coast of Ganges River in India as historic Tibetan classics recorded. [8]

The Meeting Tablet of Tang and Tibet

Historical materials show that Tang and Tibet officially meet for 8 times during 705 A.D to 822 A.D, and the tablet of the eighth meeting is still stand before the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa. The eighth meeting was also called "Changqing meeting" as it took place in the first and second year of Changqing (821 A.D to 822 A.D), the reign year of Tang emperor Muzong and the content on tablet is shown as following:

According to incomplete statistics, there had been up to 191 mutual communications between Tang and Tibet from the fourth year of Zhenguan (630 A.D), the reign name of emperor Taizong, to 842 A.D, including Tang's officials' entering into Tibet for 66 times and their counterparts entering into Tang for 125 times. [9]

Tibet kingdom was also haunted by the religious fight between the local religion, Bon, [10] and the newcomer, Buddhism. [11] In 841, Thrisong Deutsen was assassinated by an official who opposing Buddhism and then his brother, Lang Darma who belonged to the anti-Buddhism group, succeeded to be the king of Tibet. [12] In 843 A.D, Lang Darma enacted a law banning Buddhism and then carried out a series actions like killing the heads of the Buddhists, closing the Buddhist temples, forcing the remaining Buddhists to secularize and destroying hundreds of thousands of Buddha statue and Buddhist classic scriptures, which was called the "Lang Darma destroying the Buddhism" event in history. [13] In 846 A.D, Lang Darma was shot dead by a Buddhist monk called Lalongbeijiyundan and 4 years later Zhang Yi-chao from Tang dispelled Tibet in Gansu province, making Hexi and Longyou region under the control of Tang again. After the death of Lang Darma, inner scrambles between the two sons of Lang Darma and melees between military officials broke out now and then. Such anarchic situation which lasts for 20 years has finally triggered the rebellious war launched by the citizens in Tibet in 869 A.D.In 877 A.D the insurrectionist army excavated and damaged the imperial mausoleum, killing the royal family and the aristocracies, bringing an end to the unified situation in Tibet region that has lasted for 200 years. Thereafter Tibet's region splits in different tribes and parts while the similar situation happened in Tang at that time. [14] Tang dynasty ends up in 907 A.D, from then on central China enter into the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period and finally regained unification in Song dynasty. [15]

Song dynasty

The earlier Song dynasty establishes in 960 A.D. Although the military power of this new empire is not so strong as that of Tang and it rarely contact with Tibetan tribes of Ü-Tsang that dwell far away from Han nationality, it does keep in touch with Tibetan tribes living in Gansu, Qinghai and Yunnan province where Han people also domicile.

Not long after the establishment of the earlier Song dynasty, a Tibetan tribe leader named Chio-ssi-lo set up a regime in Huangshui basin centering in Miaochuan(now Ledu)and Qingtang(now Xining) and defended the attack from the kingdom of Xixia launched by its leader, Li Yuan-hao. The Chio-ssi-lo regime is the biggest as well as the first feudal Anduo regime that led by Tibetan people at that time. The Chio-ssi-lo regime maintained a harmonious relationship with Song, sending envoys to pay tributes and asking for honorable official titles from Song. In 1032 A.D( the first year of Mingdao, the rein title of emperor Renzong of Song), emperor Renzong entitled Chio-ssi-lo to "Ningyuan General" and "defending militia leader in Aizhou", along with a generous salary. In 1041 A.D (the second year of Kangding), emperor of Song formed an alliance with Chio-ssi-lo to combat the kingdom of Xixia, as well as awarding Chio-ssi-lo another two official post, "inspecting and supervising officer in Chongbaoshun" and "supply commissioner for Hexi army". Thereafter the descendants of Chio-ssi-lo, Dong zhan, E guo-gu, Xia zheng, Long za, Xi she-luo-sa, all accepted the honorable official title given by Song.

However, the relationship between Chio-ssi-lo tribe and the earlier Song dynasty was not peaceful. After Wang An-shi got into office as the prime minister of Song, he changed the policy of allying with Chio-ssi-lo to combat the kingdom of Xixia into conquering Chio-ssi-lo as a springboard for attacking Xixia. In 1072A.D, military officer of Song, Wang Shao, led an army to attack Chio-ssi-lo, occupying the Xihe region that was once under the control of Chio-ssi-lo, which forces Chio-ssi-lo to cooperate with Xixia to assault Hezhou in Song. The frontier general of Hezhou was killed in this military attack. In 1077 A.D, Song was forced to ally with Chio-ssi-lo again, progressing its king, Dongzhan, as the ‘Highness of Wuwei’. In 1096 A.D, Song availed the opportunity of inner melee burst out after the new king, Xiazheng, took over the throne in 1099 A.D, sending two generals, Wang han and Wang zhan, to assail Chio-ssi-lo, which forced Xia zheng and his successor Long za to surrender to Song sequentially. However, Song failed to control that region and had to withdraw its army in the next year, bestowing the successor Xi she-luo-sa the title of ‘supply commissioner of Xiping army’ and the ‘head of Miaochuan’. In 1103A.D, Song again defeated Xi she-luo-sa and established a puppet government there, comprising the whole territory of Chio-ssi-lo into Song in 1116 A.D.In 1134 A.D, the original territory of Chio-ssi-lo was occupied by another military power, Jin, and the last leader, Zhao Huai-en, in Chio-ssi-lo region fled to the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 A.D-1279 A.D)

In addition, emperor Zhenzong of Song bestowed another Tibetan leader, Pan Luo-zhi, of Liu Gu tribe in Wuwei region the title of ‘defending minister of Jianzhou and inspecting and supervising minister for the west part of Lingzhou’ in the year of 1001 A.D( the fourth year of Xianping, the reign title of emperor Zhenzong)

The Song dynasty has long been carrying out the policy of ‘farming in the frontier region to supply the army’ in the south part of Gansu Province, Hexi corridor, east part of Qinghai Province and the west-north part of Sichuan Province that were once controlled by Tibet regime since the 11th century to defend the attack from Xixia, as well as improving its self-protecting power. What's more, Song has also imported weapons like arrows and bows to Tibetan tribes living in Hexi corridor and recruit Tibetan archers into the militia system to mutually defend the assaults of Xixia. [16] The military general, Wang Shao, greatly exploited the land in Linxia and Lintao in Gansu province, recruiting up to 300 thousand Tibetans to do the ploughing work. The renowned ‘Tea and Horse market’ was also promoted in some special markets opened by Song in regions of Yaan in Sichuan province, Linxia in Gansu province and Shanxi province, inaugurating the fixed trade of horse and tea that lasts for hundreds of years. [17]

See also

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