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Heqin (Chinese: 和親; pinyin: Héqīn; Wade–Giles: Ho-ch'in; literally: "peace marriage"), or marriage alliance, refers to the historical practice of Chinese emperors marrying princesses (usually members of minor branches of the royal family) to rulers of neighbouring states.[1] It was often adopted as an appeasement strategy with an enemy state which was too powerful to defeat on the battlefield. The policy was not always effective, and 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: 娄敬, 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 198 BCE.[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.

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


  • Han Dynasty 1
  • Sixteen Kingdoms Period 2
  • Southern and Northern Dynasties 3
  • Sui Dynasty 4
  • Tang Dynasty 5
  • Non-Han dynasties and states 6
    • Xiongnu 6.1
    • Northern Wei 6.2
    • Rouran 6.3
    • Turkic Khaganate 6.4
    • Uighur Ganzhou Kingdom 6.5
    • Kingdom of Khotan 6.6
    • Liao dynasty 6.7
    • Lý dynasty Vietnam 6.8
    • Qing dynasty 6.9
    • Joseon Korea 6.10
    • Nguyen Lords in Vietnam 6.11
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • Bibliography 9

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 (i.e. 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:

  • 640: Emperor Taizong of Tang marries Princess Honghua (弘化公主) to Murong Nuohebo, Khan of Tuyuhun.
  • 641: Emperor Taizong of Tang marries Princess Wencheng to Eoperor Songtsän Gampo of the Tibetan Empire.
  • 642: Emperor Taizong proposed the marriage of his fifteenth daughter, Princess Xinxing (新興公主), to Zhenzhu Khan, Khan of Xueyantuo. The heqin was called off.
  • 664: Emperor Gaozong of Tang marries Lady Jincheng (金城縣主), the third daughter of Li Dao'en, Prince of Guiji (會稽郡王李道恩), to Prince Sudumomo of Tuyuhun (吐谷渾王子蘇度摸末).
  • 664: Emperor Gaozong marries Lady Jinming (金明縣主), the daughter of a Tang imperial clansman, to Prince Talumomo of Tuyuhun (吐谷渾王子闥盧摸末).
  • 698: A daughter of Qapaghan, Khagan of the Second Eastern Turkic Khaganate marries Wu Zetian's great-nephew Wu Chengsi, Prince of Huaiyang (淮陽王武延秀).
  • 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 (金城公主), 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 (金山公主), the daughter of his son Li Chengqi, to Qapaghan Khagan
  • 717: Emperor Xuanzong of Tang marries Princess Yongle (永樂公主), the daughter of Yang Yuansi (楊元嗣) and a daughter of Li Xu, Prince of Dongping (東平王李續, son of Li Shen, Prince of Ji, the seventeenth son of Emperor Taizong), to Li Shihuo (李失活), leader of the Khitans.
  • 717: Princess Jianghe (交河公主), 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 (燕郡公主) (surname Murong (慕容)), a Tang "princess", to Khitan prince Li Yuyu (李郁於).
  • 726: Emperor Xuanzong marries his niece, Princess Donghua (東華公主, surname Chen 陳), to Khitan prince Li Shaogu (李邵固).
  • 726: Emperor Xuanzong marries Princess Dongguang (東光公主), the daughter of Emperor Xuanzong's first cousin Li Jijiang, Princess Cheng'an (成安公主李季姜) (eighth daughter of Emperor Zhongzong of Tang) and Wei Jie (韋捷), to Li Lusu (李魯甦), ruler of Kumo Xi.
  • 744: Emperor Xuanzong marries Princess Heyi (和義公主), a daughter of Li Can, Magistrate of Gaocheng (告城縣令李參), to Axilan Dagan (阿悉爛達干), King of Ningyuan (寧遠國王) in the Fergana Valley.
  • 745: Emperor Xuanzong marries his granddaughter, Princess Jingle (靜樂公主, daughter of his fifteenth daughter Princess Xincheng 信成公主 and Dugu Ming 獨孤明), to Khitan prince Li Huaixiu (李懷秀).
  • 745: Emperor Xuanzong marries Princess Yifang (宜芳公主), daughter of Princess Changning (長寧公主, daughter of Emperor Zhongzong of Tang) and Yang Shenjiao (楊慎交), to Khitan prince Li Yanchong (李延寵)
  • 756: Princess Pijia (毗伽公主), daughter of Bayanchur, Khagan of the Uyghur Khaganate, marries Li Chengcai, Prince of Dunhuang (敦煌王李承採), son of Li Shouli, Prince of Bin.

There were a total of seventeen instances of heqin marriage alliances during the Tang Dynasty.

640—690: five instances, to Tuyuhun, and one instance to the Tibetan Empire
710—745: four instances to Khitans, three instances to the Kumo Xi and one instance to the Tibetan Empire
758—821: seven instances to Uyghur Khaganate, including two daughters of the Chinese Emperor, i.e. real princesses, and three of Tiele descent.
883: one occurrence to Nanzhao (second daughter of Emperor Yizong of Tang).

Non-Han dynasties and states


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.[6][7][8] The Yenisei Kirghiz Khagans claimed descent from Li Ling. Another Han Chinese General who defected to the Xiongnu was Li Guangli who also married a daughter of the Chanyu.

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.[9] 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, like Princess Lanling 蘭陵公主 to Liu Hui 刘辉, who was a descendant of Liu Song royalty who fled north to the Xianbei in exile, Princess Huayang 華陽公主 to Sima Fei 司馬朏, a descendant of Jin dynasty (265–420) royalty, Princess Jinan 濟南公主 to Lu Daoqian 盧道虔, Princess Nanyang 南阳长公主 to Xiao Baoyin 萧宝夤, a member of Southern Qi royalty.


The Rouran Khaganate arranged for one of their princesses, Khagan Yujiulü Anagui's daughter Princess Ruru 蠕蠕公主 to be married to the Han Chinese ruler Gao Huan of the Eastern Wei.[10][11]

Turkic Khaganate

The Kingdom of Gaochang was made out of Han Chinese colonists and ruled by the Han Chinese Qu family which originated from Gansu. The Qu family was linked by marriage allianes to the Turks, with the King Qu Boya's grandmother being a Turk.

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.[12][13][14]

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.[15]

Liao dynasty

The Khitan Liao dynasty arranged for women from the Khitan royal consort Xiao clan to marry members of the Han Chinese Han 韓 clan, which originated in Jizhou 冀州 before being abducted by the Khitan and becoming part of the Han Chinese elite of the Liao.[16][17][18]

Han Chinese Geng family intermarried with the Khitan and the Han 韓 clan provided two of their women as wives to Geng Yanyi and the second one was the mother of Geng Zhixin.[19] Empress Rende's sister, a member of the Xiao clan, was the mother of Han Chinese General Geng Yanyi.[20]

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.[21] His wife was also known as "Madame Han".[22] The Geng's tomb is located in Liaoning at Guyingzi in Chaoying.[23][24]

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 Trần (Chen) clan (Trần Thái Tông), which enabled the Trần to then topple the Lý and established their own Trần dynasty.[25][26]

A Lý princess also married into the Hồ family, which was also of Chinese origin and later established the Hồ dynasty which also took power after having a Tran princess marry one of their members, Hồ Quý Ly.[27][28]

Qing dynasty

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 to the Ming General Li Yongfang w:zh:李永芳 after he surrendered Fushun in Liaoning to the Manchu in 1618.[29][30] 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).[31]

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 Shunzhi and get married to Aisin Gioro women, with Haoge's (a son of Hong Taiji) daughter marrying Geng Jingzhong and Prince Abatai's granddaughter marrying Geng Zhaozhong.[32]

Joseon Korea

After the

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  11. ^ Gao Huan, as demanded by Yujiulü Anagui as one of the peace terms between Eastern Wei and Rouran, married the Princess Ruru in 545, and had her take the place of Princess Lou as his wife, but never formally divorced Princess Lou. After Gao Huan's death, pursuant to Rouran customs, the Princess Ruru became married to Gao Huan's son Gao Cheng, who also, however, did not formally divorce his wife.
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See also

The Cambodian King Chey Chettha II married the Vietnamese Nguyễn lord Princess Nguyễn Thị Ngọc Vạn, a daughter of Lord Nguyễn Phúc Nguyên, in 1618.[43][44] In return, the king granted the Vietnamese the right to establish settlements in Mô Xoài (now Bà Rịa), in the region of Prey Nokor—which they colloquially referred to as Sài Gòn, and which later became Ho Chi Minh City.[45][46]

Nguyen Lords in Vietnam


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