Sino-Nepal Relations in Lichhavi Dynasty

Introduction to Sino-Nepal Relations in Lichhavi Dynasty

The Sino-Nepal relations, encompassing both Tibet and China, have a long and multifaceted history. Military cooperation, diplomacy, and trade have been important dimensions of this relationship between the neighboring countries.

The account of the Chinese monk Hiuen Tsang provides valuable insights into Nepal. According to Hiuen Tsang, Nepal had a reputation in the international arena for its production of red copper, yaks, and artistic skills.

During the reign of King Narendradeva, Nepal’s relationship with Tibet became interdependent and flourished. The two nations engaged in the exchange of emissaries and fostered international trade. This intricate relationship contributed to the growth and prosperity of both Nepal and Tibet.

Military cooperation played a significant role in Sino-Nepal relations during this period. The countries supported each other through joint military efforts, demonstrating the importance of mutual support and strategic cooperation.

Diplomacy was another crucial aspect of the Sino-Nepal relationship. The exchange of emissaries between Nepal, Tibet, and China facilitated diplomatic ties and ensured open lines of communication.

Trade also played a vital role in Sino-Nepal relations. The countries engaged in active trade, exchanging goods, resources, and cultural influences.

Account of Hiuen Tsang

Sino-Nepal relations have a long history, and one intriguing aspect is the account of Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsiang’s interaction with the King of Nepal. Hiuen Tsiang, a Buddhist monk, embarked on a journey in 627 A.D. to seek knowledge and returned in 645 A.D. His understanding of Nepal was primarily based on the opinions of the people he met during his travels, particularly in the Kingdom of Vrijji. Here is an Extract:

“Nepal is known for producing red copper, yaks, and the Jivanjiva bird. The coins used in commerce in Nepal are made of red copper. The people of Nepal are deceptive, deceitful, obstinate, fierce, uneducated, with little regard for truth or honor. However, they possess great skill in the arts.

The king, belonging to the Lichhavi family, is a Kshatriya. He is well-informed, pure, dignified, and has a sincere faith in the teachings of Buddha. There was recently a king named Amsuvarman (An-chu-fa-mo), who was renowned for his knowledge and ingenuity. He himself composed a work on linguistics called Sabdavidya. He valued learning and respected virtue, and his reputation extended far and wide.”

According to Hiuen Tsiang, Nepal was known for producing red copper, yaks, and a bird called Jivanjiva. The local coins used for commerce were made of red copper. The people of Nepal were described as skilled in the arts but also deceptive, obstinate, and uneducated, lacking regard for truth or honor. However, they were said to possess great skill in various artistic pursuits.

The king of Nepal, belonging to the Lichhavi family, was described as knowledgeable, pure, dignified, and a devout follower of Buddha’s teachings. King Amsuverma, in particular, was renowned for his knowledge and ingenuity. He composed a work on linguistics called Sabdavidya, valued learning, and had a reputation that extended far and wide.

It is important to note that biases from the citizens or the government of Vrijji may have influenced Hiuen Tsiang’s accounts. The negative portrayal of the Nepalese people could be attributed to the manner in which Nepalese traders conducted their business, often employing ruthless methods to attain desired outcomes. This may have shaped the opinions depicting them as cunning, ruthless, and unyielding.

Moving forward, Hiuen Tsiang’s visit to Vrijji coincided with the reign of King Bhimarjunadeva and Vishnu Gupta. The religious landscape of Nepal experienced shifts, with the people and kings transitioning from devotion to Vaishnavism to becoming followers of Lord Shiva.

Nepal displayed religious secularism and tolerance, with figures like Manadeva and Amsuverma embracing both Hinduism and Buddhism. This fostered an environment of unity and religious harmony among the populace.

While Hiuen Tsiang held a negative view of the general population, he presented a more positive portrayal of the King of Nepal. The king was described as intellectual, dignified, and engaged in acts of dharma and piety. This highlighted a contrast between the livelihoods of the people and the king. The people remained illiterate and impoverished despite their religious faith, while the king led a privileged and educated life.

Hiuen Tsiang briefly mentioned a famous king named Amshuverma, also known as An-Chu-Fa-Mo, who preceded the current ruler. Amshuverma was revered for his wisdom, and he was associated with the composition of Shabdavidya, a work on linguistics. It is possible that the book was composed by the king’s government and attributed to him.

Bhrikuti and Sino-Nepal Relations

Bhrikuti holds a significant place in the ancient international relations of Nepal. She is known as the primary bridge in establishing harmonious relations between Tibet, Nepal, and China. Bhrikuti played a crucial role in spreading Buddhism in Tibet and is honored as one of Nepal’s national heroes.

However, there are controversies surrounding Bhrikuti’s existence. Nepalese sources do not mention her before the 20th century, and the only source providing her identity is the Tang Annals, which contradicts Chinese chronicles. This uncertainty surrounding her identity calls for a closer examination.

The birth date of Bhrikuti is flexible and depends on the understanding of Songsten Gampo’s birth date. Different historians propose different birth dates and fathers for Bhrikuti. The lack of consensus and contradictory evidence make it difficult to determine her true identity.

While some historians assert Bhrikuti’s existence, their sources date back to the 14th and 15th centuries, raising concerns about their reliability. Inconsistencies in their accounts further add to the doubts. The narratives presented by these historians present contradictions and raise questions about Bhrikuti’s role and impact.

Various theories propose different fathers for Bhrikuti, including Amsuverma and Shivadeva the First. The dates and events mentioned in these theories are based on assumptions and lack concrete evidence.

The discovery of a Chinese chronicle mentioning the marriage of Songsten Gampo to Princess Wengchen Kong Jo in 641 A.D. raises doubts about previous narratives. This revelation has led to the proposal of a new narrative by Nayaraja Panta, suggesting that Bhrikuti was the daughter of Udayadeva, the successor of Amsuverma and son of Shivadeva the First.

Despite the acceptance of Panta’s narrative, there are still conflicting ideas and evidence. The absence of references to Bhrikuti in Nepalese sources prior to Sylvain Levi’s account raises doubts about her existence. Some scholars question the authenticity and reliability of Bhrikuti’s existence, suggesting that she may be a constructed myth.

Dependency of Nepal with Tibet

One significant period in Sino-Nepal relations in the Lichhavi Dynasty was the relationship was during the reign of Narendradeva, who played a key role in Nepal’s stability and economic development. Narendradeva reinstated the Lichhavi Dynasty and focused on expanding Nepal’s international connections.

During his reign, Narendradeva facilitated Chinese missions, expanded trade routes to Tibet and China, and sent emissaries to China. He brought stability to Nepal and implemented laws and reforms, making significant contributions to the country’s economic development. Tibetan and Chinese sources, such as the Tang Annals, provide valuable accounts of Narendradeva’s diplomatic exchanges and international relations.

According to the Tang Annals, Narendradeva sought refuge in Tibet and was eventually established as Nepal’s king. He became a vassal of Tibet, paying homage on a yearly basis. However, there are complications with this narrative. Nepalese sources do not mention this arrangement, and Tibet was already fragmented and in decline at that time. Moreover, Nepal was more developed than Tibet, making it unlikely for Nepal to become a vassal state.

The Tang Annals also mention military cooperation between China, Nepal, and Tibet. When the Chinese envoy Wang Xuance faced difficulties in the Pushyabhuti Empire, he sought assistance from Narendradeva. Nepal sent troops to support Wang Xuance, and together they captured the opposition forces. This military cooperation reflects the principle of reciprocity and the need for neighboring kingdoms to support each other.

It is important to critically examine the authenticity of the Tang Annals. Some nationalist historians argue that Narendradeva sought asylum in Tibet due to his marriage to Bhrikuti, who was married to the Tibetan Emperor Songsten Gampo.

However, there is no concrete evidence to support this claim. The absence of tangible evidence suggests that Nepal was not politically dependent on Tibet or other Indian kingdoms.


In conclusion, the Sino-Nepal relations during the Lichhavi Dynasty were characterized by military cooperation, diplomacy, and trade. The insights provided by Hiuen Tsiang shed light on Nepal’s reputation as a producer of red copper, yaks, and skilled artists.

The interdependent relationship between Nepal and Tibet, as exemplified during the reign of King Narendradeva, contributed to mutual growth and prosperity. While controversies surround figures like Bhrikuti and the dependency of Nepal on Tibet, critically examining historical accounts is essential for a comprehensive understanding of Sino-Nepal relations in this period.