Sino-Nepal Relations in Medieval Nepal

Introduction to Sino-Nepal Relations in Medieval Nepal

During the Malla period, Sino-Nepal relations were marked by cultural exchanges, artistic influence, and trade. Araniko, a talented Nepali artist, was admired by the Chinese emperor for his skills and created notable structures in China. Scholarly exchanges between Nepal and Tibet flourished, with Nepali scholars teaching various subjects and contributing to Tibetan academia.

Nepal also served as a vital route connecting India and Tibet, facilitating the travel of foreign missionaries and traders. Despite conflicts, a trade treaty was established, leading to economic prosperity for Nepal through the import of gold and silver from Tibet. These relations shaped the artistic and economic landscapes of the time.


During the Malla period, the relations between Nepal and China were significant. The Chinese Emperor Kuvale Khan invited a young Nepali artist named Araniko, along with eighty other artists, to China. Araniko’s artistic skills were highly admired by the Chinese emperor, who was captivated by his talent and academic abilities. Araniko constructed notable structures such as the Golden Pagoda in Tibet and the White Pagoda in Peking, the capital of China.

Impressed by Araniko’s artistic prowess, the Chinese emperor appointed him as an official to oversee Chinese art. Araniko’s contributions extended beyond architecture; he also created stupas, paintings, and other artistic works.

In recognition of his achievements, the Chinese court bestowed upon him the prestigious title of Guanglu Dianfu Da Situ, and he was honored with a jewel that symbolized his status. This jewel was even said to have granted him the honor and salary equivalent to that of a Prime Minister, as noted by Chinese scholar Professor Wang Hongwei in his writings.

Araniko dedicated his entire life to China at the request of the Chinese emperor. He passed away in China at the age of seventy-two, leaving behind a legacy of artistic excellence. Even after his demise, the Chinese government continued to honor him, conferring upon him the national honor of Ming Hoi (High Talent) and the title of Duke of Liang.

Araniko’s artistic influence extended beyond his lifetime. His son, Achak, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a skilled artist himself, carrying on the family’s artistic legacy. Moreover, the cultural exchange between Nepal and China persisted even after Araniko, with many Nepali scholars journeying to Tibet and China, while Tibetan and Chinese students came to Nepal for education and studies.

Scholarly Exchanges

During the Malla period, Nepal and Tibet enjoyed significant scholarly and cultural exchanges. It has highlighted the presence of distinguished Nepali scholars who taught many Tibetan students. Pandit Jagdananda Jivabhadra and his son Pandit Mahabodhi, hailing from Patan, taught numerous Tibetan scholars and earned fame in Tibet. Similarly, the book mentions Ratnarakshit, a Nepali scholar residing in Swayambhu and Patan, who had several Tibetan disciples and was revered as a Mahapandit.

Another notable scholar during this period was Vibhutichandra, renowned for his expertise in grammar. He received an invitation from a Tibetan student named Koragaya and traveled to Tibet. There, Vibhutichandra imparted teachings on shadanga yoga to his students in Tigri, a specific location in Tibet.

In addition to his grammatical knowledge, Vibhutichandra possessed exceptional skills in sculpture and crafted idols following scriptural methods. After the renovation of the Tyura Chaitya in Tibet, Mahapandit Rabindra, an esteemed Nepali scholar, was invited from Nepal to inaugurate it. He also had numerous disciples in Tibet.

Nepal served as a vital route connecting Vikramshila University in India with the Institute of Buddhist Knowledge in Tibet.

These scholarly exchanges between Nepal and Tibet during the Malla period played a crucial role in disseminating knowledge, fostering cultural understanding, and enriching both regions.

Nepali scholars made significant contributions to Tibetan academia, teaching various subjects such as grammar, yoga, and sculpture. Meanwhile, Nepal’s position as a conduit between Indian and Tibetan learning institutions facilitated the exchange of scholars and ideas.

Nepal-Tibet Route

During the Malla period, Nepal played a crucial role in transportation routes connecting Tibet and India. Nepalese roads were utilized by foreign missionaries and traders traveling to and from these regions.

Prominent individuals, including John Cabral, Grober, Albert D’Orville, Father Joseph, Father Giuseppe Da Ascali, Francis Horace Panna Billi, Father Dominic, Francis Horace, Father Felix, Emmanuel Frere, and Father Ippolito Desideri, used these routes for their journeys.

John Cabral, a Jesuit Christian, became the first European traveler to visit Nepal in the Malla period. In 1628, he arrived in Kathmandu, seeking a new route to Tibet through Nepal. Cabral’s travels marked the beginning of Nepal’s reputation spreading to Europe.

Furthermore, Father Grober and Albert D’Orville also traveled to Tibet via Nepal and met King Pratap Malla of Kantipur and King Srinivasa Malla of Patan in 1662. Father Grober even presented binoculars to King Pratap Malla as a gift.

In 1745, Capuchin priests sought refuge in Nepal after being expelled from Tibet. Among them, Father Jisepi Dr. Ashkali recognized the potential of maintaining good relations with the Malla kings of Nepal, seeing it as a suitable route for promoting Christianity and trade in Tibet.

In 1715, a group of Capuchin priests, including Francis Horus Penabilly and Father Felix, arrived in Nepal after receiving approval from Rome. Father Dominic also visited Nepal and had meetings with various individuals, including King Bhupatindra Malla of Bhaktapur, who expressed satisfaction with their activities.

However, an epidemic of plague struck Nepal in 1716, resulting in widespread fatalities and blaming Christian preachers for the outbreak. In this period of rebellion against Christians, Father Felix wrote an account stating that he also perished. Seeking refuge, they turned to the king of Bhaktapur for shelter.

On December 27, 1721, Father Ippolito Desideri arrived in Nepal from Tibet during his journey back to Italy via India. His description of Nepal, compiled during his stay, is considered a significant document of the Malla period’s history.

Desideri emphasized that Nepal was not under foreign control and presented his observations on the Nepalese people’s nature, culture, administration, and business. He described the traditional attire of Nepalese people, noting that they wear woolen or cotton garments reaching the knees, long suruwal reaching the ankles, red caps on their heads, and sandals on their feet. During rainy days, both men and women go barefoot.

Peace and War in Sino-Nepal Relations

During the Malla period, there were significant relations between Nepal and Tibet, which involved both conflict and peaceful agreements. Following the decline of Genghis Khan’s dynasty in China, Tibet gained complete independence. King Nagaraj of Nepal’s Karnali region extended his authority over a vast portion of western Tibet. Yaksha Malla, the king of Nepal Mandal, conquered territories in Tibet up to Sikarjong, establishing Nepal’s control over the region.

After the establishment of the independent state of Kantipur by Yaksha Malla’s son, Ratna Malla, Nepal sought military support from King Rudrasena of Palpa to wage war against Kuku Bhote of Tibet. However, Nepal faced defeat in this conflict.

Subsequently, King Pratap Malla of Kantipur waged war against Tibet and emerged victorious. He compelled Tibet to enter into a trade treaty. This treaty allowed Nepali merchants to establish trading houses in Tibet and engage in uninterrupted business.

Nepal became responsible for minting currency for Tibet, and Nepali currency became the official medium of exchange in Tibet. As a result, Nepal gained the ability to import significant amounts of gold and silver from Tibet.

The trade relationship with Tibet during the Malla period greatly contributed to Nepal’s prosperity. The import of gold and silver boosted Nepal’s economy, allowing the country to thrive financially. The trade treaty fostered economic ties between the two regions, creating opportunities for merchants and facilitating the flow of goods and wealth.


In conclusion, the Sino-Nepal relations during the Malla period involved conflict, as well as the establishment of a trade treaty that enriched Nepal through lucrative trade with Tibet. The war between Nepal and Tibet resulted in Nepal’s victory, enabling the formation of a trade agreement that brought economic benefits to both regions.

The Sino-Nepal relations during the Malla period were characterized by admiration for Nepali artistry, cultural exchange, and the mutual influence of artistic traditions. These interactions between Nepal and China contributed to the enrichment of both cultures and played a significant role in shaping the artistic landscape of the time.