Xushi Yin’e still very much belongs to where she was born, just as she did two decades back, when her Lankan Royal identity was ‘dug up.’ Even longer before the discovery of ancestral gravestones in Shijia tomb, Mount Qingyuan, in Fujian way back in 1996, her grandma used to tell that ‘they are a family that had come from the other side of the sea’ to which she didn’t pay much attention back then! Xushi in fact wanted to keep her identity a secret further, even after investigations at the conclusion revealed that she was the 19th generation descendant of Ceylon’s Royal Prince who visited China over 600 years ago and who lived in the country for the rest of his life under the local family name ‘Shi,’ after marrying a local noble woman.

Ceylon Princess Xushi Yin’e

As agreed, the Chinese Government did not reveal her identity, but ironically in 1998 she herself had to reveal to a local newspaper that she was the descendant of the Prince of Ceylon when she rang them up seeking help to stop the land in the vicinity of her ancestral graveyard being levelled out by local farmers, to grow fruits. The news soon spread all over her native city Quanzhou, the starting point of the ancient Silk Route, next across China, and finally reached her ancestral home, Sri Lanka!

And today her story is not novel any longer to her ancestral home, where she had visited twice, in 2002 and 2015. It will never get too stale either, as new chapters unfold each day! The recent media tour of China organised by the Chinese Embassy in Colombo cooperating with Sri Lanka China Journalists’ Forum was aptly timed with the re-launch of China’s Ancient Silk Route. Quanzhou officials’ move to propose UNESCO to declare the story of the Sri Lankan Prince and the artefacts associated with him an UNESCO World Intangible Heritage in 2018 also deserves significant coverage.

“Quanzhou along with seven other cities in China that are rich with their own cultural relics are going to apply to get their artefacts included in the list of UNESCO World Intangible Heritage,” revealed Quanzhou Foreign Ministry officials.

It was with much warmth that Xushi, fondly nicknamed as Ceylon Princess, welcomed the Sri Lankan media group to her antique shop, the walls of which were adorned by photographs taken during her visits to Sri Lanka. Standing amiably next to her historian husband, she said she felt like being visited by her long lost relatives!

Descendant

Following the discovery of the ancestral tombs of the Ceylon prince (considered as a son of Parakramabahu VI, and shown on the inscriptions as Ba Lai Na), ancient links between Quanzhou and Sri Lanka came to light.

“In 2002, a lot of archaeologists from Sri Lanka came to Quanzhou to make investigation about this history and then and it was finally proven that Xushi is a descendant of the Prince in Sri Lanka. So in 2002, she was invited by the Sri Lankan government to make a home visit and was warmly received by the local government and the people. The Embassy of Sri Lanka in China also paid high attention to this discovery,” said Zhang Lian Ying, Deputy Section Chief of Quanzhou Foreign Affairs and Overseas Chinese Affairs Office.

Quanzhou, being the starting point of the ancient Maritime Silk Route and Sri Lanka being its centre that connected the East and    West from China to the Mediterranean Sea, the renewed relationship between Quanzhou and Sri Lanka no doubt offers China new  hope, as the country recently reinforced One Belt, One Road 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiative that encompasses over 50    countries including Sri Lanka. This strategic and ambitious initiative of Chinese President Xi Jinping is aimed at developing a trade  and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along ancient trade routes.

Quanzhou, today flourishes in the Southeast of China as one of the three central cities of Fujian Province. Having welcomed many a traveller since ancient times such as Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta and other explorers of Asian, African and Arab origin, the City today had evolved as an ideal multi religious and multi-cultural destination.

Xushi, no doubt is a living heritage that bespeaks the strong trade bonds the two countries had in the distant past. The Prince of Ceylon is believed to have arrived in Quanzhou along with Chinese explorer Zheng He (spelt Cheng Ho in English ) who was well known in history for his seven voyages.

“Former ambassador of Sri Lanka in China have visited Quanzhou about six or seven times to promote bilateral trade between the two places. The princess herself called on the ambassador several times in Beijing as seen in some of the photos,” said Quanzhou Foreign Ministry officials pointing at the photos adorning the walls of Xushi’s antique shop. Significant among them were the ones she was with Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Health Minister Rajita Senaratne and the Sri Lankan Ambassador to China. In 2002 she planted a tree of goodwill in the Royal botanical gardens. She even met the Prime Minister D.M.Jayaratne in China at Shanghai Expo 2010.

Recollecting her very first visit to Sri Lanka, Xushi said that from the moment she stepped out of the airplane she felt like breaking into tears. “She felt like she had dreamt about this place many times before and the moment she set foot on land she felt like she arrived home safe!,” her interpreter added.

Evidence

Trade relations between China and Sri Lanka date back to several centuries. Many a traveller had travelled along the maritime silk route to reach the distant shores. But the story of the Ceylon Prince differed because he could not go back home after fulfilling his trade mission. A recent Chinese documentary on the Ceylon Prince records thus;

“Records from the Ming dynasty indicate that Ceylon sent a prince to China with a fleet of the Chinese explorer Zheng He to have an audience with the Ming Emperor. On his way back from Quanzhou just as he was about to board the ship he was informed of a coup in his country, his cousin had not only killed his brothers but also wanted to kill him as soon as he returned. Devastated, the prince stayed back in Quanzhou and assumed ‘Shi’ as Chinese last name, the identity he lived under for the rest of his days and Xushi Yiné is one of the resulting descendants.”

Even though historical records of both countries had proved the existence of strong cultural and trade bonds between the two countries, there are differing opinions among the Sri Lankan historians about the name of the Ceylon Prince who never returned to his motherland. However the reign of Parakramabahu VI of the Kotte Kingdom was recorded in history as a period during which extensive trade took place with China. During the reigns of Dedigama Parakramabahu or Parakramabahu V (who had sent envoys to China ) and Vira Alakeshwara too, there had been trade relations with China. Vira Alekeshwara who resisted Zheng Ho bringing presents to the King in 1411, in his third expedition (1409-1411) , had been taken to the Chinese Emperor along with his wives and other noblemen. But later the Chinese Emperor had set them free. Even though Vira Alakeshwara was depicted in many historical documents as a ruthless ruler who did not respect Buddhism, Mahavamsa describes him as a virtuous king.

Historical documents recorded that King Parakramabahu VI had come to the Chinese Court both in 1416 and 1421. Different volumes of the Journal of Royal Asiatic History however further state that in 1433 too King Parakramabahu VI sent envoys to China.

However the messenger poem Selelihini Sandeshaya written during this era by Thotagamuwe Rahula Thera praying for a son for the king’s daughter (as an heir to the Kotte Kingdom), in a way hints that the King did not have a son as his successor to the throne! However, Sri Lankan history had not recorded directly whether Parakramabahu VI had a son or not.

Galle trilingual inscription

The Galle Trilingual Inscription erected by Zheng He in 1405 which is today preserved in the Colombo National Museum bears testimony to the strength of relationship between the two countries. On his third voyage in 1409, the great traveller carried with him the trilingual pillar which was erected in Galle.

Tombstones

Today the tombstones of the Sri Lankan Prince and family are securely placed in the Quanzhou Maritime Museum, the only museum in China specializing in overseas relations. The tombstone which is believed to be that of the Ceylon Prince reads thus;

“THE Dynasty of Qing,

The house where the prince lived

This is the tomb for Mr. Shi Kaishi and his wife Ms. Lin Shunyi.

The tombstone was engraved by the Dead’s grandnephew, a scholar in the Hanlinyuan (the Imerial Academy).”

Also the two Chinese Characters on the top of the tombstone denote the ancient Chinese Name for Sri Lanka.

The graveyard where the tombstones of the Ceylon Prince was found too is situated not quite far away from Xushi’s antique shop. Quanzhou Municipal Administration centre had given much prominence to the visit of the Sri Lankan journalists and the event was covered by the local press and Quan Zhou TV station. It was interesting to observe the totem on the tombstones that showed two snakes, an art design that was popular in the Kotte Kingdom, in the 15th century. Further research is currently being carried on to find more evidence.

‘The Ceylon Princess’ is determined to carry on her role as a goodwill ambassador and intends to visit Sri Lanka again with her entire family. She intends to pay a courtesy call on the Sri Lankan Prime Minister at his residence.

Bidding us an emotional farewell on the grand steps of the Marionette Theatre in Quanzhou where she enjoyed watching a traditional puppet show with the Sri Lankan media team, Xushi said that she would visit us soon carrying the dreams of her forefathers who set off as travellers, but never returned to their homeland!

Writer with the Princess