In Quanzhou, located in the East China's Fujian province, (which is also the starting point of the maritime silk route) we found such a tale, where legends of conspiracy, coup, and throne usurping nephews was overrun by one solid force - love.
Upon visiting Quangzhou last year on the courtesy of the Chinese embassy of China, a group of journalists including myself stumbled into a tale of love, which left its mark even today, in the form of Xushi Yin’e, better known as the Ceylonese Princess.
In mundane life, Mrs. Yin’e runs an antique shop and is married to a historian - Sun Yahong. However, her history links her to the ancient royalty of Sri Lanka, or Ceylon, as the island nation was known during the ancient times.
In the 1990’s her identity came to light when a development project threatened to destroy her family’s burial tombs in Shijia Tomb on Mt. Qingyuan. Hence, the history of the Ceylon Prince in Quanzhou was unveiled. Legends state that a Ceylon prince visiting China was not able to return to his country because of a cousin who had usurped his father’s throne and killed his brothers. So he stayed in China, married and settled down, taking up the name of ’Shi’.
However, according to Mrs. Yin’e, the reason he did not return is not political, but simply love.
Smiling, elegant and unassuming, Mrs. Yin’e told the tale of her ancestor as she guided us through her family’s burial site on Mount Qingyua, in Quanzhou.
Pointing to Mrs. Yin’e showed us the tombs of her family including that of her imperial ancestor. Dragons symbolised the imperial status while stone carvings of lions drew parallel to the heritage across the seas.
The following are excerpts of the chat we had with her with the help of Mr. Cheng Wangron from the Guangzhou Foreign Office and Ms. Flora Kan who kindly stepped in as interpreters.
There are so many tales with regard to your ancestor. Some say he was an envoy who couldn’t go back home after his throne was usurped. Some say he settled down after marrying a local lady. As far as you are concerned, which version of the is true?
He came to study here. When he came to Quanzhou, he found that Quanzhou was a very beautiful city with an abundant culture and history that he grew fond of this place. Then he married an Arabian descendent of nobility named ‘Pu’ and settled down. Because he decided to settle down, his nephew had to take over the throne in his homeland. The other versions were apparently made up by someone to make it more dramatic, so to speak.
What did you feel when you first learnt about your royal lineage? Have you ever suspected of a family secret?
I used to hear stories from other people. But I got to know of it gradually. So there was no surprise.
But why was it kept a secret?
In the early 19th century, things in China were unstable. So the lineage was kept secret to keep the family safe from unwanted trouble.
Do you have any heirlooms from your family?
In the unstable conditions, any heirlooms that were in the family were destroyed for safety reasons. A buddhist statue was mentioned on the subject of heirlooms but it too was destroyed. A book of the family tree is all that remains.
Even you do not know the exact name of your ancestor. Nor do we know who he was. Wouldn’t you like to know?
Yes I do. When I went to Sri Lanka in 2002, I was trying to do this. There I met some people including a famous historian in Sri Lanka. The information I have is as per the historian in Sri Lanka.
You are a princess but living a normal life. how do you feel about?
I am used to it as I am from here and have already adapted to this life. So it’s not a special feeling. But as I meet more Sri Lankans, I feel the relationship with Sri Lanka more.
Are you interested in maintaining a relationship with Sri Lanka?
Yes. I will be keeping in touch with the people of Sri Lanka
(Story & photos : Shanika Jayasekara)