HANG LI PO

 

Artist impression of princess Hang Li Po, wife of Sultan Mansur Shah of Malacca.

Hang Li Po (Chinese: 汉丽宝) was the fifth wife of Malacca’s Sultan Mansur Shah (reigning from 1456 to 1477). It is disputed whether such a person exists because she was never recorded in the Chinese court of the Ming Dynasty in the Ming Chronicles and in the genealogical record of the imperial house of Zhu, the royal family of the Ming dynasty. In addition, the Ming decorum of rites, governed by the Ministry of Rites (禮部), in the matter of bestowing the title princess is always two characters followed by the title 公主 (Gong Zhu, a title denotes blood-relation to the Emperor) or 郡主 (Jun Zhu,a title denotes a relation to a Duke or a non-royal relation), such as the infamous Princess Changping 長平公主 and Princess Dongyang 東陽郡主. The claim of a Ming princess converted to Islam is also disputed as the conversion of any aristocratic member of the Ming court to a foreign religion or belief was forbidden. With much historical disputes, at the time of the arrival of the Sultan’s envoy, the reigning Ming Emperor was Tianshun Emperor. However, in many historical text, she was said to have been a princess in the court of the Yongle Emperor(1402-1424).

However, in China, the emperor has the power to bestow the title of “princess” on women who served the nation or court honourably despite being of peasant origin. It is possible that she was a mere servant-girl who was randomly picked and bestowed the title to make her more presentable to the Sultan of Malacca, since Malacca, being a small, unimportant and relatively new country, was only one of the many nations that had diplomatic ties with China.

While the Ming had 31% of the world’s GDP while the Kingdom of Malacca had approximately less than 1% of the world’s GDP, it is highly controversial that the Ming Emperor would bestow a marriage of a woman of a “princess” or a “pseudo-princess” status to a ruler of an insignificant kingdom, which the Ming Chinese labeled as a southern barbaric tributary state. By contrast to the contemporaries of Chinese past dynasties, the Sung and the Ming dynasties did not practice Heqin (和親), marriage-alliance. Therefore, whether such diplomacy by marriage-alliance existed or a modern fabrication with a political motive for the propaganda of malay supremacy is still debated.

Malacca-Ming diplomatic relations

According to Malay Annals (Sejarah Melayu), the sultan dispatched Tun Perpatih Putih as his envoy to Ming (China) and carried a letter to the Emperor, it was mentioned that Hang Liu was sent to Malacca to be the bride of the Sultan. Li Po came to Malacca along with 500 other female attendants, many attendants later married officials serving Mansur Shah as Li Po married the sultan after she accepted the conversion to Islam.After their marriage, the sultan built a palace for Li Po and her attendants were given a permanent home at Bukit Cina which serves as a cemetery for the local Chinese.


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