The demure lady introduced herself as the ‘Ceylon Princess,’ at a prestigious function in China in 2014 and my curiosity was sparked as I was always on the lookout for a good story. I willed to get to the bottom of this astounding tale.
Princess Xushi Yin é hails from China’s Quanzhou Province. The cultural hot spot, which has seen the likes of imminent explorers such as Marco Polo, IbnBatuta grace its shores. It is also the birth place of Taoism through the Philosopher Lao Tzu is home to this beautiful royal figure, who has Sri Lankan blood coursing through her veins.
As a little girl the Princess was aware of her royal lineage, as her grandmother used to tell her about her family that had come from the other side of the sea. Valuing her privacy, she was reluctant to reveal her identity even after 1996, upon the discovery and subsequent excavation of ancestral –gravestones in Shijia tomb, Mount Qingyuan, in Fujiyan way back in 1996.
The Chinese government respected her confidentiality but she herself had to reveal her identity to a local newspaper for the sole purpose of stopping the land in the vicinity of her ancestral graveyard being levelled by local farmers. Her fame spread in her native city of Quanzhou and reached the land across the sea. The truth finally came to light that she was the 19th generation descendant of King Parakaramabahu VI of Kotte, Sri Lanka. King Parakramabahu VI son visited China over 600 years ago and lived in the country for the rest of his life under the local family “Shi’ after marrying a local family noble woman. The archives were searched and the extensive study revealed that Princess XushiYiné had very strong and legitimate ties to the paradise island, the profound words uttered by her grandmother resonated within her.
This further prompted two three successive visits to the island in 2002, 2015 and 2017.The most recent visit was in March 2017 as part of an elite Chinese delegation who visited upon the invitation of the Minister of Tourism and Christian Religious Affairs, John Amaratunga.
The Minister’s visit to Quanzhou province in February 2017 was largely due to the dedication and vision of Vidura Gunaratne, Chairman of Silk Route Ceylon Merchants (Pvt) Ltd,WuMiFino, CEO of Boarding Mountain Company in China and Wu Yinhe , General Manager of Boarding Mountain Company in China. The three persons who engage primarily in the tea trade envisioned stronger bilateral trade relations between China and Sri Lanka. This prompted them to invite the Minister to Quanzhou Province and the result was the reciprocal visit by the elite Chinese delegation which included the Ceylon Princess XushiYiné.
This particular visit further strengthened the bond between her and the island as it enabled her to visit her ancestral graves situated in Kotte, Sri Lanka.
REKINDLING THE GLORIOUS TRADE ROUTES OF YORE
The Ceylon Prince who is popularly known as Bai Lai Na was considered to be a son of Parakramabahu VI. In 2002, a group of archaeologists from Sri Lanka had visited the province and the ensuing investigations laid claim to the authenticity of the claim.
The relationship between China, specifically Quanzhou province spans centuries due to its strategical location as the starting point of the Maritime Silk Route, with Sri Lanka being its center, which connected the East and West from China to the Mediterranean Sea. The rekindled relationship between Quanzhou and Sri Lanka paves the way for renewed hope as the onset of the ‘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 Jingping is aimed at developing a trade infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes.
STRONG LINKS OF A BYGONE ERA
The Ceylon Prince is said to have arrived in a fleet of the Chinese explorer Zheng He, renowned for his seven voyages to have an audience with the Ming Emperor. Prior to boarding the ship after the voyage, he was informed of a coup in his country and fearing for his life, the young prince made a decision to remain in Quanzhou and take on the family name ‘Shi.’
At present the tombstones of the Sri Lankan Prince and family belong to the Quanzhou Maritime Museum, which is the sole museum in China specializing in overseas relations. The inscription on the tombstone is seen as; The Dynasty of Qing.’ Interestingly the tombstone depicts two snakes a popular design in the 15th Century Kotte Kingdom. Princess XushiYiné is the living testimony of the strong trade bonds between the two countries in ancient times.
During her most recent visit to the island, the Ceylon Princess had an audience with the Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Ranil Wickramasinghe , Minister of Tourism and Christian Religious Affairs, John Amarathunga and many other dignitaries, who recognized her value and strong ties to a bygone era. She is adamant to remain as a goodwill ambassador to solidify the ties between Sri Lanka and China, rekindling the dreams and hopes of her forefathers. The Quanzhou state officials have proposed to UNESCO to declare this compelling story of the Sri Lankan Prince and the artefacts associated with him an UNESCO world Heritage in 2018.