Princesses in peril have been in the news lately. Early this month, supporters of Princess Basmah of Saudi Arabia , who was arrested in the country two years ago, appealed to the British government to help secure her release for medical reasons. The princess, an outspoken advocate of human rights, especially women’s rights, in Saudi Arabia, was detained as she attempted to leave for Switzerland in March 2019. Last month, the United Nations asked the United Arab Emirates for proof that Princess Latifa, a daughter of Dubai’s ruler, was still alive , after the release of secret messages she had recorded earlier, in which she claims that her father has held her in captivity since her failed attempt to escape in 2018. There were countless princesses in China’s past, most of whom made fleeting appearances in the history books. Most of the time, their names were not even recorded; we only know them by their titles. Emperors’ daughters were known as gongzhu , and there were two types of titles for princesses: geographical and felicitous. The former usually referred to the fief conferred on a princess, which generated part of her income, or that of her husband’s. Thus, the titles of princesses Pingyang, Dongyang and Pingyuan, for example, refer to locations in central and eastern China. The other category of titles reflected the personal attributes of the princesses or the aspirations their father wished on them or the country, for example princesses Wencheng (“literary achievement”), Taiping (“grand peace”) and Anle (“contented and happy”). Titles were not exclusive and could be given to other princesses at different times. Most daughters of emperors remained princesses for life, even after marriage or remarriage. After their father died, they could be promoted to grand princesses ( zhang gongzhu ) as sisters of the next emperor, or princesses supreme ( dazhang gongzhu ) if they lived long enough to see their nephew ascend to the throne. There were also junior princesses ( junzhu , xianzhu ), who were daughters of imperial princes and nobles. Life as a princess in imperial China was not all sweetness and peonies. To be sure, these women lived in some luxury and were accorded a level of dignity befitting their birth. As daughters, however, they were not valued as highly as their brothers, and as females, the throne was off limits to them. There are few accounts of real affection between emperors and their daughters. For the most part, princesses were chattel in political horse trading. Emperors would marry their daughters to noblemen, officials, and generals or their sons to consolidate the power of the imperial house. When China had to appease foreign nations or forge alliances with them, a junior princess from a minor branch of the imperial family would quickly be promoted to gongzhu and leave China for the country of her prospective husband, never to see her homeland again. During the Tang dynasty, Princess Wencheng (AD623-680) was sent to Tibet in AD640 to marry its king, Songtsen Gampo. She was credited with keeping the amity between the Tang dynasty and Tibet, and promoting cultural exchanges between the two regions. Why imperial Chinese princesses were not as lucky as Lady Diana For a few decades in the Tang dynasty, before, during and after the reign of China’s only female sovereign, Wu Zetian , (from AD690 to 705) Chinese princesses wielded great power. The influential Princess Taiping, Empress Wu’s daughter with Emperor Gaozong, was as ruthless and corrupt as any male politician. Princess Anle, Empress Wu’s granddaughter, wanted to be “heiress apparent” and took part in the murder of her father, Emperor Zhongzong. The princess had her head unceremoniously lopped off in her boudoir during a coup by a soldier of her cousin, the future Emperor Xuanzong. Otherwise, the lives of Chinese princesses over the few millennia of Chinese history were uneventful, probably dull and on some occasions, tragic.