A tweet by BRISL (an Organisation covering news, analysis & research on Belt & Road Initiative from a Sri Lankan perspective), claiming the “Lanka Princess” Xu Shi Yin’e attended this year’s Vesak celebrations at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Beijing on May 26 and she is a 19th generation descendant of a prince from the court of King Parakramabahu VI of Kotte, has set the internet on fire across Sri Lanka and its diaspora all over the World.

Many Sri Lankans who are already wary of the growing presence of China and Chinese nationals across the Indian Ocean island nation have taken to social media platforms to question and ridicule these claims. Some are expressing anger and dismay over the brazenness of China.

According to Sri Lankan mythology, a 15th-century Sinhalese prince had stayed back in China after he married a Chinese girl. Chinese media and officials claim Xu Shi Yin’e is a direct descendant of that prince.

In the 1990s, 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 at Kotte (more or less, the present-day Colombo) and killed his brothers. So, he stayed in China, married and settled down, taking up the name of ‘Shi’. According to Yin’e, the reason he did not return is not political but simply love. Some even argue that the prince was Alakeshvara, the brave king of Kotte who was abducted and taken to China by the generals of Ming dynasty. After pardoning him, the Ming emperor had installed Parakramabahu VI as the new king in Sri Lanka.

All these stories are shrouded in mystery and no one is ready to authenticate them.

According to Sasanka Perara of South Asian University, there is a deafening silence on the Chinese belligerence in the 15th century even though there are adequate references to the incident from records of the time as well as from the work of latter-day scholars such as Edward Dreyer, Louise Levathes, Senarath Paranavitana and others. All these sources collectively offer a reasonable sense of what happened not only in Lanka but the overall contexts and politics of Chinese naval expansion in the 15th century.

The latest claims are being dubbed as a Chinese joke on Sri Lankan history. Some are even calling it a Chinese psychological operation to capture Sri Lanka by planting such “nonsensical” stories to establish an ancient link.

Philip Friedrich, a historian and researcher, rubbishes the Ceylonese prince theory. He said, “The Mahavamsa and Sinhala Vamsas (texts like the Rajavaliya and Rajaratnakaraya) don’t offer a clear genealogy of Parakramabahu VI’s royal household. This whole period is a historiographic morass”.

In a series of tweets, he has tried to debunk the Ceylonese “princess” story.

“I don’t know what the intentions behind the ‘Ceylon Princess’ story are - if it’s part of long-con, Chinese influence operation in SL, at least they got the Quanzhou part right! But one thing that the story can’t offer is an unmediated link to an ‘authentic’ Sinhala sovereignty,” he said.

China has invested heavily in Sri Lanka and the island nation has borrowed billions of dollars from it in the last 10 years to take up huge infrastructure projects. China already controls the Hambantota port in the south and is building an international port city right next to the Sri Lankan President’s official residence on the land reclaimed from the Indian Ocean. This port city will be like a Chinese colony in the Sri Lankan capital, allege many locals.

Though the Sri Lankan government is not commenting on the newly-found Ceylonese “princess” in China, the public mood is more or less against it.