Mongol Pilgrimages to Wutai Shan in the Late Qing Dynasty
JIATS, no. 6 (December 2011), THL #T5712, pp. 275-326.
© 2011 by Isabelle Charleux, IATS, and THL
Abstract: Since the beginning of the Qing dynasty, Mongols have viewed Wutai Shan as a substitute for Tibet pilgrimages. Relying on various Mongolian, Chinese, Japanese, and Western sources (stone inscriptions, local gazetteers, travelogues, mountain guides), this paper tries to document the pilgrimage of Mongols to Wutai Shan from the late Qing dynasty to the early twentieth century. Who were the ordinary pilgrims, where did they come from, and what were their motivations? How were they informed about the pilgrimage and how did they travel to Wutai Shan? What were they particularly looking for and what were their priorities? The final section deals with a particular type of cave, the famous “Womb Cave,” and its connection to pilgrimage sites in Mongolia.
Un lieu saint ne peut exister sans l’action centrifuge des saints et des religieux, et l’action centripète des pèlerins. Les religieux proposent et les pèlerins disposent.1
Figure 1: General view of Wutai Shan in the first half of the twentieth century. Ernest Boerschmann, Picturesque China - Architecture and Landscape - A Journey through Twelve Provinces (New York: Brentano’s, 1923). Photographs taken between 1906-1909. http://www.pbase.com/lambsfeathers/image/43157671.
Pilgrimage is one of the most important expressions of lay religiosity. Mongols being reputedly pious and sincere devotees, their devotion at pilgrimage sites was spectacular. As noted by a few nineteenth- and early twentieth-century observers, they made pilgrimages to numerous local shrines, but none of them could compare to Wutai Shan. James Gilmour for instance, who traveled from 1870 to 1880, compared the Wutai pilgrimage to Jerusalem and Mecca.2 Yet this had not always [page 276] been the case: the transformation into a Tibeto-Mongol3 pilgrimage site was a gradual process. Although Tibetan Buddhist monasteries were built on the mountain by the Yuan Mongol emperors, we have no evidence of Mongol pilgrimages before the mid-Qing dynasty, when Rölpé DorjéRol pa’i rdo rje (1717-86), the Second (or Third for the Chinese) Zhangjia (章嘉, Changjalcang skya) Qutuγtu, spent summers on the mountain for thirty-six years (1750-1786). At that time, three thousand lamabla mas (lama, 喇嘛, lamablama)4 lived in twenty-six Tibeto-Mongol monasteries at Wutai Shan.5 Although the Qing also subsidized the Chinese monasteries,6 the Tibeto-Mongol ones were obviously wealthier and received more donations from the Qing court.7 These monasteries staffed by Mongol and Tibetan monks attracted so many Mongol pilgrims that during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Wutai Shan presented a strong exotic flavor for Chinese visitors. With Qing support, the Tibeto-Mongol monasteries became a Tibetan enclave on the edge of Chinese territory, only a few hundred kilometers from Mongolia, ruled by the representative of the Dalai Lama in China – the head ruling lama (jasaγ da blama).8 Under the emperor Jiaqing (嘉庆, r. 1796-1820), Wutai Shan was called Tibet of China (Zhonghua Weizang, [page 277] 中華衛藏)9 and a statute was created granting Tibetans there extraterritoriality. The Thirteenth Dalai Lama, who took refuge in Wutai Shan in 1907-1908, felt more secure and free there than in Beijing. However, during that period, Wutai Shan continued to be a very important pilgrimage site for Chinese Buddhists, included in the circuit of the Four Grand and Famous Mountains (Si da ming shan, 四大名山).
Note Citation for Page
Isabelle Charleux, “Mongol Pilgrimages to Wutai Shan in the Late Qing Dynasty,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): , http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5712 (accessed ).
Note Citation for Whole Article
Isabelle Charleux, “Mongol Pilgrimages to Wutai Shan in the Late Qing Dynasty,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 275-326, http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5712 (accessed ).
Charleux, Isabelle. “Mongol Pilgrimages to Wutai Shan in the Late Qing Dynasty.” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 275-326. http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5712 (accessed ).
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