Popular Wutai Shan
If the imperial patronage of the mountain has attracted the attention of past and present scholars – see the numerous publications on the imperially-founded temples and the steles and poems written by emperors – the activities of ordinary pilgrims are comparatively poorly documented. I will try here to move away from the imperial center and focus on the ordinary Mongols who undertook the pilgrimage to Wutai Shan: why, how they came, and what they did there. These pilgrims did not write travelogues about their journeys, but had stone inscriptions carved to commemorate their donations. About 340 Mongolian stone inscriptions still stand at Wutai Shan and have not been published. Some were carved on very bad quality stone, so they are now completely illegible, but the majority has been well preserved. They generally inform us on the date of the donation, the name and origin of pilgrims, and the amount of donations.10
Travelers’ accounts also inform us about the Mongol pilgrims’ practices.11 European explorers, scientists, diplomats and missionaries, as well as Chinese officials, scientists and pilgrims who went to Wutai Shan in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries give us some vivid descriptions of the Mongol pilgrims. At last, a useful source is the 1846 wood-block map made by a Mongol monk of the Cifu Si. As shown by Chou Wen-shing, the map is not only a religious record of monasteries, miracles and apparitions, but also an ethnographic document that gives a glimpse of the daily life of merchants, pilgrims and monks, the roads and paths they took, and the gestures they made in front of temples.12
These sources tell us about sacred features of the landscape – grottoes, springs, ponds, strange rocks, as well as ritual practices associated with them, suggesting the popular appropriation of the mountain. Some of these popular practices, such as crawling through the cave of initiatory rebirth, which will be the object of the third part of this paper, are not documented by official records, probably because they do not belong to any learned tradition and because the eminent monks never considered them as important compared, for instance, to the manifestations of Mañjuśrī. The clerical views of the mountain differ from the pilgrims’ ordinary experiences.13 These popular practices and narratives reveal the transformation of the mountain as a Tibeto-Mongol pilgrimage site, and inform us, in a different way than the Tibetan and Mongol gazetteers, about how the Tibetans and Mongol monks and pilgrims reshaped the mountain.
I will thus raise a few questions about how the reconfiguration of Wutai Shan as a Tibeto-Mongol pilgrimage site supported by the Qing emperors for the Mongols was adopted and reshaped by them. What did Wutai Shan really mean for the Mongols, how could it compare and compete with Tibetan pilgrimages, and how did the Tibetans and Mongols transplant and superimpose Tibetan pilgrimage [page 279] traditions onto the preexistent Wutai Shan landscape and narrative by creating new sites, legends and rituals?
I will begin with a presentation of how Wutai Shan became a popular destination among Mongols during the late Qing dynasty, and then try to give an overview of their peregrinations and daily religious practices. The third part of the article will focus on pilgrims’ practices at natural holy sites, and particularly, caves. Many questions will remain unsolved and demand further studies, in particular whether the Mongol pilgrims observed certain vows, certain taboos, and in what ways their pilgrimage was different from that of Chinese devotees.
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 ).
- Popular Wutai Shan
- Promoting the Mountain
- The Mongolian Pilgrimages to Wutai Shan
- The Natural Numinous Features of the Wutai Shan Pilgrimage
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