Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
Mongol Pilgrimages to Wutai Shan
Isabelle Charleux, National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS)
JIATS, no. 6 (December 2011), THL #T5712, pp. 275-326
Section 3 of 6 (pp. 279-282)

Promoting the Mountain

The reasons why the Mongols considered Wutai Shan to be the most sacred place to visit on earth are many – the ancientness and pan-Asian Buddhist character of the pilgrimage, the particular promotion of the mountain during the Yuan dynasty, the importance of the cult of Mañjuśrī in Buddhist Mongolia,14 the promotion of the mountain by the early Manchus, linked with the cult of the emperor-Mañjuśrī,15 and by the Mongolian and Tibetan clergy affiliated to the Qing court. But what were the means of propaganda used on the common Mongolian herders?

David Farquhar stressed the importance of the Mongolian guide-books (γarcaγ, karchakdkar chag) as a major instrument of promotion of the holy mountain for the Mongols.16 The first guide-book of Wutai Shan in Mongol was written by Lobsang Danjin (Lozang Tenjinblo bzang bstan ’jin\, seventeenth century), at the request of Awang Laozang (阿王老藏, Ngawang Lozangngag dbang blo bzang, 1601-87), the first head ruling lama of Wutai Shan.17 It was published in Beijing in 1667 or, more probably, 1721. Farquhar showed that it was one of the first block-prints made in China for the Mongols and assumed it was supported by the imperial court to promote the mountain.18 This book had a very large circulation and was still available in the early twentieth century.19 However, the guide-books were read by a minority of learned Mongols and were probably not the main means of promoting Wutai Shan.

[page 280]

A second means was the wood-block images of Wutai Shan such as the Cifu Si image dated 1846, which was widely circulated, recarved, and copied on other supports (silks, mural paintings). It was exported to Outer Mongolia: Dr. G. J. Ramstedt’s Finnish expedition purchased one print in 1909 at UrgaÖrgüge (Yeke Küriye) in a Beijing shop, “an agency representing the Wutai Shan monasteries,” along with sixty-three brightly colored tangkathang ka probably made on the mountain.20 The print preserved in the Museum of the Mission of Fathers of Scheut (C. I. C. M.) in Belgium was probably purchased in Inner Mongolia.21 In 1874, only thirty-two years after the first print, the image was re-carved on new wood-blocks, probably somewhere in China, and other similar style wood-blocks also exist.22

The Cifu Si image of Wutai Shan, by giving an easily decipherable panorama, helped spread knowledge of the mountain. It could at the same time be used as a guide-map,23 a model for painters, a souvenir, an object of worship comparable with the paintings of famous monasteries found in Mongolian monasteries,24 and even the locus of a surrogate pilgrimage. According to the Chinese inscription, the pilgrimage to Wutai Shan and the act of seeing this map are two means of listening to and preaching the dharma of Mañjuśrī and ensure blessings, happiness, longevity, and deliverance from all calamities and diseases in this life.25 By worshipping the map the pilgrim could even make a more complete pilgrimage than the original.26

The Mongolian gazetteers and the Cifu Si image were made widely available to the Mongols, but the promotion of the mountain was mostly done in the field, through the oral accounts of pilgrims and monks, the tales of miracles, visions and encounters with Mañjuśrī, and the advices and prescriptions given by learned lamabla mas and reincarnations who encouraged Mongols to undertake the pilgrimage to cure an illness. Besides, the numerous monks from the Wutai Shan monasteries who traveled around, gathering funds for restoration work or new construction, spread the fame of Wutai Shan throughout Mongolia and even in Buryatia with such persuasion that after their visit, the Mongol donors often made a vow to make a pilgrimage to the mountain. These lamabla mas, in charge of the treasury of a [page 281] monastery or of a reincarnation, organized annual collective fund-raising expeditions, setting off with carts and tents; others traveled alone and were called wandering monk.27 They left the mountain in the spring and returned before winter. As noted by the missionary James Gilmour, “these expeditions are numerous and indefatigable, and perhaps there is no tent, rich or poor, throughout the whole length and breadth of the eastern half of Mongolia, which is not visited by such deputation every year. These collectors penetrate even beyond the bounds of the Chinese empire, and carry off rich offerings from the Buriats, who compared with Mongols are wealthy. Food, tea, skins, cattle, money, all are eagerly received […].”28 Fund-raising lamabla mas from LabrangBla brang, Gönlung Jampa LingDgon lung byams pa gling and other AmdoA mdo monasteries also criss-crossed Mongolia, and found Mongol herders generally wealthier than Tibetans.

The Wutai Shan wandering monk were held in great esteem by Mongol families. Going from yurt to yurt, they delivered a speech about the monastery where they came from, the temples and stūpa they had to repair, asking for the great compassion of the donor and telling them of the infinite merits they could obtain. They brought small gifts – silk they bought in Beijing, clothes for the children, silk scarves, statues from the mountain, charm (adis, adhiṣṭhāna),29 as well as children’s shoes for childless families as a promise to bring them children. Like other wandering badarci, they also brought news and stories.30 Once they had gathered enough funds, they returned to Wutai Shan, sometimes with large sums of money, gold and silver, driving before them up to two thousand sheep and hundreds of horses.31 They usually sold some of these animals in the towns they went through.32 Those who traveled to Eastern Inner Mongolia went via Beijing,33 where they purchased various artifacts to take to Mongolia, and on their way back, they exchanged part of the gifts they had received for silk in Beijing. Wutai Shan lamabla mas who traveled in Mongolia for other purposes, such as to take back home ill or tired pilgrims, also received many gifts from Mongol families on the way.34

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The Mongol donors whose names were entered in the subscription list gained good merit through the act of donation, and were to think that they had created connections with Wutai Shan. They had established a particular relation, a special link with a specific monastery, so that when they went to the mountain, they would then be welcomed to that monastery “as old acquaintances by those who experienced their hospitality in the desert, and were the recipients of their pious gifts.”35 These fund-raising expeditions certainly played an important role in the spread of knowledge of the mountain and were therefore a living advertisement for Wutai Shan.


[14] About the importance of Mañjuśrī in religious canonical texts as well as in texts and narratives used in Mongols’ daily life, see Johan Elverskog, “Wutai Shan, Qing Cosmopolitanism, and the Mongols,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011), http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5715\.
[15] David M. Farquhar, “Emperor as Bodhisattva in the Governance of the Ch’ing Empire,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 38, no. 2 (1978): 5-34.
[16] Farquhar, “Emperor as Bodhisattva.”
[17] Uta-yin tabun aγulan-u orusil süsüg-ten-ü cikin cimeg orusiba (“A Guide to the Five Mountains of Wutai: Ornament for the Ears of the Devotees”); see Walther Heissig, Die Pekinger Lamaistischen Blockdrucke in mongolischer Sprache. Materialien zur mongolischen Literaturgeschichte, Göttinger Asiatische Forschungen 2 (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1954), n°7, n°58. Ngawang LozangNgag dbang blo bzang was appointed by imperial order in 1659.
[18] Farquhar, “Emperor as Bodhisattva,” 30.
[19] Heissig, Die Pekinger, 12, n. 4. On the other Mongolian guidebooks, see Farquhar, “Emperor as Bodhisattva,” 30; Gray Tuttle, “Early Qing Patronage of (Tibetan) Buddhism at Wutai Shan: The Chinese Language Register,” paper read at the “Conference Wutai Shan and Qing Culture” (New York, May 12-13, 2007), Appendix 1.
[20] Harry Halén, Mirrors of the Void, Buddhist Art in the National Museum of Finland, 64 Sino-Mongolian thang ka from the Wutai Shan Workshops, a Panoramic Map of the Wutai Mountains and Objects of Diverse Origins (Helsinki: Museovirasto, 1987), 4. The tangkathang ka and the map are now in the National Museum of Finland in Helsinki.
[21] Museum of China, Anderlecht, inv. Bouddhisme/N°193, personal communication of Father Jean-Pierre Benit.
[22] Chou, “Ineffable paths,” 126, n. 2, 11, and 12; 127 n. 48, 49.
[23] Although its labels are written in Chinese and Tibetan, not in Mongolian.
[24] A painting of Wutai Shan together with seven Tibetan monasteries is found on the second floor of the Coγcin Dugang (built in 1757) of Badγar Coyiling Süme (or Aγui Yeke Onul-tu Süme, Udan Juu, Ch. Wudang Zhao, north east of Baotou). See Isabelle Charleux, Temples et monastères de Mongolie-Intérieure (Paris: Comité des Travaux Historiques et Scientifiques & Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, 2006), fig. 104 and CD-rom 63.
[25] Translation of the Chinese inscription in Chou, “Ineffable paths,” 125, “Appendix.”
[26] Chou, “Ineffable paths,” 124.
[27] A term that designates a wandering unordained practitioner who traveled for various purposes: to collect funds to build a monastery, teach and spread the Dharma, further their religious training in Tibet, or to run away from taxes and debts (C. Gocoo, “Le Badarci mongol,” trans. from Mongolian by Sarah Dars, Études Mongoles 1 [Nanterre, 1970]: 73-77).
[28] Gilmour, Among the Mongols, 151.
[29] Squares of white paper written in Tibetan containing flour and sugar, rice, and so forth, to eat as a medicine, to bring happiness, wealth and luck.
[30] Song Wenhui, “Mengzu renmin de Wutai Shan qing,” Wutai Shan yanjiu (2000, no. 3): 33; quoting a document written by a Qaracin lamabla ma and preserved in the Archives of the Qaracin Right Banner, which relates the expeditions of alms-collecting lamabla mas visiting the Qaracin Right banner in Inner Mongolia.
[31] In 1930 a certain Babu (twentieth century), after having deducted his traveling expenses, brought back 1,300 silver dollars to his monastery (Song, “Mengzu renmin,” 33).
[32] Song, “Mengzu renmin,” 33.
[33] John Blofeld met a fund-raising monk from Wutai Shan in Beijing around 1936-37 (The Wheel of Life, 96-97).
[34] Gilmour, Among the Mongols, 149.
[35] Gilmour, Among the Mongols, 151.

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 ).

Bibliography Citation

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 ).