The Emperor as Bodhisattva
Any study of Wutai Shan during the Qing period needs to begin with David Farquhar’s seminal 1978 article “Emperor as Bodhisattva in the Governance of the Ch’ing Empire.”14 This was and still remains a monumental piece of scholarship. In fact, it was a piece of scholarship that was a full twenty years ahead of its time. It laid the foundation not only for the New Qing History, but also more prosaically for the study of Wutai Shan and Qing culture. Indeed, as confirmed by the recent work of Köhle,15 and the article of Tuttle in this volume,16 Farquhar’s general thesis still stands: the Manchus expended an enormous amount of time and resources on the cult of the Bodhisattva of Wisdom (Mañjuśrī, Jampelyang’jam dpal dbyangs) and Wutai Shan pilgrimage. Moreover, as Charleux’s article readily confirms,17 this project carried out by the metropole had a great impact upon the Mongols. As missionaries and travelers in nineteenth-century Inner Asia all record, the Mongols went to Wutai Shan in droves. These Westerners even compared the mountain to Mecca and Jerusalem. Thus clearly something was going on, and Farquhar was the first to take this phenomenon seriously.
Yet Farquhar’s essay, no matter how brilliant, was not without flaws. For example, as several scholars have recently pointed out the Manchu patronage of both Tantric Buddhism and Wutai Shan did not solely have a Yuan precedent. Rather, as is now becoming more and more evident the Ming court was also heavily involved with Tibetan lamas, their particular form of Buddhism, and Wutai Shan, up through the sixteenth century.18 Thus as Elliott reminds us in his work on the [page 248] memory of Zhu Yuanzhang in Qing historiography, the Qing was not only “Inner Asian,” but also drew heavily upon the “Chinese,” or more aptly “the Ming tradition” as well.19 In fact, as Tuttle convincingly shows in his study of the imperial gazetteers of Wutai Shan, the main audience for much of this early court sponsored material was not the so-called Inner Asians, but the Chinese, including those who had converted to Tibetan Buddhism.
The reasons for this are certainly numerous. Yet to understand the Manchu decision to expend enormous amounts of time and money on this particular pilgrimage site it is important to recognize that Wutai Shan had long been a component of the Mongols’ Buddhist tradition. Indeed, the Mongols were well aware of Mañjuśrī and Wutai Shan long before the appearance of the Manchus. In fact one of the earliest texts brought from the Ming court and translated into Mongolian was the Mañjuśrī-nāma-saṃgīti,20 a central text of the Mañjuśrī cult.21 It was even prepared in a quadralingual edition in 1592 at the request of Altan Khan’s grandson.22 Yet it was not only such canonical texts that were in circulation among the Mongols in the sixteenth century. There were also divination texts, such as The Mirror of Mañjuśrī’s Benevolence, the Refuge: The Method of Reckoning Calamities, which places Mañjuśrī specifically on Wutai Shan.23 Moreover, the early Mongolian manuscripts from Olon Süme in Inner Mongolia also include fragments of an incense offering that mentions Wutai Shan.24 Similarly, among the Kharbukin Balghas birch bark manuscripts, which were discovered in a stupa in Outer Mongolia, there is a prayer for rebirth that says specifically “On China’s [page 249] Wutai Shan mountain where the victorious youth Holy Mañjuśrī dwells.”25 Of course, one can rightfully wonder how such texts actually impacted Mongol conceptualizations, much less their religious practices – something we may never know – though the fact that Altan Khan (1507-1582) named one of his daughters “Mañjuśrī” seems to reflect a familiarity, albeit an odd one, with the tradition.26 Moreover, the importance of Mañjuśrī for the Mongols is also borne out by the fact that the Fifth Dalai Lama initially recognized Zanabazar as an incarnation of Mañjuśrī, and only later did he “revoke” this title, no doubt in regard to his relations with the Manchus, and then re-recognize him as an incarnation of Tāranātha, or Jebdzundamba.27 Yet the most telling piece of evidence for Mongol interest in the cult of Mañjuśrī is that, contrary to the Tibetan tradition, they made the Mañjuśrī-nāma-saṃgīti the opening text of the Mongolian KangyurBka’ gyur (Tripiṭaka).28 The cult of Mañjuśrī and his connection to Wutai Shan was thus well-known to the Mongols, and it was clearly from them, as with so much else (script, military structures, and so forth) that the Manchus acquired this tradition beginning already during the reign of Hong Taiji.29
In his article Farquhar unfortunately overlooked this fact. He also misunderstood the actual development of the Wutai Shan cult among the Mongols. Indeed, he believed that the Manchus’ appropriation of this practice was both an immediate and important success in the ideological project of incorporating the Mongols within the Qing orbit. Yet the reality is completely the opposite. Indeed, the Manchu promotion of Wutai Shan in the early part of the dynasty seems in fact to have been directed largely towards the Chinese, and not the Mongols. This is not, however, to suggest that the Manchus were not also trying to promote Wutai Shan among the Mongols, nor that Mongols were not involved in this project.30 Yet the [page 250] fact of the matter is that all of these activities carried out by the court did not seem to have much impact on Mongol religiosity. Indeed, the Mongols only started to go on pilgrimage to the mountain in the late eighteenth century. And it only became a mass phenomenon in the nineteenth century.
Not only is this “lag-time” borne out by the extant Mongolian stelae at Wutai Shan,31 but also in Mongol literature. The earliest “indigenous” Mongol description of Wutai Shan, for example, appeared only in 1813.32 Similarly, no early Mongol history ever mentions Wutai Shan; however, in nineteenth-century sources mentions of the mountain are commonplace.33 Indeed, the most dramatic example of this development, highlighting the Qing-period conflation of the Mongols, Buddhism and Wutai Shan, is found only in Dharmatala’s late-nineteenth-century Rosary of White Lotuses (Pema Karpö TrengwaPadma dkar po’i phreng ba), which claims erroneously that the Third Dalai Lama memorialized the death of Altan Khan by giving the Heruka initiation, and offering the Heruka maṇḍala at Wutai Shan.34
The same development is also seen in ritual texts, wherein the mountain becomes more and more prevalent over time. In the case of texts devoted to the White Old Man (chaghan ebügen), for example, the earliest texts claim he came from a place called Jimistü, meaning “having fruits.”35 In later texts, however, the White Old Man actually resides on Wutai Shan. In one text he even proclaims, “I am the [page 251] Buddha called the White Old Man who comes from Wutai Shan, the place of the five Mañjuśrīs.”36 Similarly, prophetic texts circulating among the Mongols also came to be attributed to Mañjuśrī. These texts in fact are described as appearing among humanity by falling from the sky onto the temples of Wutai Shan.37 Yet the best example of this widespread recognition and acceptance of Mañjuśrī and the Wutai Shan cult among the nineteenth century Mongols is well captured in their inclusion in both wedding ceremony texts, and the ritual texts surrounding horse races. In the latter case, Wutai Shan is thus included among the sacred mountains that are offered aspersions of fermented mare or camel’s milk (kumis).38 And in the case of Mongol weddings, one of the presents that have to be presented during the elaborate gift-giving rituals of a marital union is “Mañjuśrī’s five presents.”39
The cult of Wutai Shan thus clearly became central within the religious world of the Mongols; however, it was not necessarily the direct result of Manchu machinations in the metropole. And this is one of the two major flaws in Farquhar’s article. Namely, premised as it is on a unidirectional framework of power, it overlooks precisely the process whereby Mongols actually accepted, rejected, re-interpreted, deflected, or re-negotiated what was being assiduously broadcast by the Qing court. Indeed, as Schaeffer’s work on Tibetan poetry reveals,40 the growth of Wutai Shan worship was less the result of imperial tours, multi-volume gazetteers and statue production, but more the result of the written, and no doubt more often the spoken word of revered Tibetan Buddhist hierarchs resident on the mountain.41 Indeed, the fact that the Wutai Shan cult took off among the Mongols [page 252] and Tibetans at exactly the same time as poetry about the mountain appeared is clearly not a coincidence. And when we recognize this fact we need to re-evaluate many things, including the power of the Qing state vis-à-vis the Dharma, the nature of Tibeto-Mongol Buddhist networks, and the role of orality in Qing culture. Unfortunately, however, these issues are beyond the scope of this paper, thus here I would like to turn to the question at hand: What does pilgrimage to Wutai Shan reveal about Qing culture? In particular, what does it tell us about the fluid and porous boundaries between the communities who went to the mountain?
These questions obviously tie into the issues raised above. They also relate to the second major flaw in Farquhar’s paper; namely, his presentation of the Mongols as an essentialized whole. Indeed, he offers no evidence or critical awareness of the Mongols as either changing over time, or that the Mongols were not a homogenous entity. Farquhar himself clearly knew better. His own dissertation revealed the deep institutional differences among the Mongols within the Qing.42 Yet, it is just such an essentialized use of the term that in this case obscures what impact the cult of Wutai Shan had upon the Mongols, since they are never imagined as anything but a holistic receptacle of Manchu propaganda.
Note Citation for Page
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 (accessed ).
Note Citation for Whole Article
Johan Elverskog, “Wutai Shan, Qing Cosmopolitanism, and the Mongols,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 243-274, http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5715 (accessed ).
Elverskog, Johan. “Wutai Shan, Qing Cosmopolitanism, and the Mongols.” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 243-274. http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5715 (accessed ).