Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
Wutai Shan, Qing Cosmopolitanism, and the Mongols
Johan Elverskog, Southern Methodist University
JIATS, no. 6 (December 2011), THL #T5715, pp. 243-274
Section 2 of 5 (pp. 247-252)

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.


[14] David M. Farquhar, “Emperor as Bodhisattva in the Governance of the Ch’ing Empire.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 38, no. 1 (1978): 5-34.
[15] Natalie Köhle, “Why Did the Kangxi Emperor Go to Wutai Shan?: Patronage, Pilgrimage and the Place of Tibetan Buddhism at the Early Qing Court,” Late Imperial China 29, no. 1 (2008): 73-119.
[16] Gray Tuttle, “Tibetan Buddhism at Wutai Shan in the Qing: The Chinese-language Register,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011), http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5721.
[17] 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.
[18] See Hoong Teik Toh, “Tibetan Buddhism in Ming China” (Doctoral diss., Harvard University, 2004); Köhle “Why Did the Kangxi Emperor Go to Wutai Shan?”; Peter Schwieger, “A Document of Chinese Diplomatic Relations with East Tibet during the Ming Dynasty,” in Tibetstudien: Festschrift für Dieter Schuh zum 65. Geburtstag, eds. Petra Maurer and Peter Schwieger, 209-26 (Bonn: Bier’sche Verlaganstallt, 2007); Shen Weirong, “On the History of Gling tshang Principality of mDo khams during the Yuan and Ming Dynasties: Studies on Sources Concerning Tibet in Ming Shilu (I),” in Tibetstudien: Festschrift für Dieter Schuh zum 65. Geburtstag, eds. Petra Maurer and Peter Schwieger (Bonn: Bier’sche Verlaganstallt, 2007); Dora C. Y. Ching, “Tibetan Buddhism and the Creation of the Imperial Image,” in Culture, Courtiers, and Competition: The Ming Court (1368-1644), ed. David M. Robinson (Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2008); and David M. Robinson, “The Ming Court and the Legacy of the Yuan Mongols,” in Culture, Courtiers, and Competition: The Ming Court (1368-1644), ed. David M. Robinson (Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2008).
[19] Mark C. Elliott, “Hung Up on Hung U: Manchu Views of Ming Taizu.” Unpublished paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association of Asian Studies, 2006.
[20] Although the Ming court provided the Mongols with both Tibetan texts and monks from Beijing (see Henry Serruys, “Early Lamaism in Mongolia,” Oriens Extremus 10 [1962]: 181-216; and Henry Serruys, “Additional Note on the Origin of Lamaism in Mongolia,” Oriens Extremus 13 [1966]: 165-73), they still wanted to obtain them directly from Tibet, which the court was hesitant to allow citing security concerns (Coyiji, “Гutugar dalai blam-a aγuljaqu-yin uridaki Altan qaγan ba Töbed-ün burqan-u sasin,” Menggu xue xinxi 3 [1996]: 10-26).
[21] On the history and importance of this text, see Ronald M. Davidson, “The Litany of Names of Mañjuśrī: Text and Translation of the Mañjuśrīnāmasaṃgīti,” in Tantric and Taoist Studies in Honour of R. A. Stein, ed. Michel Strickmann, Mélanges Chinois et Bouddhiques 20 (Brussels: Institute Belge des Hautes Études Chinoises, 1981), 1-69.
[22] The Mañjuśrī-​nāma-​saṃgīti was initially translated in the Yuan period, presumably by a circle of translators around Chökyi ÖzerChos kyi 'od zer between 1295-1312, and it was a later copy of this text that was reissued in 1592 in a quadralingual version. Although this 1592 edition is only slightly different than the fourteenth century version, a nearly word-for-word copy of this earlier work, now translated by Lodrö NampaBlo gros nam pa (see Alice Sárközi, “A 17th Century Mongol Mañjusrinamasamgiti with Commentary,” Acta Orientalia Hungaricae 26, no. 3 [1982]: 449-68).
[23] György Kara, The Mongol and Manchu Manuscripts and Blockprints in the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 2004), 229.
[24] Walther Heissig, Die mongolischen Handschriften-Reste aus Olon süme Innere Mongolei (16.-17. Jhdt.) (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1976), 386, 392.
[25] Elisabetta Chiodo, The Mongolian Manuscripts on Birch Bark from Xarbuxyn Balgas in the Collection of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2000), 95-97.
[26] Johan Elverskog, The Jewel Translucent Sutra: Altan Khan and the Mongols in the Sixteenth Century (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 117.
[27] Junko Miyawaki, “Tibeto-Mongol Relations at the Time of the First Rje btsun dam pa Qutugtu,” In Tibetan Studies: Proceedings of the 5th Seminar of the IATS Narita, 1989, vol. 2, eds. Ihara Shoren and Yamaguchi Zuiho (Narita: Naritasan Shinshoji, 1992), 3-4.
[28] See Walther Heissig, Beiträge zur Übersetzungsgeschichte des mongolischen buddhistischen Kanons (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1962); and Karénina Kollmar-Paulenz, “The Transmission of the Mongolian Kanjur: A Preliminary Report,” in The Many Canons of Tibetan Buddhism, eds. Helmut Eimer and David Germano (Leiden: Brill, 2002).
[29] The connection between the Manchus and Mañjuśrī, for example, is found in Mongolian documents from the early seventeenth century, see Cimeddorji, “Baraγun tümed-ün teüken-tü qolbuγdaqu kedün surbaljis,” in The Third International Symposium on Mongology Sponsored by Inner Mongolia: Summaries of Symposium Papers (Hohhot: University of Inner Mongolia, 1998), 324-26.
[30] In addition to the early Manchu projects described by Farquhar, Köhle and Tuttle, which involved the Mongols, we should also note that based on a manuscript now housed in Beijing we know that there was a Mongolian translation of the ten-scroll (juan) gazetteer in preparation already in 1680 (cing liyang san aγulan-u sin’e bicig, in Dumdadu ulus-un erten-ü monggol nom bicig-ün yerüngkei garcag [Catalogue of Ancient Mongolian Books and Documents of China, Beijing: Beijing Tushuguan Chubanshe, 2000] 4824). Moreover, as seen in the biography of the important Inner Mongolian lamabla ma Chagan Diyanchi, who went repeatedly to Wutai Shan at the request of the Kangxi emperor (1662-1723), it is also clear that other Mongols were also involved with the mountain long before the subsequent explosion of the Wutai Shan cult in the nineteenth century (caγan diyanci lam-a-yin namtar, Ms. Vol 1, no. 56, in Dumdadu 4761]). In particular, Gombojab, the well-known Mongol author and teacher at the Tibetan school in Beijing, compiled the Jatakas of the Five Hundred Panditas Receiving Blessings at Wutai Shan (utayisan aγula-yin adistid-tu sitüged-ece tabun jaγan bandida-yin cedig orosiba; Dumdadu 4833), which was based on the work of Lobzang Tashi and then translated into Mongolian by his student Sasana Dhara (TendzinBstan ‘dzin). In addition, a Mongolian edition of the Qianlong emperor’s (1711-1799) imperially sponsored twenty-two-scroll gazetteer of 1785 was in preparation, yet never published (on this work and a reproduction of one of its pages, see György Kara, Books of the Mongolian Nomads: More than Eight Centuries of Writing Mongolian [Bloomington: Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, 2005], 219-20). All of these works confirm, as Farquhar pointed out long ago, that the Manchu court and its affiliated scholars were heavily invested in the cult of Wutai Shan. Yet these works and their circulation, while no doubt important, were only part of the dynamic.
[31] Of the one hundred Mongolian Qing period stelae at Wutai Shan only three are from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the rest are from the nineteenth century (Dumdadu 12786-996 and 12610-47).
[32] This work (serigün tungγalaγ aγulan-u manjusiri laksan-tu süm-e-yin γayiqamsiγ jibqulangtu gegen düri-yin cedig ergil-ün kemjiy-e-lüge selte süsügten arad-un duraγil-i egüskegci üjesküleng secig-ün erike kemegdekü orusiba, see Walther Heissig, Die Pekinger lamaistischen Blockdrucke in mongolischer Sprache [Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1954], 163-64) was commissioned by Galdan Shireetü Khutukhtu, the second ranking Mongol monk in Beijing, and written by Yeshé DöndrupYe shes don grub of the Tümed with the help of the notable Alashan scholar Agwandandar (Ngawang Tendarngag dbang bstan dar, 1759-1840). On this work, see Robert G. Service, “Notes on The Beautiful Flower Chaplet: A Nineteenth Century Mongolian Guide to the Shu-hsiang Szu of Wu-t’ai shan,” Mongolian Studies 29 (2007): 180-201.
[33] See, for example, Ragbasambo, Erten-ü burqan-u gegen ekileged boγda cinggis qaγan-u üyes-ece inaγsi blam-a gegen boγda qaγan üyes-yin yandisi-ün tobci megem-e, Ms. 4r (Dumdadu 4589), 1859.
[34] Damchø Gyatsho Dharmatala, Rosary of White Lotuses, Being the Clear Account of How the Precious Teaching of Buddha Appeared and Spread in the Great Hor Country, tr. Piotr Klafkowski (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1987), 226.
[35] On this term see Antoine Mostaert, “Note sur le cult du Viellard blanc chez Ordos,” in Studia Altaica: Festschrift für Nikolaus Poppe zum 60. Geburtstag am 8. August 1957, eds. Julius von Farkas and Omeljan Pritsak (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1957), 116.
[36] Alice Sárközi, “Incense-offering to the White Old Man,” in Documenta Barbarorum: Festschrift für Walther Heissig zum 70. Geburtstag, eds. K. Sagaster and M. Weiers (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1983), 361.
[37] For example, the text Order of the Holy Panchen Erdeni, of His Brightness the Dalai Lama and of the Holy Chinggis Khan (boγda bancin erdeni dalai lam-a-yin gegen boγda cinggis qaγan-narun jarliγ-un bicig) begins: “The prophetic book of Holy Manjusri fell down onto the golden and bronze temple of Wutai Shan” (Alice Sárközi, Political Prophecies in Mongolia in the 17-20th Centuries [Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1992], 73). Another one, titled simply the Words of Holy Mañjuśrī (boγda manjusiri-yin jarliγ), begins “On Wutai Shan, in the Golden Temple of Tārā mother, a book fell down from the sky from above. Khans and common people! Listen to these words attentively!” (Sárközi, Political Prophecies, 81).
[38] “To the Vajra-throne of India; to Potala Mountain; to Wutai Shan; to each individually I offer a full nine aspersions” (Henry Serruys, Kumiss Ceremonies and Horse Races [Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1974], 50). A similar passage is also found in the text from Üüshin banner; however, in it Wutai Shan is called the “five-peaked eastern mountain” (doron-a tabun üjügürtü aγulan; Serruys, Kumiss Ceremonies, 84).
[39] Henry Serruys, “Four Manuals for Marriage Ceremonies among the Mongols, Part 1,” Zentralasiatische Studien 8 (1974): 279.
[40] Kurtis R. Schaeffer, “Tibetan Poetry on Wutai Shan,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011), http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5719.
[41] In this regard we should also note that some of this Tibetan poetry, especially that of Rölpé DorjéRol pas rdo rje, was also translated into Mongolian (Orod-un manglai serigün aγula-yin oron-u nomlal süsüg-ün lingqu-a-yi delgeregülügci γayiqamsiγ-tu naran-u tuy-a kemekü orosiba, translated by Gelek DamchöDge legs dam chos and printed in Beijing in 1831 [Dumdadu 4837]; see also Vladimir Uspensky, Catalogue of the Mongolian Manuscripts and Xylographs in the St. Petersburg State University Library [Tokyo: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, 1999], 282, #256).
[42] David M. Farquhar, “The Ch’ing Administration of Mongolia up to the Nineteenth Century,” (Doctoral diss., Harvard University, 1960).

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 ).

Bibliography Citation

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 ).