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 4 of 5 (pp. 255-261)

Being Cosmopolitan

At this point we need to turn to the question of what is actually meant by the phrase Qing cosmopolitan culture. To begin, we should note that this Qing variant was “a form of cosmopolitanism typified by what Homi Bhabha, Carol Breckenridge, Dipesh Chakrabarty, and Sheldon Pollock summarize as the ability to see ‘the larger [picture of the world] stereoscopically with the smaller.’”53 Or more prosaically, we can define Qing cosmopolitanism as the ability of the various peoples within the Manchu state to see, think and act beyond the local, be they Mongol, Tibetan, Manchu, or Chinese. And in this regard it is perhaps no surprise that some of the leading exemplars of this phenomenon were people who themselves came from marginal areas, such as the famous Mongols from AmdoA mdoRölpé DorjéRol pa’i rdo rje, Sumba Khambo, and Tükwan – “who, in becoming the interlocutors between the Tibetan, Mongol and Manchu Chinese worlds, cultivated a brand of Inner Asian cosmopolitanism that was in many respects distinctive and new.”54 And while I agree with this portrayal of the Mongol intelligentsia from AmdoA mdo, I would argue that this cosmopolitanism was not restricted to them, nor Inner Asia, rather this kind of bricolage was precisely what was distinctive about Qing culture as a whole.

At the same time, however, it is important to recognize that Qing cosmopolitanism, as with any cosmopolitanism, did not entirely obviate pre-existing conceptualizations. Namely, notions such as being Mongol, Tibetan, or Chinese did not dissipate in a fog of Manchu cosmopolitanism. While we need to recognize that each of these entities retained their own continuities, it is also vital to realize [page 256] that each one of them was also indelibly transformed on account of the cultural exchange made possible by the pax manjurica. In fact, it was precisely this multiplicity and mixing, this cosmopolitanism that not only made the Qing distinctive, but also made it successful. The Mongols, for example, did not fight and die for the Manchu state because they were Mongol, or because the court supported Tantric Buddhism, but rather, in their view it was for “Our Great Qing” – manu yeke cing – and in the nineteenth century this entailed a particular cosmopolitan culture that in the nineteenth century needed defending from both Islamic uprisings in the west and Euroamerican imperialists in the east. Indeed, the fact that all the uprisings of the nineteenth century were nativist ethno-religious revolts against the cosmopolitan culture of the Manchu state does not seem to be coincidence.

Yet this is an issue far beyond the scope of this paper, as is the question of how this cosmopolitan culture actually arose. Even so, it seems clear that the economic boom of the eighteenth century coupled with the Qing’s territorial expansion at this same time fostered an environment in which cosmopolitan practices could take root. And one of the better-known aspects of this culture was the intermixing of artistic styles at the Qianlong emperor’s court,55 a development that is borne out by the material in the exhibit held in tandem with this conference.56 But although this artistic development has received the most sustained attention by scholars, I think it is important to see it not as an isolated phenomenon, but as one part of a larger cultural zeitgeist. Thus, for example, in addition to the well-known pentaglot Wu ti Qing wen jian, we also need to take into account the large number of tri- and quadralingual dictionaries produced by the court at this time. Similarly, one should note the project of Zhuang Qinwang Yinlu, the Qianlong emperor’s uncle, who compiled a compendium of the proper pronunciation of dhāraṇī and mantra in Manchu, Chinese, Mongolian, and Tibetan. Such projects reflect precisely the cosmopolitan culture that took hold during reign of the Qianlong emperor.

This is not to suggest, however, that cosmopolitanism was simply a court affair, much less a court-ordered directive, if such a thing could in fact ever be accomplished. Rather, the role of the court was to provide a context wherein cosmopolitan practices could flourish, as seen in Tükwan’s ecumenical Crystal Mirror composed in Beijing.57 Indeed, the point is precisely that such ideas were [page 257] not only found in the capital. Rather, such ecumenical ideas were also being explored in far off Inner Mongolia, as seen in the work of the Mongolian lama Mergen Gegen, who called for all Tibetan Buddhists to recognize the value of the Chinese Buddhist canon. In fact, he went so far as to accuse the Tibetan ruler Tri SongdetsenKhri srong lde btsan of wrongfully rejecting the Chinese canon during the Tang dynasty, and criticized contemporary Mongol nobles for despising all sacred texts except the Tibetan.58 Making such an argument was clearly revolutionary, but not if seen within the broader context of Qing cosmopolitanism.59

Of course, it was such cosmopolitanism advocated by Mergen Gegen that later Mongol nationalists wanted to forget. In fact, for the Mongols of the twentieth century the standard claim was always that the Mongols have eternally resisted Chinese culture. And this idea is so deeply engrained in Mongol historiography it is important to recall that such resistance was more a twentieth century imagining than anything else. In the sixteenth century, for example, the Mongols were heavily indebted to the Chinese, and by most measures this was to the Mongols’ advantage.60 Similarly, in the late Qing we find abundant evidence of Mongol engagement with things Chinese, such as Chinese historiography,61 Chinese visual culture,62 and Chinese literature,63 all of which was part of the cultural production that defined Qing cosmopolitanism.

Yet Qing cosmopolitanism was not only manifested and transmitted through such ephemeral cultural products, it was also made real through material goods, especially commodities.64 Thus in thinking about the creation of Qing [page 258] cosmopolitanism we need to take into account the large corpus of scholarship that reveals how consumer goods are not only a vehicle to legitimate social claims, but also a means to constitute personhood. And if we turn our gaze to the reality of Wutai Shan in this regard it is no surprise that a fundamental aspect of pilgrimage to the mountain was shopping. Indeed, Wutai Shan was perfectly situated to take full advantage of all the trading networks of north China, but especially the remarkably rich and diverse trade handled by the merchants of Shanxi.65 As a result, pilgrims to the mountain – be they Mongol, Tibetan, or Chinese – could not only partake in the cosmopolitan culture available at Wutai Shan, but also bring it back home with them.

Yet among the Mongols at least, this new cosmopolitan culture was not only an issue of consumption and its attendant status markings.66 The reality of Qing cosmopolitanism was that it was an arena in which new cultural products were created out of the fusion of these various cultural streams. And one remarkable case of this phenomenon is seen in the Mongol reworkings of The Dream of Red Chamber (Hong lou meng).67 While the rewriting of this novel was clearly a part of Chinese literati culture during the Qing, it is important to note that it was not solely the domain of the Han. The Mongols also partook in this literary activity. Of course, whether or not the Han literati cared is another issue entirely.68 But again, the fact that such endeavors were possible, and indeed took place, is a reflection of the Qing culture in which it manifested.

This same cultural mixing is also reflected in the work of the famous nineteenth-century scholar Danzin Rabjai, who introduced Cham’Cham dancing to Mongolia, most famously with his play “The Tale of the Moon Cuckoo.” Yet this play and its performance across the Gobi desert reveal not only the ongoing infusion of Tibetan cultural products into Mongolia, but Danzin Rabjai incorporated Chinese elements into his work as well. After having traveled extensively across North China, Danzin Rabjai was well situated to draw upon a vast repertoire of traditions in order to create his own distinctive theatrical productions. Thus rather than have monks perform his plays with the well-known Cham’Cham masks used in Tibet, Danzin Rabjai had them paint their faces and wear the beflagged clothing in the style of [page 259] Chinese opera.69 Yet perhaps even more remarkable than the appearance of this cosmopolitan aesthetic in the Gobi was that Danzin Rabjai also actively fought to defend this new cultural world. In Mongolian popular lore, for example, it is claimed that during the Opium War Danzin Rabjai volunteered for the Qing army and not only conjured up thunderstorms against the British fleet, but also made a hundred Manchu soldiers look like a thousand. In addition, during the Taiping rebellion Danzin Rabjai performed tantric rituals in order to secure Mongolia from the rebels at the request of the Mongol and Manchu nobility.70 While the historicity of these events can be questioned they do nevertheless reveal how the Mongols at the time valued the Qing state and its broader cultural world.

On one level, of course, Danzin Rabjai’s cultural innovations may seem like minor or even irrelevant developments, but at the same time we should recognize that they are also symptomatic of a Qing culture that actually enabled and fostered such newly fused cultural forms. Indeed, could any of these things happen today in either Inner Mongolia, or Mongolia, without raising the hackles of cultural imperialism and complaints of the death of “Mongolness?” Probably not, and thus the fact that it was possible during the Qing dynasty needs to be better understood.

And another arena that sheds further light on this phenomenon is found in the realm of astrology, especially the Mongols’ interest and adoption of a wide range of traditions into their own. For example, the Xuan ze guang yu xia ji, a Chinese astrological treatise, was translated into Mongolian already in 1686 and then retranslated two more times, once from a Tibetan translation of the Chinese. And this Tang dynasty text includes a vast array of Chinese divinatory practices including coin divination, physiognomy, weather divination, and different Chinese star spirits and omens that became vastly popular among the Mongols. Yet as Walther Heissig pointed out already in the 1970s, the extant Mongol versions are not simply translations but rather reworkings into distinct composite texts.71 Indeed, the greatest example of Mongol syncretic, or cosmopolitan, inclinations is found in the so-called “almanacs,” the compendia of astrological lore that are found in abundance in all collections of Mongolian manuscripts.

The most well-known almanac is the Manual of Astrology and Divination, published by Mostaert in the Harvard Yenching series.72 While this is a fascinating text for numerous reasons, what we need to note here is its cosmopolitan nature. Namely, what is most remarkable about the Manual of Astrology and Divination is that it is not a composite text, nor simply a cutting and pasting of Tibetan, Chinese, and Indian texts in order to create a new pastiche. Rather, it is a reworking [page 260] of these disparate elements into a coherent whole. Moreover, we find throughout the text continuous references to its own conceptual framework, which it calls “Mongol,” in contradistinction to the other four traditions with which it engages, namely the Indian, Tibetan, and the Chinese peasant and scholarly traditions.73 Thus, as Brian Baumann has shown in his recent work on the almanac, although the text is clearly aware of the late-seventeenth-century Baidurya KarpoBai ḍūrya dkar po – the main astrological text of the GelukpaDge lugs pa school – the Mongol almanac is strikingly different, not least since the Tibetan work focuses on elemental divination and the Mongolian text focuses on omens, but also because the Mongolian text does not have natal horoscopes or pebble divination which are central to the Baidurya KarpoBai ḍūrya dkar po. Nor does the Mongolian text follow the Tibetan eight-day week or even the nakṣatra system of the Tibetan tradition.74 Rather its twenty-eight lunar mansion system is influenced by Chinese traditions, and the Chinese influence is also seen in the Mongol use of the hundred unit reckoning system, the twelve double-hour system, the twenty-four joints and breaths, as well as the Chinese method for fixing the intercalary month.75 Yet at the same time the Mongolian almanacs are not wholly “Chinese,” but instead they are a fusion of these diverse elements. And this fusion, or reformulation, of these previously disparate traditions into a holistically coherent new one is found not only in Mongolian astrological texts, but also in medical texts as evidenced in the Handbook of Medicines (bükün-e tusalaqu eldeb jüil em-yin nayirulga kemekü orosiba). This 1872 work was compiled by the Alashan nobleman Guusiya “who, having studied translations in four languages, put together to the best of his ability a list of the drugs easily available in Mongolia.”76 To my mind, it is such cultural products that are indicative of Qing cosmopolitanism.

Of course, a valid question is what role did Wutai Shan play in this process? Again, one cannot trace a one-to-one correspondence between any of these developments and Wutai Shan. Yet as with the case of the re-evaluation of “Mongol,” I would argue that pilgrimage to Wutai Shan created the field where such ideas could grow. Indeed, one need only look at the 1846 Cifu Si map of Wutai Shan to see the cosmopolitan nature of this mountain and its rituals. In fact, it conjures up the chaotic, border-crossing world that is so well reflected in both Charleux’s study of Mongol pilgrimage to the mountain in the nineteenth century,77 and Chou’s study of the lived religiosity on the mountain and its visual [page 261] manifestations.78 Yet this is not to say that Wutai Shan “created” this new Qing cosmopolitan culture, or that all Mongols who went to the mountain became “pan-Mongolists,” or cosmopolitans. Rather, the aim here is simply to highlight Wutai Shan as one important node in a complex cultural shift that took place in the second half of the eighteenth century. In particular, it was the main, possibly the only place, where all of these new ideas were not only in the air, but also accessible to the widest range of social actors found in the Qing Empire. Pilgrimage to Wutai Shan therefore played a fundamental role in familiarizing the Mongols with the new cosmopolitan culture of the Qing since they not only partook of it while at the mountain, but also brought it home.

One small example of this reality is well captured in the famous Inner Mongolian joke about the Khalkha nobleman who went to the opera during his visit to the capital. In the performance the emperor was murdered and, upon seeing this, the Khalkha nobleman jumped on stage and shot the actor who had “killed” the emperor. This joke is obviously told at the expense of the Khalkhas, the country-bumpkins in relation to the more urbane Inner Mongolians. Yet above and beyond this internal Mongol class struggle, it also readily confirms once again the Mongols’ loyalty to the Qing state. Moreover, it also reveals the nature of imperial Beijing’s cosmopolitan culture. Namely, going to the opera is not the joke, rather, the issue is whether one is cultured enough to appreciate its value and meaning. This, however, is not to erroneously suggest that the Mongolian steppe was therefore somehow akin to end-of-the-century (fin de siècle) Vienna, but instead to bring to the fore the cosmopolitan nature of Qing culture that enabled such cross-cultural products and experiences to flourish.

[53] Jeremy Prestholdt, Domesticating the World: African Consumerism and the Genealogies of Globalization (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 91.
[54] Matthew T. Kapstein, “Just Where on Jambudvipa are We? New Geographical Knowledge and Old Cosmological Schemes in 18th century Tibet,” in Forms of Knowledge in Early Modern South Asia, ed. Sheldon Pollack (Durham: Duke University Press, forthcoming).
[55] See, for example, Patricia Berger, “Preserving the Nation: The Political Uses of Tantric Art in China,” in The Latter Days of the Law: Images of Chinese Buddhism, 850-1850, eds. Marsha Weidner et al. (Honolulu, University of Hawai’i Press, 1992); Terese Tse Bartholomew, “Thangkas of the Qianlong Period,” in Tibetan Art: Towards a Definition of Style, ed. J. C. Singer and Phillip Denwood (London: Laurence King Publishing, 1997); Patricia Berger, Empire of Emptiness: Buddhist Art and Political Authority in Qing China (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2003).
[56] See, for example, the silk appliqué tangkathang ka, which mixes Chinese and Tibetan styles (cat. 32). I thank Karl Debreczeny for bringing to my attention the mixed styles of this important piece. See the catalog in Karl Debreczeny, “Wutai Shan: Pilgrimage to Five-Peak Mountain,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011), http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5714.
[57] Roger Jackson, “Triumphalism and Ecumenism in Thu’u bkwan’s Crystal Mirror,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies 2 (2006): 1-23. www.thdl.org?id=T2720.
[58] Lubsangdambijalsan, Altan Tobci, ed., Cimeddorji, Möngkebuyan and Gerel (Kökeqota: Öbör mongγol-un soyul-un keblel-ün qoriy-a, 1998), fol 20a-b.
[59] On the issue of language among the Mongols, especially the process of Tibetanization, see Elverskog, Our Great Qing, 120-26.
[60] Elverskog, Jewel Translucent, 60-62.
[61] As an example of this development one can note the author of the 1835 Pearl Rosary, who included passages from sources as diverse as the Iledkil Sastir, the Lifanyuan zeli, the Sheng yü guang xun, the Manchu translation of the Yuan shi, direct quotations from imperial edicts of both the Kangxi and Daoguang emperors, as well as the geographical knowledge found in the work of the recently noted Sumba Khambo (see Johan Elverskog, The Pearl Rosary: Mongol Historiography in Nineteenth Century Ordos [Bloomington, IN: The Mongolia Society, 2007], 1-18).
[62] As evidenced in Martha Boyer’s extensive catalogue of Mongol jewelry it is clear there was abundant use of “Chinese” motifs, like the butterfly, the bat, and the eight auspicious signs of the Daoist immortals in Mongol jewelry, thus clearly some sort of cultural exchange taking place between Mongols and Chinese during this period (Mongol Jewellery [København: Nordisk Forlag, 1952], 181-84). More important, however, is the fact that the majority of this most distinctive of Mongol visual culture was largely produced by Chinese artisans. As Christopher Atwood has rightly noted, this close Mongol-Chinese artistic and cultural relationship throws into relief our common perception of these two groups as continually antagonistic (“Review Article of Boyer’s Mongol Jewellery.” Mongolian Studies 19 [1996]: 105-106).
[63] This Mongol fascination with Chinese literature is found not only in textual material, but also in the oral tradition, see Nasanurtin Hasbatar, Mongolische “Heftgeschichten” und chinesisiche Ritterromane: Eine Untersuchung über die chinesichen Einflüsse auf die mongolische Literatur (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1999).
[64] See, for example, Johan Elverskog, “Things & the Qing: Mongol Culture in the Visual Narrative,” Inner Asia 6 (2004): 137-78.
[65] Kathryn Edgerton-Tarpley, Tears from Iron: Cultural Responses to Famine in Nineteenth-Century China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 15-33.
[66] On the issue of Chinese culture and status among the Mongols, see Johan Elverskog, “Injannashi, the anti-Cervante,” in Biographies of Eminent Mongol Buddhists, ed. Johan Elverskog (Sankt Augustin: International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, 2008), 94-100.
[67] Charles R. Bawden, Mongolian Traditional Literature: An Anthology (London: Kegan Paul, 2003), xxx-xxxiii, 559-79. On the Mongol literary use of Chinese sources, see also A. Craig Clunas, “The Prefaces to Nigen Dabqur Asar and their Chinese Antecedents,” Zentralasiatische Studien 14, no. 1 (1980): 139-94; and Charles R. Bawden, “A Chinese Source for an Episode in Injanasi’s Novel Nigen Dabqur Asar,” in Tractata Tibetica et Mongolica, eds. K. Kollmar-Paulenz and C. Peter (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2002).
[68] On this issue see Zvi Ben-Dor Benite’s study of Chinese Muslims and the creation of the Han Kitab (The Dao of Muhammad: A Cultural History of Muslims in Late Imperial China [Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, 2005]).
[69] Christopher P. Atwood, Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire (New York: Facts on File, 2004), 131.
[70] Michael Kohn, Lama of the Gobi: The Life and Times of Danzan Rabjaa, Mongolia’s Greatest Mystical Poet (Ulaanbaatar: Maitri Books, 2006), 94, 104.
[71] Brian Baumann, Divine Knowledge: Buddhist Mathematics According to the Anonymous Manual of Mongolian Astrology and Divination (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 12.
[72] Antoine Mostaert, Manual of Mongolian Astrology and Divination (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1969).
[73] On this multiplicity and its implications, see Johan Elverskog, “Mongol Time Enters a Qing World,” in Time, Temporality, and Imperial Transition, ed. Lynn Struve (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2005), 169-71.
[74] Baumann, Divine Knowledge, 11-12.
[75] Baumann, Divine Knowledge, 60ff.
[76] Walther Heissig, Catalogue of Mongol Books, Manuscripts and Xylographs (Copenhagen: The Royal Library, 1971), 192. For details on this work see Heissig, Blockdrucke, 171-72. On the state’s involvement in the medical field see also the trilingual medical manuals housed in Copenhagen (Mong. 68, Mong. 443).
[77] Charleux, “Mongol Pilgrimages to Wutai Shan in the Late Qing Dynasty.”
[78] Wen-shing Chou, “Maps of Wutai Shan: Individuating the Sacred Landscape through Color,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011), http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5713.

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 ).