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 5 of 5 (pp. 261-262)


One would invariably like to conclude with a definitive statement. It would be wonderful to be able to say that Mongol pilgrimage to Wutai Shan had this particular impact, and to be able to clearly describe its genealogy. Unfortunately, in this case that is not possible even though we have ample evidence that Wutai Shan was important for both the Manchu state and the religious lives of the Mongols. Yet, that both had interest in the mountain and one seemed to follow the other does not in fact mean that the dynamic was solely one of ideological control. Clearly, other dynamics were also at play. Some Mongols no doubt went to the mountain for blessings and merit, others to bury their relatives. Others may have gone simply to escape a nattering wife, or to travel and drink with friends. Indeed, the reasons for pilgrimage might be as numerous as pilgrims. But realizing this reality should not excuse one from investigating or trying to offer an interpretation for the broader impact such an experience would have had on its participants.

To this end I have offered two interpretations. One is that pilgrimage to the mountain fostered a new understanding of the category Mongol, and the other is [page 262] that Wutai Shan functioned as a vehicle for promoting the new Qing culture of cosmopolitanism. Since these two interpretations are not based on direct textual evidence, but rather inferences based on an awareness of the larger historical context, it may be easy to question these conclusions. Not only can one wonder whether these two intellectual and cultural shifts actually took place, but also whether Wutai Shan played a role in these developments. For example, if cosmopolitanism was indeed such an important part of late Qing culture would Mongol culture not have changed accordingly with or without Wutai Shan? Perhaps. But the unique position of Wutai Shan as a nexus between the diverse cultural worlds of the Qing, and its elevation to the supreme pilgrimage site in the Manchu state by the Inner Asian cosmopolitan intelligentsia, lends itself to such speculation. Indeed, how many places in the empire could Mongol nomads, Tibetan lamas, Manchu officials, and Chinese peasants all come together in direct contact and shop for the same commodities, much less partake in the same religious ceremony?79

Yet, if we accept the idea of a new cosmopolitan culture developing during the late Qing, how does one reconcile it with a simultaneous appearance of “nativism” in the nineteenth century? While this may seem incongruous, the simultaneous dismantling and reinvigoration of a local identity, it is in fact a common response to transnationalization.80 Indeed, the rise of such localism, as well as ethno-religious revolutionary movements across the Qing Empire during this period raises the question of how broad and powerful this cosmopolitan culture truly was.81 In fact, we can wonder whether the subsequent twentieth-century attacks on cosmopolitanism – be they by Mongol or Chinese communists and nationalists, or Tibetan monastic conservatives – were done precisely on account of its linkage with the Qing state and its broader cultural world. Regardless, however, if we are to move forward in our elucidation of late imperial Chinese history, the theory of cosmopolitanism may be a valuable lens or theoretical tool and Wutai Shan a vital site for its articulation.

[79] For a description of such mixed participation in religious rituals at Wutai Shan see the biography of the first Zhangjia Khutugtu (Klaus Sagaster, Subud Erike, “ein Rosenkranz aus Perlen,” die Biographe des 1. Pekinger lCang skya Qutugtu Ngag dbang blo bzang chos ldan [Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1967], 265-68).
[80] Arjun Appadurai, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy,” Public Culture 2, no. 2 (1990): 1-24.
[81] On the rise of localism in nineteenth century China see Steven B. Miles, “Celebrating the Yu Fan Shrine: Literati Networks and Local Identity in Early Nineteenth-Century Guangzhou,” Late Imperial China 25, no. 2 (2004): 33-73.

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 ).