Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
Bla brang Monastery and Wutai Shan
Paul K. Nietupski, John Carroll University
JIATS, no. 6 (December 2011), THL #T5718, pp. 327-348
Section 4 of 4 (pp. 339-340)


This list of LabrangBla brang scholar-diplomats who visited Wutai Shan is not complete; others of LabrangBla brang’s leaders made the trip as well, including the fifty-second LabrangBla brang abbot, Könchok Tenpé PelzangDkon mchog bstan pa’i dpal bzang (ca. 1812-1865), the abbot of LabrangBla brang’s Medical College, Jikmé Gyamtso’Jigs med rgya mtsho (b. 1787), and more. Together these LabrangBla brang lamabla mas prove that Wutai Shan was an important place for the LabrangBla brang Tibetans. The Tibetan Buddhist world, its AmdoA mdo- and LhasaLha sa-defined civilization, had a presence at Wutai Shan.

All of the lamabla mas mentioned here were exemplars of Tibetan civilization. They were all highly educated specialists, and as such established a strong Tibetan presence at Wutai and elsewhere in China. They successfully established a Tibetan enclave at Wutai, certainly without a reciprocal establishment at LabrangBla brang by the Manchus, for example. The LabrangBla brang lamabla mas at Wutai Shan were practicing and promoting Tibetan religion, but at the same time they were cognizant of the Manchu, Chinese, and Mongol presence, and mindful of political diplomacy.

In addition to being pious Buddhists, the LabrangBla brang lamabla mas at Wutai Shan were estate lords. They were the wealthy land and livestock owners, the most traveled, and entitled to regular tax revenues and corvée. They were the elite Tibetans. Other Tibetans, the nomad lords and common nomads, for example, seldom, if ever, made such high profile visits to Wutai, though some made strictly religious pilgrimages to Wutai.

As above, the motives of the LabrangBla brang lamabla mas to visit Wutai were not restricted to religion; this was also a politically motivated power network. The Second Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa, the Third DetriSde khri, and the Fourth Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa in particular were under enormous pressures at LabrangBla brang. The Second Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa was under pressure to establish himself as the legitimate successor/rebirth [page 340] against counter claims by the Mongol Prince, SetsangBse tshang, and others. The lamabla ma sought to extend his estate and to solidify his relationships to the Mongols and Manchus at Wutai. The Third DetriSde khri likewise sought to mediate the 1840s disputes between RongwoRong bo in Qinghai, local Chinese communities, and other local Tibetan groups. DetriSde khri’s projects at Wutai and in Beijing were thus likely tactical moves to reaffirm LabrangBla brang’s contacts with the Manchu authorities. Meanwhile, DetriSde khri may well have been aware of the pressures on the Beijing court from England and other European governments in those years, and the internal conflicts in China. The Fourth Jamyang Zhepa’Jam dbyangs bzhad pa also visited Wutai Shan at a time of growing violence between the Qinghai Muslims and regional Tibetans. Thus we see prominent, wealthy land-, livestock-, corvée-owning, highly educated religious specialists with considerable political power embroiled in regional conflicts suddenly going off on “pilgrimage” and establishing themselves at Wutai Shan and very often if not usually, in Beijing. The historical documents record these conflicts in detail but are silent about their explicit motives to establish a religious or political presence at Wutai and Beijing.

This was a kind of quiet diplomacy, a passive polity that sought Manchu and Chinese support and recognition. The LabrangBla brang borderlands were often contested, and always in close proximity to other ethnic groups. The LabrangBla brang lamabla mas therefore had two pressing political objectives that they could hardly ignore. First, when in conflict with their neighbors, they used their presence at Wutai and Beijing as a platform for political alliance-building. Second, because of being in such close proximity to their varied neighbors, they sought to gain recognition of LabrangBla brang as an independent ethnic enclave, defined by Tibetan Buddhist institutions. It is difficult to point to documented, concrete results of this formalized political process. Still, the very fact that LabrangBla brang grew and flourished for so long is proof in itself of positive regional support. More concretely, the formal acknowledgement of LabrangBla brang can be found in the many endorsements and testimonials given to LabrangBla brang and the LabrangBla brang lamabla mas by the Qing court. In the post-Qing Republican period, the Chinese government played a similar role at LabrangBla brang, evidenced by government intervention against Ma Bufang and LabrangBla brang’s Qinghai adversaries.

Finally, if historians in retrospect include LabrangBla brang in the Qing (and Republican Chinese) Empire, inclusion should be understood as a specifically Qing type of imperial governance, one very different from that of British, French, and other European imperial governments. Qing governance was in this case a passive diplomacy, cosmopolitan, a loose structure that allowed diversity and expression as a matter of policy.

Note Citation for Page

Paul K. Nietupski, “Bla brang Monastery and Wutai Shan,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): , http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5718 (accessed ).

Note Citation for Whole Article

Paul K. Nietupski, “Bla brang Monastery and Wutai Shan,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 327-348, http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5718 (accessed ).

Bibliography Citation

Nietupski, Paul K. “Bla brang Monastery and Wutai Shan.” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 327-348. http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5718 (accessed ).