Incidents Relating to the Dalai Lama’s Stay at Wutai Shan: As Recounted in his Tibetan Biography
For its part, the major Tibetan source for the Dalai Lama’s dealings with Westerners at Wutai Shan portrays these interactions in a manner similarly familiar to those who follow Tibetan matters: the Western visitors are shown as rather entranced and over-awed by the Dalai Lama. Such portrayals also have their numerous precursors in earlier Tibetan accounts of the relations between Tibetan hierarchs and powerful non-Tibetan figures from the period of Mongol domination in the thirteenth century to the heyday of Qing rule in the eighteenth century and beyond.
This Tibetan source for the Dalai Lama’s stay at Wutai Shan is his biography, A Garland of Precious Miracles (Ngotsar Rinpoché TrengwaNgo mtshar rin po che’i phreng ba), which the author, Purchok Yongdzin Tupten Jampa Tsültrim TendzinPhur lcog yongs ’dzin thub bstan byams pa tshul khrims bstan ’dzin, completed in 1941 using a variety of written and oral sources.4 It is an essential [page 391] source for information concerning the Dalai Lama’s activities during his time at Wutai Shan, including certain of his encounters with Westerners. As such, it allows us to move beyond both the controlled account Rockhill published of his meetings and the more emotional description in his letter to Roosevelt. Its account of Rockhill’s audiences with the Dalai Lama, which it dates to the first days of the fifth month of the Tibetan Earth-Monkey Year (June 29-July 28, 1908),5 differs from Rockhill’s own description:
When he met with both the American imperial commissioner (qinchai) stationed in Beijing and his personal servant, at the long stone stairway at Pusa Ding (菩薩頂, Pusar Tengphu gsar steng)6 there were Chinese soldiers in charge, Tibetan soldiers serving as bodyguards, and officials above the fourth rank lined up for inspection. As soon as he came into the presence [of the Dalai Lama] he proffered his courtesies and a khatakkha btags, while the Dülwa Khenpo’Dul ba mkhan po served as interpreter. After his gifts were offered and received he was seated on a small chair and fried biscuits, fruit and tea were given to him. When he was granted a khatakkha btags, he held it in his hands for a bit, put it suddenly on his neck and then went back [that is, to his seat]. Inasmuch as a few large drops of rain had fallen when the imperial commissioner had reached the living quarters the portents were manifestly auspicious… When the American imperial commissioner had [another] audience so as to take his leave he was granted elaborate gifts and, via an interpreter, engaged in frank and detailed talks. At his departure the imperial commissioner spoke in Tibetan of his need for [the Dalai Lama’s] blessing through a touch of the head [chakwangphyag dbang]. This was gladly bestowed and because of that, in a manner evincing much happiness and respect, he made many promises to render service in any way he could that would reflect the Dalai Lama’s intentions.7
Obviously, our sources present a question: Did William Woodville Rockhill receive the entreaties of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama to be his friend and councilor, or did he seek the Dalai Lama’s blessing and, having received it, promise to serve his intentions in any way he could? Certainly, both accounts indicate that Rockhill was moved by the encounter, and indeed preconceptions on the part of both parties, perhaps combined with courteous manners and language taken a bit too literally, may have produced the divergent interpretations reflected in our sources. This, though, is conjecture. We must content ourselves with recognizing what is minimally clear: in the environment of the pilgrimage site the Dalai Lama (albeit, no ordinary visitor, he) was a figure of definite authority and charisma, all the more so to those already disposed to view him as such. He possessed an entourage, Tibetan soldiers to guard him, and a clear desire to deal with the world beyond the Qing borders. Though he was on the soil of China proper, well within the bounds of Qing territory, his sojourn at Wutai Shan allowed him to deal with visitors such as Rockhill without the interference of the Qing court or the emperor, his nominal sovereign. It was an unusual situation made possible by the religious nature of the site, the religious station of the Dalai Lama and - not to be overlooked - the crushing decrepitude of the Qing state on the eve of its collapse.
The Dalai Lama came to Wutai Shan following peregrinations that included a problematic, albeit well-known, stay in Mongolia at the court of the Jebdzundamba Khutughtu. He arrived at the mountain site on February 20, 1908,8 and was led to his residence there at Pusa Ding9 by the Wutai Shan Jasagh Lama.10 The reception he received en route and upon arrival is described as elaborate. Indeed, reports indicate that the grandiose nature of his travel and the costs associated with it made [page 393] receiving and hosting him and his entourage quite burdensome.11 Several days before reaching his destination he was met by various Qing officials along with three thousand soldiers attired, we are told, in foreign uniforms, equipped with guns, swords, cannons, drums and horns. In the Chinese style, incense, flowers, and other objects were used to mark his arrival.12 He also took advantage of the trip for its own sake, taking time simply to take in the view from one of the mountains for the simple happiness it afforded.13 Approaching the holy site he was greeted by a number of notables – more than a few Mongols among them – and received numerous offerings. None of this is unexpected, given the status of the Dalai Lama, but it is clear that his position and charismatic presence were bolstered by his increasing nearness to, and then residence at, Wutai Shan; and this afforded him leeway to take advantage of the proximity he now had to Beijing and its resident diplomatic community, while still being nevertheless comfortably distant from the Qing court.
Installed at Pusa Ding, the receptions and welcomes continued. On February 21, greater numbers of notable visitors were received and more presentations were offered. Those received by the Dalai Lama included representatives of twenty-four monasteries in Beijing and any number of others; a list of those who came to see him at this time would be long. The religious activities he engaged in, including visits to various temples and holy sites, the performance of rituals, teachings given by him, and so forth, were extensive and an attempt to enumerate them would be beyond what would be warranted in a paper devoted to the diplomatic activity surrounding the Dalai Lama’s stay at Wutai Shan.
The opportunity the Dalai Lama now had to function as something other than a simple subject of the emperor was evident from the start. The second day of his stay at Wutai Shan witnessed a diplomatic audience which, according to the Tibetan account, went well beyond the emotional atmosphere ascribed to Rockhill’s audience. This was the Dalai Lama’s reception of the German “Gyapönrgya dpon” (“China[-posted?] officer”) in Tianjin (天津, Tenchingthan cing), presumably the consul there, H. Knipping:14
The German Gyapönrgya dpon stationed at Tianjin presented a khatakkha btags and requested an audience. He was offered a series of tea, fried biscuits, and fruit and [the Dalai Lama] expressed his courtesies via an interpreter. Because he was unable to bear up to the awesome majesty of His Holiness, he was speechless in responding. He made a foreign-style prostration and for a short time stayed there [that is, prostrate], [page 394] trembling and making a low noise. The Dülwa Khenpo’Dul ba mkhan po expressed courtesies through translation to a Chinese interpreter who was there with the result that [the German Gyapönrgya dpon] had no courage for responding, as if his mouth had been sealed and speech blocked. It is known that he was left with his body trembling.15
We may note that the description of the envoy’s reaction to the Dalai Lama’s politely asking after him is not without precedent in Tibetan literature recounting events in the lives of revered Buddhist hierarchs. That aside, however, there is evidence to indicate that meetings like this, between the Dalai Lama and foreign officials visiting Wutai Shan, did not come out of the blue, from a simple desire of diplomats to have an audience with the Dalai Lama and exchange courteous pleasantries with him. It was almost certainly not the case with the Japanese monk and definitely not the case with Carl Gustaf Mannerheim of the Russian General Staff, who, as we will note, are also recorded in the Dalai Lama’s biography as having visited the Tibetan ruler at Wutai Shan. Meetings such as these were specifically instigated by the Dalai Lama, who sought them before he arrived at the site, no doubt anticipating that the atmosphere there would give him relative flexibility and freedom of action, as well as access to the diplomatic community in the capital: in the early twentieth century Wutai Shan was only a few days away from Beijing.
Danzhu Angben, Nianpu, 384, identifies the official in question as the French consul in Tianjin and simply notes that he came to see the Dalai Lama and held a discussion with him (Faguo zhu Tianjin de waijiaoguan qianlai kanwang bing jinxingle jiaotan, 法国驻天津的外交官前来看望, 并进行了交谈).
Note Citation for Page
Elliot Sperling, “The Thirteenth Dalai Lama at Wutai Shan: Exile and Diplomacy,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): , http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5720 (accessed ).
Note Citation for Whole Article
Elliot Sperling, “The Thirteenth Dalai Lama at Wutai Shan: Exile and Diplomacy,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 389-410, http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5720 (accessed ).
Sperling, Elliot. “The Thirteenth Dalai Lama at Wutai Shan: Exile and Diplomacy.” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 389-410. http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5720 (accessed ).
- Incidents Relating to the Dalai Lama’s Stay at Wutai Shan: As Recounted in his Tibetan Biography
- Some Western Accounts of Encounters with the Dalai Lama at Wutai Shan
- A Curious Story about the Tsarevich
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