A Curious Story about the Tsarevich
Mannerheim’s account does indicate some continued interest on the part of the Dalai Lama in relations with Russia (as well as the hierarch’s appreciation for modern firearms). Nevertheless, the Dalai Lama’s biography mentions only one other encounter with a Russian figure at Wutai Shan, and that meeting is admittedly somewhat esoteric:
Once the Russian King, someone of great power and dominion, having heard from far away of the Dalai Lama’s fame, specially dispatched his Inner Minister, someone called “HongséHong se” (Huang Si? Huangzi?), to Wutai Shan. After he offered extensive presents he besought the Dalai Lama’s aid that a son would be born to carry on the king’s royal line. [The Dalai Lama] made firm promises in that regard. Before long, there was born to the king a particularly distinguished son with features that were Tibetan and most definitely not Russian. And so the king came to believe in the force of the Dalai Lama’s blessing and in Buddhism. Several [page 403] Buddhist temples and monasteries were established in that land [that is, Russia] which had previously had none; worship and reverence were made, and the son was called “the Dalai Lama’s son.” The next year, when the Dalai Lama returned to KumbumSku ’bum on his way back from China, the Russian King once more dispatched the Inner Minister called HongséHong se to the Dalai Lama’s presence. He offered up extensive gifts and silver in thanks for the birth of a son. Similarly, many Mongol officials made entreaties [to the Dalai Lama] for the sake of having sons and there is no need to speak of the signs that things turned out just as they desired.42
What is one to make of this oddly droll tale? The Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich Romanov, who is surely the child referred to in this account, was born on August 12, 1904, well before the Dalai Lama’s sojourn at Wutai Shan. Photographs of him leave little reason for considering his appearance to be “Tibetan.” One wonders if there is not a conflation here of the activities of the Dalai Lama with those of Rasputin, whose spiritual hold on the Russian imperial family was the subject of much speculation and about whom rumors abounded asserting an intimate relationship with the Tsarina. The reference to the establishment of several Buddhist temples in Russia may similarly be a distortion of the very real fact that the Dalai Lama, through his well-known Buriat official Agwan Dorjieff, had sought to have a Tibetan Buddhist temple erected in St. Petersburg, a wish that was ultimately realized in 1915.43 The fact that the Dalai Lama’s biography contains little concrete information about his dealings with Russians at Wutai Shan is at least partly a reflection of the fact that Russia had now begun to fade considerably from the scene as a possible bolster for the Dalai Lama’s aspirations, due to both the British entry into LhasaLha sa in 1904 and the conclusion of the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907. The terms of the latter had effectively ended Russia’s serious efforts at countering Britain in Tibetan affairs and the Dalai Lama’s experience in Mongolia when he sought Russian aid must have made this quite clear.
The peculiar air of the tale of the Tsar’s son calls attention to the nature of the accounts we’ve cited from the Dalai Lama’s biography. As noted at the beginning of this paper, the text’s colophon indicates that a variety of sources – oral and written – were used in its compilation (which was undertaken and completed some three decades after the Dalai Lama’s sojourn at Wutai Shan). The references to the audiences given both Rockhill and the German consul in Tianjin are fairly clear as to the time period during which they are supposed to have occurred and we can reasonably conjecture that they are drawn from written records made not long after the events they describe. The story of the Tsar’s son, however, though placed with events of the sixth month of the Tibetan year (July 29-August 26, 1908), is otherwise quite indeterminate and ranges well beyond that month in what it recounts. It seems to be much more the product of oral or unofficial stories; its content certainly seems to bear this out. Combined with other records of the Dalai Lama’s meetings with foreign visitors, the accounts in the Dalai Lama’s biography serve to remind us that these varied sources reflect no uniformity or harmony of attitudes and expectations. But they do document the Dalai Lama’s personal plunge into the extraordinary diplomatic tasks that confronted him and his country at the beginning of the twentieth century. So too, they further bring us back to the recognition of the importance of Wutai Shan as a site for such activities.
Other contributions to this issue of the Journal of the International Association for Tibetan Studies, provide ample affirmation of the frontier-zone nature of Wutai Shan. In particular, the articles by Isabelle Charleux,44 Johan Elverskog,45 Paul Nietupski,46 and Gray Tuttle,47 all call attention to the function of the site as a veritable borderland between Tibetans, Mongols, and Chinese. This impression is further strengthened by what we observe with regard to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama’s stay there. The situation at the holy site allowed the Dalai Lama an unprecedented opportunity to interact with Westerners and with Japanese and to begin to understand international politics from a “hands-on” perspective previously unavailable to him. His own soldiers were able to limit interference by Chinese troops and officials in his dealings with visitors while the religious environment and his own position gave an added dimension to the authority he was able to project. All of this combined to allow him to formulate a new understanding of the world beyond Tibet with which he had to deal and presumably made it that much easier for him to decide to seek asylum under British protection in India when the Qing government made a last attempt to assert its authority in Tibet just before its collapse.
This episode is dealt with by Danzhu Angben, with some discreet omissions: “The Russian emperor dispatched the interior minister Huangsi to Wutai Shan pay his respects and to offer generous gifts. This was in response to the [Dalai Lama’s] prayers that a prince would be born who would continue the line.” (Eguo Huangdi tepai neiwu dachen Huangsi qianlai Wutai Shan yejian, bing fengxian fenghou de liwu. Daying wei guowang you yige jiwei zhi wangzi jiangsheng er qidao, 俄国皇帝特派内务大臣黄斯前来五台山谒见，并奉献丰厚的礼物。答应为国王有一个继位之王子降生而祈祷; Danzhu Angben, Nianpu, 385).
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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