Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

THL Title Text
Tibetan Buddhism at Wutai Shan in the Qing
Gray Tuttle, Columbia University
JIATS, no. 6 (December 2011), THL #T5721, pp. 163-214
Section 2 of 10 (pp. 165-168)

Historical Introduction

Aside from the early interest in Wutai shan on the part of the Tibetan Empire during the Tang dynasty (618-907), the next relevant Tibetan Buddhist developments on the mountain site occurred under the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). From this time forward, the Tibetan Buddhist presence on the mountain was maintained side-by-side with Chinese Buddhism. Farquhar has also suggested, by a tentative leap of his imagination, that the Yuan dynasty was the first to directly claim that an emperor of China was identified with the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī (via a reference to proximity to Wutai shan). Because his suggestion has been embraced whole-heartedly by so many, without the caveats that he himself noted, I feel I must address this issue here.6 Farquhar cites – as his only contemporary evidence for this suggestion – the text of the Buddhist Juyong Gate built in 1345 by the last Yuan emperor to rule China, Toghon Temür (Ukhaghatu, r. 1333-1367). While Qubilai Khan (r. 1260-1294), here called Emperor Sechen, is clearly described as a bodhisattva, by his own acknowledgement Farquhar’s suggestion that this bodhisattva is to be identified with Mañjuśrī is tenuous at best. Moreover, some have even mistakenly projected this late Yuan identification of the emperor with bodhisattva (in this case, presumed to be Mañjuśrī, which at the very least is based on an over-reading of a contemporary source) back to the early Yuan period. If Qubilai Khan had indeed been in some way formally identified with Mañjuśrī in his lifetime, we would expect to find evidence of this in the numerous works of his teacher Pakpa’Phags pa (1235-1280), but no such evidence has been found.7 At best, there may have been a rumor of such an association during Qubilai Khan’s lifetime, [page 166] though the only evidence we have of this is the dismissal of such an idea by a Tibetan who visited the Yuan court in Beijing in the late thirteenth century, as discussed in Karl Debreczeny’s introduction to these articles.8

As both the Mongol and the Tibetan translations of the Juyong Gate inscriptions indicate, Emperor Sechen (another of Qubilai Khan’s titles, meaning “wisdom” or “the wise one”) merely resides in “the vicinity of” or “near” or “beside” Mount Wutai. If this was a clear reference to Mañjuśrī, Emperor Sechen would have been associated directly with coming from Mount Wutai. Instead, I would suggest that the reference here is to the historic fact that young Qubilai was raised in the appanage of Zhending Prefecture, the territory allotted to his mother in 1236. This prefecture was contiguous with and directly to the east of Wutai shan (in fact, Wutai shan’s streams drain right into the river that runs through the prefectural seat). This simple fact of geography, and not some elaborate and early link between an emperor of China and the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī, clearly explains the inscription’s association between Qubilai and this mountain. It is unclear to whom this territory was allotted after the death of Qubilai’s mother in 1252, but most likely it would have come to Qubilai, as he was the only one of her sons to remain associated with the surrounding territory.9 Moreover, Qubilai’s own appanage included territory to the south (Henan) and west (Shanxi) of Wutai shan as early as 1254 and may have even included Wutai shan itself in later years. This is a subject that deserves further study, but in the meantime, one simply cannot accept that Farquhar’s tentative identification of Qubilai with Mañjuśrī was an accepted fact in his lifetime, or even later in the Yuan dynasty, on the basis of present materials. At most this was an obscure hint at such an association and not a clear identification. The earliest clear positive identification of Qubilai and Mañjuśrī is not found until the late sixteenth century.10 Nevertheless, the Yuan emperors and empresses were the first to make pilgrimages to the mountain, setting an important precedent for the Qing. Tibetan Buddhist pilgrimage to the site continued into the Ming, with some of the most prominent Tibetan monks of the period visiting or teaching there, as was recorded in the Ming gazetteer of Wutai shan.11

In the Ming period, Tantric Buddhism, though not necessarily always associated with Tibetan Buddhist practice, became dedicated to the practice of certain rituals, especially those associated with prayers for long life and cures for illnesses.12 This [page 167] legacy was also handed down to the Qing. The latest Ming examples of such activities at Wutai shan discussed in the secondary literature date from just before the end of the sixteenth century. In 1581, the prominent monk Hanshan Deching argued that “all Buddhist activities were only for the protection of the empire and blessing of the emperor,” and convinced the court to sponsor a prayer assembly at Wutai shan.13 Another source says that the Wanli emperor (r. 1572-1620) had life-prolonging ceremonies (yanshou daochang) done there.14 Each one of the activities described here was to be more or less repeated by the early Qing emperors. Thus, the Ming court’s emphasis on the site as a locus for ritual activity to protect the imperial family was continued by the Qing, at least partially as an example of filiality. Although such ritual activities were common enough for Buddhists associated with the court, my point here is that Wutai shan was a prominent locus for such activity, despite its rural remove from the capital.

The enduring nature of this sacred Buddhist site, preserved in gazetteers and maintained through pilgrimage and patronage, as well as its importance as a pan-Asian center of Buddhist activities since ancient times made Wutai shan – like few other places in the empire – amenable to multiple registers of activity. What do I mean by register? First, there are the physical and literary registers of imperial and Buddhist activity on the mountain: the stelae, placards, poems, gifts, images of the mountain, and finally the gazetteers, which also tend to include the other literary and material products of the imperial benefice in detailed lists. The second meaning is closer to the verbal form of “to register,” pointing to the fact that some forms of communications “register” with or get noticed more by some communities or groups than they do others. The Qing emperors were especially attuned to such nuanced uses of particular forms of communication. For this reason, we must pay careful attention to the languages used in various sources, the diction within those texts, as well as the contexts of their transmission. For instance, whereas Farquhar saw attention to Wutai shan as a way to influence Mongol adherents of Tibetan Buddhism, I think he paid insufficient attention to the Qing court’s use of Chinese-language registers, which probably had an extremely limited audience among Mongols and no (known) audience among Tibetans.

The Manchus also had particular reasons to maintain their connection to the mountain, linked to the Mahākāla cult said to have been brought to the mountain by Pakpa’Phags pa in the thirteenth century, as discussed in Grupper’s dissertation “The Manchu Imperial Cult of the Early Ch’ing Dynasty.”15 However, the association of this image with Wutai shan would not explain why the Qing court would make [page 168] an effort to communicate their patronage of Wutai shan to the Chinese. Instead, the most basic reason the Manchus would have to patronize this mountain site is the same as their reasons for patronizing all other long-standing institutions they encountered: legitimation depended upon being the rightful heir to powerful traditions. Since the tradition of imperial sponsorship dated back centuries and included most of the great dynasties – including several prominent non-Chinese (Han) ruling families – the Qing were bound to continue the tradition. The late Ming model provided the basic framework for the initial patronage, as will be seen in the description of the gazetteer production. Of course, the Qing also brought their own interests to bear on the support of this site, and some of these alterations have been discussed by Farquhar. However, as he reveals in his study of Mongolian gazetteers, far more attention was given to actually maintaining traditions, and the alterations were only controlled adjustments in the course of this maintenance.16

I will now examine the actual activities of Qing imperial patronage of Tibetan Buddhists at the mountain in the early years of the dynasty – such as the institutional support for monasteries and their individual inhabitants – mostly as recorded in the Chinese-language register. What we see here is that the Qing continued certain rituals established by the Ming, but were explicit about elevating the role of Tibetan Buddhists in leading these rituals. These literary records of imperial patronage of Wutai shan allow us to reconstruct something of what the emperors wanted the Chinese-reading public to know of their activities.


[6] Ruth Dunnell (“The Hsia Origins of the Yüan Institution of Imperial Preceptor,” Asia Major 5, part 1 [1992]: 110) is one of the many scholars to have accepted this identification citing Faraquhar to say that “Qubilai later was identified as the bodhisattva Manjusri in the Mongolian text of the Juyong Gate stele inscriptions, erected under the last Yüan emperor.”
[7] One obvious place where such an association should be found (but is not) would have been in Pakpa’Phags pa’s text for Qubilai Khan’s heir Jinggim: Pakpa Lodrö Gyentsen’Phags pa blo gros rgyal mtshan, Prince Jing-Gim’s Textbook of Tibetan Buddhism: The shes-bya rab-gsal (Jñeya-prakāśa), translated and annotated by Constance Hoog. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1983 [1278]. In a cursory reading of Pakpa’Phags pa’s praises of Wutai shan, I also found no ready association of Qubilai with Mañjuśrī.
[8] Discussed in Karl Debreczeny’s introduction to these articles: 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.
[9] Morris Rossabi, “Khubilai Khan and the Women in his Family,” in Studia Sino-Mongolica: Festschrift für Herbert Franke (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag GMBH, 1979), 161.
[10] Farquhar, “Emperor as Bodhisattva,” 14.
[11] See Elliot Sperling, “Early Ming Policy Toward Tibet: An Examination of the Proposition that the Early Ming Emperors Adopted a ‘Divide and Rule’ Policy toward Tibet” (PhD diss., Indiana University, 1983), 117, 184.
[12] Both Hoong Teik Toh and Natalie Köhle have looked at the primary sources on this subject, especially the presence of Tibetan Buddhists in China proper. See Natalie Köhle, “Why Did the Kangxi Emperor Go to Wutai Shan?” (Master’s thesis, Harvard University, 2006), to which I will refer, since this was the version available to me when I wrote this paper. Her work was later published in revised form as Natalie Köhle, “Why Did the Kangxi Emperor Go to Wutai Shan?” Late Imperial China 29, no. 1 (2008): 73-119. Hoong Teik Toh, “Tibetan Buddhism in Ming China,” (PhD diss., Harvard University, 2004).
[13] Hsu, A Buddhist Leader in Ming China, 71-75.
[14] Cui Zhengseng, “Wutai Shan Fojiao wen hua.” Shi jie zong jiao yan jiu 3 (1991): 89.
[15] Samuel Grupper, “The Manchu Imperial Cult of the Early Ch’ing Dynasty: Texts and Studies on the Tantric Sanctuary of Mahakala at Mukden” (PhD diss., Indiana University, 1980), 90-91.
[16] For another reading of this phenomenon, responding in part to early drafts of the present essay, see Köhle’s work on Wutai shan, “Why Did the Kangxi Emperor Go to Wutai Shan?”

Note Citation for Page

Gray Tuttle, “Tibetan Buddhism at Wutai Shan in the Qing: The Chinese-language Register,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): , http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5721 (accessed ).

Note Citation for Whole Article

Gray Tuttle, “Tibetan Buddhism at Wutai Shan in the Qing: The Chinese-language Register,” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 163-214, http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5721 (accessed ).

Bibliography Citation

Tuttle, Gray. “Tibetan Buddhism at Wutai Shan in the Qing: The Chinese-language Register.” Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies, no. 6 (December 2011): 163-214. http://www.thlib.org?tid=T5721 (accessed ).