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 7 of 10 (pp. 183-187)

Non-Tibetan Head LamaBla mas as Leaders of Wutai shan

Although Tibetan Buddhists had been sent by the court to the mountain from just after the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama’s visit in 1653, it was not until 1685 and 1687 that imperial acknowledgment of the place of Tibetan Buddhism there was marked by public monuments. In these years, the two recently-deceased leading Tibetan Buddhists at Wutai shan had stūpas with memorial inscriptions erected on the mountain in their honor.84 From these we learn about the role these men had in bringing Tibetan Buddhism to prominence at Wutai shan (see Appendix 2 for a summary of these figures and additional details about their lives). The elder of the monks, Awang Laozang was the non-Tibetan (probably Mongol, though raised in Ming Beijing) lamabla ma put in charge of Chinese and Tibetan affairs on the mountain in 1659, apparently on the basis of his 1653 encounter with the Dalai Lama. According to his memorial inscription, his coming to the mountain was predicted by the Dalai Lama when he participated in certain Buddhist rituals at the court under the auspices of the Dalai Lama.85 Moreover, the Kangxi emperor [page 184] continued to honor this non-Tibetan Tibetan Buddhist, giving him the epithet “Elder of Clear and Cool Mountain” (Qingliang laoren) upon the occasion of his first pilgrimage to the mountain in 1683.86 When the lamabla ma died in 1687, over four thousand people came to his funeral.87 Again, this is evidence of a massive public event that, like the Chinese gazetteers, would have been largely observed by a Chinese audience.

The other prominent Tibetan Buddhist memorialized publicly after his death was the Mongol, Laozang Danbei [Jiancan] (abbreviated from Lozang Tenpé [Gyentsen]Blo bzang bstan pa’i [rgyal mtshan]).88 Made abbot of Wutai shan in the Shunzhi emperor’s reign (1659), he was also prominent in the Kangxi emperor’s reign. When the emperor visited Wutai shan in 1683 they met, and Laozang Danbei (Lozang Tenpéblo bzang bstan pa’i) explained Buddhist texts to him. Then, in connection with bringing yellow (imperial) tiles to re-tile Pusa Ding, Laozang Danbei died in Beijing. The loss of these two prominent Tibetan Buddhists at approximately the same time did not impede the court’s support of non-Tibetan adherents of Tibetan Buddhism. Even at the time of the erection of first stūpa memorial, the next major figure, a disciple of Laozang Danbei, was already present and involved.89

The appointment of this disciple, also named Laozang Danba (from Lozang Tenpablo bzang bstan pa), as the “the Da Lama imperially ordered to control and manage Tibetan and Chinese (affairs) at Mount Wutai” serves as a rare (recorded) instance of the importance of Chinese Tibetan Buddhists at Wutai shan in the Qing period.90 This monk is presumed to be a Chinese because he was from Shandong Province. Laozang Danba was appointed to this duty in the 1680s, probably when his master’s health declined. In the following decade, he edited the New Qingliang shan Gazetteer. Unlike the previous Qing editions that had been overseen by Mongols, this new text was substantially different. The fact that this Tibetan Buddhist wrote this text as an imperial appointee and that an imperial reprint was made in 1701 leads me to conclude that the Qing court was deliberately supporting attention to Tibetan Buddhism at Wutai shan in the Chinese language. In 1698, he was further honored by the emperor, being enfeoffed as the Qingxiu chanshi and given a forty-eight-tael silver seal as a sign of his continued authority over “Wutai shan’s [page 185] Tibetan and Chinese Da Lama affairs.”91 In his person, and in the domain over which he had control, we see that Chinese Tibetan Buddhists were a force which the Qing court wanted to support and also over which they wished to exercise control.92

Only this desire could explain the efforts which the Qing court made in the Chinese-language register to publicize and commemorate their patronage of Buddhism, specifically Tibetan Buddhism, at the sacred Buddhist mountain. The first two Qing emperors achieved this goal by successively placing a series of lamabla mas raised in China but versed in Tibetan Buddhism in control of the mountain. These monks were also responsible for editing and writing the prefaces for the first two Chinese-language gazetteers of the Qing period. Their works served as the basis for almost all of the later imperial Qing gazetteers devoted to Wutai shan. Awang Laozang’s edition was recarved in the Qianlong period and served as the template for all but one of the later editions. Laozang Danba’s new gazetteer, however, was the more important of the two. It was printed three times in the mid-Kangxi reign (1694, 1701, and 1707), at least once by imperial order, and was translated with an imperial preface into both Mongolian and Manchu (separately printed in 1701). As such, this text was clearly seen by the court as an essential document. The fact that Chinese-language gazetteer editions of the mountain out-number the imperial Mongolian language editions by a three to one ratio also indicates the relative importance of the audiences for these publications. Although for obvious reasons no record of Chinese practicing Tibetan Buddhism has been preserved in the Confucian register, the preponderance of evidence suggests that Qing patronage of Chinese adherents of Tibetan Buddhism at Wutai shan (albeit in the context of continuity with traditions at Wutai shan) was at least as much of a goal of the Qing court as making an appeal to Mongol Buddhists was.

Thus, the study of Qing imperial patronage of the sacred Buddhist mountain of Wutai shan fails to substantiate the accepted view that support for Tibetan Buddhism by the Manchu court was simply a means for controlling the Mongols (and later the Tibetans).93 If the principal goal of supporting Tibetan Buddhism at a site such as Wutai shan had been to subtly propagate the bodhisattvahood of the Manchu emperors among the Mongols, then why would so much of the support for the mountain site have been communicated in Chinese – with little to no indication of this bodhisattvahood? With sources which were not utilized by Farquhar, I have demonstrated that Qing support for Tibetan Buddhism at Wutai shan was directed more at a Chinese than a Mongol audience. These sources indicate that the reason [page 186] for making such patronage visible to the Chinese was connected to the enduring prominence of this Buddhist sacred site in the imperial cults of previous dynasties dating back as far as the Northern Wei. But this explanation only accounts for the support of Buddhism at Wutai shan, whereas imperial publications from the Shunzhi reign-period on indicate quite clearly in Chinese that the central locus of patronage at Wutai shan was the community led by Tibetan Buddhists.

One tentative explanation for this shift is that there was a large community of Chinese practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism at Wutai shan, but we only have hints of this. For instance, we know that three hundred practitioners (presumably Chinese) came from the mountain to meet with the Fifth Dalai Lama in 1652-1653.94 The presence of a Shandong monk with a Tibetan Buddhist name as the leader of Wutai shan’s monks in the last decades of the seventeenth century, as well as the numerous Chinese-language gazetteers of the mountain that attended to the presence of Tibetan Buddhism there, suggests that Chinese interest in Tibetan Buddhism was a continuing trend. Moreover, by the Qianlong reign, there was a clear indication that some Chinese were expected to be trained in Tibetan Buddhism at the imperial court, as was written into the code of the Court for Managing the Frontiers (Lifan yuan).95 These Chinese monks were no doubt trained at Yonghe Gong, as was intended from the beginning of its imperial foundation, described in the biography of Changja Rölpé DorjéLcang skya rol pa’i rdo rje.96 Thus, a trend towards Chinese-speaking Buddhist monks embracing Tibetan Buddhism – established in the Ming by such figures as the Beijing Mongol Awang Laozang – was eventually adopted by the Qing state and applied, by law, to (an admittedly tiny number) of their Chinese subjects. But I do not think this application of the law was done against the wishes of these Chinese subjects, but rather followed from the fact that Chinese monks, like the Mongols before them, had already come to study and practice Tibetan Buddhism on their own.97 The handful of prominent individuals for whom we do have records represents a significant, and hitherto understudied, development in late imperial China – the advent of Chinese who practiced Tibetan Buddhism with imperial support. I would [page 187] argue that these individuals and the positions to which they were assigned suggest that a larger community of Chinese Tibetan Buddhists was present, at least at Wutai shan and Beijing. The existence of such a community could go far toward explaining the imperial presentation of Chinese-language material making manifest the Qing patronage of Tibetan Buddhism at Wutai shan.


[84] “Qingdai lama jiao beike lu,” in Qing zhengfu yu lama jiao, edited by Zhang Xixin (Lhasa: Xizang renmin chubanshe, 1988), 243-48. These texts were preserved in Gest Library’s New Clear and Cool Mountain Gazetteer (1701), volume 7, 21b-26b.
[85] “Qingdai lama jiao beike lu,” 246.
[86] “Qingdai lama jiao beike lu,” 247. See also the entry in Yen-ching Library’s Wang Benzhi, ed., Qingliang shan jiyao (post-1780), first volume, 64a.
[87] “Qingdai lama jiao beike lu,” 248. For biographical details, see Appendix 2.
[88] Although the full form of his name (with “Jiancan” at the end) only occurs in one place, a Kangxi era stele inscription, it seems the Chinese did not understand that the final genitive “i” should have been dropped, changing the sound of the word from “bei” to “ba” in the shortened form. Maybe this form was kept to distinguish him from his eponymous student, who was involved in the erection of the memorial to his teacher. Without these final two syllables of his full name, one might have expected the Tibetan of the name to be Lozang TenpelBlo bzang bstan dpal. Thanks to Natalie Köhle for bringing the rare full spelling of his name to my attention. For a reference to the stele, see Köhle, “Why Did the Kangxi Emperor Go to Wutai Shan?” n. 22.
[89] “Qingdai lama jiao beike lu,” 244.
[90] The title is drawn from the 1694 preface to the New Clear and Cool Mountain Gazetteer, edited by this monk, and preserved in Yen-ching Library’s Qingliang shan zhi (1755), preface 4b.
[91] Gest Library’s Qingliang shan xinzhi (1701), volume 3, 22b: “Huangshang... feng Qingxiu chanshi, yin yin zhong si shi ba liang, reng tidu Wutai shan Fan Han Da Lama shi.”
[92] It is also possible that there was a large group of Mongol Buddhists who read only Chinese, but this seems less likely, though the issue should be explored further. Very few, if any, ethnic Tibetans knew classical Chinese in the Qing.
[93] Most of the Tibetan language guides to the mountain were written or made available in printed form only after imperial support for Wutai shan seems to have waned, that is, after 1813 (see Table 2). Moreover, most (if not all) of these guides, though written in Tibetan, were penned by Mongols or Monguors, and not Tibetans.
[94] Gray Tuttle, “A Tibetan Buddhist Mission to the East: The Fifth Dalai Lama’s Journey to Beijing, 1652-1653,” in Tibetan Society and Religion: The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, edited by Bryan Cuevas and Kurtis R. Schaeffer (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 65-87.
[95] For the details of this see Gray Tuttle, Tibetan Buddhists in the Making of Modern China (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 28.
[96] TukwanThu’u bkwan III, Chökyi NyimaChos kyi nyi ma, Changja Rölpé Dorjé NamtarLcang skya rol pa’i rdo rje’i rnam thar (Lanzhou: Kan su’u mi rigs dpe skrun khang, 1989 [1792-1794]), 220. Tuguan, Zhangjia Guoshi Ruobi duoji zhuan, 137. The Tibetan text is quite clear that the school was intended for training Khalkha Mongols, Chinese and Tibetan monks. The Chinese translation is misleading, as it seems to indicate that the monks are merely to be drawn from the Khalkha Mongols and the Chinese and Tibetan regions. Thus, someone only consulting the Chinese translation might assume those drawn from the Chinese areas could be of any ethnicity, such as Mongols whose families were long resident in China. But the Tibetan text clearly indicates that Chinese (gyargya) were to be trained at the monastic college set up at Yonghe Gong.
[97] Köhle, “Why Did the Kangxi Emperor Go to Wutai Shan?”; Toh, “Tibetan Buddhism in Ming China”; and more recently David Robinson’s article, “The Ming Court and the Legacy of the Yuan Mongols,” have looked at the popularity of Tibetan Buddhism among Han Chinese in the Ming dynasty, though evidence of and detailed information on individual Chinese, outside the dynastic family, who practiced Tibetan Buddhism is still difficult to discover.

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 ).