When Narration and Historical Sources Don’t Match: The Relation of the Embassy of a Mongol Prince to Lhasa for the Enthronement of the Ninth Dalai Lama
Bibliothèque d’études chinoises
To prepare this presentation of our Mongol scroll which tells the story of the embassy to Tibet, I used the following two articles French researchers wrote specifically on this document:
– Charleux Isabelle, Even Marie Dominique and Lacaze Gaëlle, “Un Document Mongol sur l’Intronisation du IXe Dalai Lama”, Journal Asiatique, 2004, 1-2, pp. 151-222
– Lacaze Gaëlle and Charleux Isabelle, “L’Intronisationdu IXe Dalai Lama Vue par un Prince Mongol: Un Rouleau Conservé à la Bibliothèque de l’Institut des Hautes Études Chinoises”, Arts Asiatiques, 2004, 59, pp. 30-57.
In the 1990s, a Mongolian manuscript scroll was re-discovered in the library of the Institut des Hautes Études Chinoises (IHEC), and three researchers made a thorough investigation it. We don’t know how this document entered the IHEC collections, but it was probably been part of the personal collection of the famous sinologist Paul Pelliot (1878-1945).
The Fengshi Xizang tu 奉使西藏圖 (Illustrations of the Imperial Embassy to Tibet) is a manuscript in the Mongolian language accompanied by 12 painted illustrations. The text dates to 1809 (the 14th year of the Qing Jiaqing 嘉慶 emperor’s reign, 1796-1820) and recounts Manjubazar’s mission to Lhasa. Manjubazar was a Mongolian prince from Inner-Mongolia sent by the Jiaqing emperor in 1808 to Lhasa to supervise the enthronement of the Ninth Dalai Lama, Lungtok Gyatso (1805-1815).
The document reproduces the different orders and decrees from the emperor. It describes the preparations for the journey, the journey itself, the events of the enthronement and the embassy’s journey back to Beijing. The following 12 illustrations depict the birth, the discovery, the taking of vows and the religious investiture of the future Dalai lama.
I don’t have much time to present and fully discuss this scroll with you. But I would like to highlight what the three researchers found, namely the discrepancy between the narration given by the scroll, written under the supervision of Manjubazar, and some of the details in the historical records of the same mission to be found in a number of contemporary Qing sources.
Presentation of the scroll
The horizontally mounted scroll is 637 cm long and 44.5 cm wide and, following traditional Mongolian practice, reads from left to right, unlike traditional Chinese scrolls. Strangely, the illustrations placed at the end of the scroll are to be read from right to left. This is far from the traditional format for a Mongolian manuscript.1
The silk brocade cover and silk damask mounting of the scroll are of lower quality and confirm that it is not an imperial document for the emperor. The cover bears the following Chinese title: Fengshi Xizang tu (Illustrations of the Imperial Embassy to Tibet), and two seals: a small one indicating the surname of a past collector and a larger one belonging to the library of the residence of the Qaracin princes. Both were added much later.2
The text is written with a brush and ink in the Uyghur-Mongol script. It includes informal language using certain colloquial expressions as well as Chinese and Manchu ones. The text isn’t signed and was probably written by Manjubazar’s secretary, who was conversant with writing official documents. This text can be described as a travel diary, but is also a historical document that celebrates Manjubazar’s journey for his descendants. The illustrations depicting the birth, discovery, taking of vow and religious investiture of the future Dalai Lama, do not illustrate the text, with the exception of the last illustration (the enthronement). They are not realistic and very much detailed. They don’t respect the traditional Buddhist conventions to depict temple and other things. We detect the influence of both Chinese style and popular Mongolian style in the drawing. We are not aware of any equivalent document kept in a public library.
Two Manchu Banner officers and an important Lama from Beijing3 went with Manjubazar to Lhasa.
On their return to Beijing, the Prince, the Lama and the Manchu officers were accused of having taken advantage of their rank and privileges and of having let their retinue abuse villagers on the way out and back. Manjubazar was punished by the Emperor and deprived of his rank, but he was soon restored to his ranks and charges.
The future Ninth Dalai Lama, Lungtok Gyatso (1805-1815) was born in December 1805, and was chosen one year later from among nine other boys by the Tibetan regent’s emissaries. The boy was sent with another candidate to a monastery near Lhasa in 1807, where they were both put under the scrutiny of the Amban (the Manchu official representing the Qing emperor in Lhasa) and Tibetan ministers.
Then the boy was officially acknowledged by an oracle as being the reincarnation of the eighth Dalai Lama, and he took and successfully passed the public examination where he had to recognise objects belonging to his predecessor.
The way to determine who was the true reincarnation of the Dalai Lama had been a subject of intense dispute between the Chinese emperors and the Tibetan government. After 1792, the Qianlong Emperor had reorganized the Tibetan administration and put it under tighter control by the Chinese envoy in charge of Tibetan civil and military affairs (the Amban). To also control the religious sphere, the Qianlong Emperor imposed a new way of selecting the most important reincarnations, those of the Panchen and Dalai Lamas. After a preliminary inquiry, the name of the true reincarnation would be drawn from a golden urn offered by the emperor. But the Tibetan government never seemed to accept this new method of selection and certainly did not use it after the death of the Qianlong Emperor in 1799. That is why the ancient method was used for the selection of the 9th Dalai Lama and, after complaints from the Emperor and the Chinese envoys, Manjubazar’s embassy was set up and sent to Lhasa to reaffirm the grip of the Qing Dynasty over Tibet. But the Tibetan government was actually doing it the way it wanted, the urn had not been used, and Manjubazar simply confirmed the Tibetans’ choice. Beijing’s actual hold on Tibetan affairs was indeed very weak. To put a good face on things, the Jiaqing Emperor later ordered a special exemption in this case to proceed with the ritual of identifying the possessions of the deceased Dalai Lama, but he also reaffirmed the primacy of the drawing a name from the golden urn.
The comparison between the facts related in the manuscript and the contents of Chinese official sources (the memorials, decrees and regulations for the non-Chinese people) on the one hand and those related in Tibetan sources (the biographies of the Panchen and Dalai Lamas) on the other hand, acknowledges this tension over the control of Tibetan affairs and the necessity for each party to present the episode as conducted according to its own traditions and rules.
These discrepancies also pertain the Dalai Lama’s speech during the enthronement ceremony when he received the imperial decree (he was only two-and-a-half-years old), to his gestures toward the Chinese envoys as well as the position of those envoys. In the IHEC Mongolian manuscript and in Chinese historical sources, the envoys were seated on chairs as high as the one on which the Dalai Lama was seated, and the latter bowed (kowtowed) to the Envoys and made a prostration in the direction of Beijing as a symbolic gesture of submission to the Qing emperor. In the Tibetan sources, however, the Dalai Lama did not bow nor did he prostrate himself, and the Chinese envoys were seated on mats just like the Tibetan officials.4
Indeed, the embassy was considered by the Tibetans as a ‘routine’ embassy confirming their choice, but not an imperial embassy. On the contrary, the Mongol manuscript depicts Manjubazar as an envoy empowered with the Emperor’s authority who managed to have the Tibetans follow the Qing imperial rule. Manjubazar probably gave himself a much more important part than he really had during the mission and the enthronement ceremony.5 The reason might be that, following his return to Beijing, the Qaracin prince spent many months out of favour with the Emperor (on account of the bad behaviour of Manjubazar’s retinue during the journey), and this narrative was a way for him to reaffirm that he had properly accomplished his mission.
The relationship between the Tibetan authorities and the Manchu government was complex and difficult, and each gave an account of the episode that would satisfy its own people and officials.
Delphine Spicq, maître de conférences à l’Institut des hautes études chinoises
Ce(tte) œuvre est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution – Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale – Partage dans les Mêmes Conditions 4.0 International.
- There is only one example of another horizontal Mongolian scroll like this one, probably made by a Chinese, the scroll sent by Altan quan (1507-1582) to the Chinese Wanli 萬曆 Emperor (1573-1620) in 1580, cf. Pozdneev Aleksei M., 1895: «Novo-otkrytyj pamjatnik mongol’skoj pis’mennosti vremjon dinastii Min» [Un monument nouvellement découvert de la littérature mongole de l’époque de la dynastie Ming], Vostochnye zametky [St Pétersbourg], vol. 14, p. 367-381.The only documents with a similar format are the Qing imperial decrees giving titles and privileges to Manchu and Mongol nobles and officials, in which the Manchu and Mongolian texts read left to right from one end of the scroll, and the Chinese reads right to left from the other end, with the two complementary texts meeting in the middle of the scroll.
- The larger seal reads Kalaqin wangfu Songyun ge bao 喀喇沁王府松雲閣寶 (Treasure of the Pines and Clouds Pavilion of the Qaracin Princely Residence). The Pines and Clouds Pavilion is the name of the library of the residence of the Qaracin princes.
- His name was Galdan Siregetü, one of the so-called Eight Great Tibetan Reincarnations living in Beijing.
- Documents considered in researching this episode include memorials to the throne (zouzhe 奏摺) and imperial decrees (memorials are stored in the Palace archives, Gongzhong dang 宮中檔, and copies of memorials are kept within the Grand council archives, Junjichu dang 軍機檔, in Manchu, Chinese or Tibetan language), as well as the Qing dynasty veritable records (the Daqing lichao shilu and the Daqing huidian Lifanyuan shili 大清會典理藩院事例) and the official biographies of the Dalai and Panchen Lamas in Tibetan
- The episode reveals the different points of view of the Qing envoys and the Emperor on one side and that of the Tibetans on the other. For the Emperor, the Dalai Lama, the head of Tibet, is the ruler of a vassal State. For the Tibetans, the spiritual power of the Dalai Lama is on the same level as the political power of the Qing Emperor.