Mongol Pacification Through Qing-Tibetan Relations

By: Jigme Duntak

As early as 1639 the Qing monarchs were documented to have engaged in relations with Tibet through patronage of the Yellow Hat sect (Gelugpa) temples and monasteries. Tibetan cult objects were also already introduced at the Aisin Gioro temple in the Qing capital of Mukden well before the Qing invasion of North China.[1] This relationship through patronage and the adoption of Tibetan Buddhist practices stemmed back to a blueprint laid out by Emperor Nurhaci (see right) where he had stated that “legitimate rule of the Mongols depended upon patronizing Tibetan lamas, whom Altan Khan had established as the spiritual guides of the Mongols.”[2] Relations between the Qing and Tibet therefore existed before the Qing became rulers of China and due to the religious implications, good relations with Tibet were essential for the Qing rulers in order to maintain good relations with Mongolia.

Therefore, Qing relations with Tibet were heavily interrelated with the Qing policy of Mongol pacification which was achieved through the Tibetan Buddhist sect relations, principally with the Yellow Hat sect hierarchs. Under the Qianlong emperor many Mongol rebellions had to be suppressed by Qing forces. In 1756, Qianlong emperor (see right) pointed out that “the western Mongols must have four khans recognized among them, “in order to keep their forces divided. Each has to be concerned about his own welfare, and submit to the empire for protection from the others.” This was the policy of the Qing to maintain division among the Mongols as a policy to pacify possible Mongol threat.

By 1644 the Qing had finally completed the overthrow of the Ming dynasty and had established themselves as the rulers of China. Similarly in 1642 the Fifth Dalai Lama and his Yellow Hat sect, had consolidated their own realm, in large part due to the support of Gushri Khan (a Khosut-Oirat prince).[3] “The Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) (see right) was the first Dalai Lama to assume temporal control of Tibet, aided by the troops of the Khosut Mongol chief, Gushri Khan.”[4] By this time the Qing are the newly rising power of Asia and the numerous different factions within Tibet are quick to recognize this. The various factions quickly begin to send envoys to the Manchu court in an attempt to win favour and support, and to obtain a leverage or advantage over one another. The different factions consisted of the Gushri and the Fifth Dalai Lama, The deposed King of Tsang, and the Karma-pa hierarchs.[5] In 1652 the Fifth Dalai Lama travels to Beijing and has an imperial audience with the Qing emperor in an attempt for both parties to seal a favourable relationship. Upon meeting, the Emperor seizes the Dalai Lama’s hand and inquires about his health through an interpreter[6]. Throughout the meeting the Emperor and Dalai Lama show signs of mutual respect and when the tea arrived the Emperor in fact urges the Dalai Lama to drink before him. Vast amounts of presents are in addition offered to the Dalai Lama. From the conduct of the Shunzhi Emperor we can see that he surprisingly met the Dalai Lama as his equal. In fact there had also been discussion about the Shunzhi Emperor possibly traveling to a place beyond the Great Wall to meet the Dalai Lama.[7] After this formal meeting the “priest-patron” relation had been established between the Qing Emperor and Tibet. Both parties had successfully attained what they had been pursuing: The Dalai Lama had gained assurance of support from the Qing Emperor in order to maintain his power over his rivals, and the Qing had earned spiritual legitimation from the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchs through association, future political manipulation, and also titles of Bodhisattva bestowed upon the emperor and future emperors which gave them influence and significance within the Tibetan Buddhist community. The key of all these factors was that the Qing could now have political influence by establishing themselves as the patrons of Tibetan Buddhism. This was of particular importance in regards to pacifying Mongolia since the Dalai Lama had great influence amongst the Mongols, and was later asked by Qing rulers to use this influence to “prevent danger to China”.[8] According to David Snellgrove and Hugh Richardson,

“Just as the Indian masters of Buddhist doctrine and practice had once everything to give (or sell) to Tibetans who were so anxious to learn, so now the Mongols continued to learn from their Tibetan masters in religion all they could of Buddhist doctrine. Mongol students came to Tibetan monasteries… just as Tibetans had once visited the great monastic universities of northern India.”

In addition by tightening and improving relations with the Tibetans, the Qing rulers were reducing the possibility of Tibetans uniting with the Mongols against them. This was a great fear of the Kangxi Emperor’s, during his reign he, “remained wary of strategic combinations between Tibet and the unconquered Mongols of Central Asia. His concerns had proved justified when the western Mongol leader Galdan enlisted ambitious factions in Tibet to support his cause.”[9] The willingness to completely disregard the Chinese imperial protocol by Emperor Shunzhi (see right) also demonstrated just how significant relations with the Tibetan Buddhist leaders were to the Qing in order to pacify the Mongols. “It must be remembered that Chinese political theory excluded entirely the possibility of equal diplomatic relations with any other country whatsoever.”[10] The willingness to forgo the imperial foreign policy towards the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchs did not center on this sole event between the Fifth Dalai Lama and the Shunzhi Emperor alone. On the 20th of August, 1780 the Qianlong Emperor met the Third Panchen Lama in Chengde and in this visit he too disregarded the Chinese imperial protocols for foreigners, just as his predecessor the Shunzhi Emperor had done. The Qianlong Emperor extended a huge celebration and show upon the Panchen Lama’s arrival. “As the greetings started, the Panchen Lama began to kneel down but the emperor took his hand and made him rise, saying in Tibetan, “Lama, please do not kneel.””[11] Also similarly to what had occurred when the Dalai Lama and the Shunzhi Emperor met in 1652, the Qianlong Emperor urged the Panchen Lama to drink his tea before him on more than one occasion. However they always resolved to drink simultaneously. The visit itself was very costly with all the large performances and gifts being given on behalf of the emperor. It lasted over sixty six days and all expenses for the Panchen Lama and his escorts were paid for through the Imperial treasury. This showed exactly how important relations with Tibetan Buddhist hierarchs remained from Shunzhi’s reign to Qianlong’s since both were identically willing to disregard their imperial political policies towards foreigners in dealings with the Tibetan high lamas. In fact it possibly shows a growth in the importance of the priest-patron relationship. This was due to the fact that the Qianlong Emperor’s devotion and advocacy of Tibetan Buddhism was stronger than that of his predecessors.

Under the Qianlong Emperor, Tibet functioned as an ideological resource and was subject to strategic intervention of imperial forces.[12] However Emperor Qianlong was unsatisfied with the previous ritual relationships the Qing dynasty had with Tibetan Buddhists. He therefore “intended to make his imperial capital at Peking the spiritual capital of the Lamaist realm…Tibetan Buddhism was enshrined in various temples closely linked with the imperial family”.[13] In 1757 the Qing defeated the western Mongols and the strategic interest of the Qing were lessened, but carefully the Qianlong emperor “decreed that no more reincarnations of the living Buddha would be found among Mongols; only Tibetans would henceforth be living Buddhas.”[14] This demonstrated the use of Chinese political manipulation in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy in order to prevent the threat of the Mongols. However this form of political manipulation was much more direct and imposing, since after 1720 the Qing had militarily occupied Tibet due to the Zhungar invasion of central Tibet and Kham therefore establishing Tibet as a protectorate state.[15]Tibet was under Qing military domination, the Dalai Lamas themselves were virtual prisoners of the Qing court.”[16]

Tibet was “a geo-political sector of fundamental importance in the maintenance of Qing domination, and intimately associated with progressive Qing control over Mongolia.” The Qing emperors made sure to maintain good relations with the Tibet for this specific reason and in particular leaders of Tibetan Buddhism, such as the Dalai Lama. By associating themselves with Tibetan Buddhism and acting as patrons and protectors of the Tibetan Buddhist Yellow Hat sect, the emperors were bestowed titles such as bodhisattva which helped them legitimize their rule in the eyes of the Mongols. Engaging in good relations with the Tibetan Buddhists also diminished the possibilities of a Mongol-Tibetan union in rebellion against the Qing, a fear that was realized under the Kangxi Emperor. Association with the Tibetan Buddhist also allowed the Qing emperors to manipulate the Tibetan hierarchs in order to suit their political motives especially since the Dalai Lama acted with great influence amongst the Mongols. Therefore, Qing relations with Tibet were heavily interrelated with the Qing policy of Mongol pacification which was achieved through the Tibetan Buddhist sect relations.

[1] Pamela Kyle Crossley, The Manchus (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997) 113
Matthew T. Kapstein, The Tibetans (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2006) 140
Donald S. Lopez, “Tibetan Buddhism”, edited by Ruth W. Dunnell, New Qing Imperial History: The Making of the Inner Asian Empire at Qing Chengde. (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004) 26
David Snellgrove and Hugh Richardson, A Cultural History of Tibet (Boulder: Prajana Press, 1980) 198
Kapstein, 140
Snellgrove, 198
Crossley, 118
Snellgrove, 198.
Nima Dorjee Rangubs, “The Third Panchen Lama’s visit to Chengde, Edited by Ruth W. Dunnell, New Qing Imperial History: The Making of the Inner Asian Empire at Qing Chengde. (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004) 190
Crossley 113
Crossley 118.
Kapstein 148.
Crossley 121.


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Choephel, Gendun. The White Annals. Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, 1978.

Crossley, Pamela K. The Manchus, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997.

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Kapstein, Matthew T. The Tibetans, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2006.

Lopez, Donald S. “Tibetan Buddhism”, edited by Ruth W. Dunnell, New Qing Imperial History:the Making of the Inner Asian Empire at Qing Chengde. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004.

Rangubs, Nima D. “The Third Panchen Lama’s visit to Chengde, Edited by Ruth W. Dunnell, New Qing Imperial History: The Making of the Inner Asian Empire at Qing Chengde. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004.

Shakya, Tsering. The Dragon in the Land of Snows, New York: Penguin Compass, 1999.

Oldstone-Moore, Jennifer. “The Way of the Buddha”. China: Empire and Civilization, edited by Edward L. Shaughnessy, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Snellgrove, David and Hugh Richardson, A Cultural History of Tibet (Boulder: PrajanaPress, 1980

Stein, R. A. Tibetan Civilization. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1972.


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