Manjusri’s Gift: the establishment of Qing imperial order in Tibet, 1652-1793

The cultural borrowings, political contacts, and economic exchanges between Tibet and China proper have commenced as early as the 6th century (Kapstein 2010, 54), which formed rich legacies in Tibetan mythologies and historiographies. The legendary marriage alliances between Tibetan kings and Chinese princesses have been integrated as part and parcel of Tibetan daily languages. The China-Tibet treaty of 821-2 preserved in bilingual “uncle-nephew pillar inscription” in Lhasa (ibid, 78) witnessed the heyday of Tibetan Empire. Such “uncle-nephew” narratives of Sino-Tibetan relationships were gradually replaced by “patron-client” accounts after the collapse of the Tibetan Empire in the late 9th century. Since then Tibetan plateau was rendered into civil conflicts. The rise of Gelukpa (the Yellow Sect) fundamentally altered the political landscape in Tibet. Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), the founder of Gelukpa, reformed the monastic order, synthesized various religious doctrines (Samuel 1993, 506), and laid the foundation for the monastery domination. The Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) further allied with Güshri Khan (1582-1655), the leader of Khoshut Mongol, awarding him the title “Upholder of Doctrine, King of the Dharma” (Kapstein 2010, 137). The Fifth Dalai Lama also initiated substantial political contacts with Emperor Shunzhi (1638-1661) of Manchu-Qing. Despite their non-Chinese ethnic origin, the Manchu Emperors were referred to in Tibet as “gzanak gongma, the emperor of China” (ibid, 140). With the support from the Manchu court, the Dalai Lama became the supreme figure of Tibetan religion and politics. After the Zunghar invasion (1717-1720) and the Gurkha war (1788-1793), the Manchu-Qing Empire (1644-1912) further tightened its control over Tibet (Tucci 1980[1949], 146-147), actively involved in the reconfiguration of Tibetan religious, political and economic systems. The Manchus intervened into the incarnation system of Lamas through the Golden Urn Lottery, reformed the promotion and demotion system of local government officials, and dominated the foreign affairs of Tibet (Jagou 2007), leaving thick or thin impacts on the political life as well as the daily life among the Tibetans. Tibet was transformed finally from being “intermeshed” to “integrated” (Chia 1991, 203) into the political map of Manchu-Qing Empire.

Although the Manchu-Qing Empire broke down in 1912, its territory survived from disintegration and held its multi-ethnic frontiers as a whole through series of reforms and revolutions - the colonization by imperial forces promoted fission of the Chinese Empire in fission; the waves of nation-building movements in which many former vassal states of China declared independence; and the communist revolution with an ideology of “self-determination” and “ethnic autonomy”. What were the forces that kept the territory as a whole despite these centrifugal movements? Ferguson and Gupta (2002) discussed how sovereignty of a state is produced in the spatialized structure of “vertical encompassment” through imaginaries and discourses, as well as the bureaucratic practices. “Verticality” implies the center as above the periphery and “encompassment” as the state encroaching into the local (Ferguson and Gupta 2002, 982). Although their discussion took place in reference to modern state and neoliberal governmentality, it is worthy asking whether or not a spatialized structure existed in the imperial state which sustained the integrity of territory and the force of cohesiveness. If so, what was the “structure of politics”, and what were the techniques, procedures and institutions in which such structure was imagined and reified, and the “political loyalty” between the state and the multi-ethnic frontiers was provoked and embodied?

This project aims to participate in the broader discussions on how empire manages its multi-ethnic relationships across vast space and through a long time span. The proliferation of studies on continental empires such as Tsarist Empire provides a comparable perspective. Burbank and von Hagen (2007) suggested that one possible explanation for the long-lasting structure of Russian imperial politics lies in its “multiple frames of reference” (17), that is, “the never-ending adaptation of governance to local conditions created imperial technologies of rule, and these were in their essence inconsistent with each other. Policies could be framed with ethnicity, confession, territory, economic ‘stage,’ resources, loyalty, degree of ‘civilization,’ or status at their core, depending on changing visions of just what was at stake and where and when and for whom” (17). Such a governance of flexibility, non-uniformity and inconsistency could propel deeper theoretical discussions on governmentality, sovereignty, resistance, subjectivity and agency.

As most of the historical narratives show, ethnic confrontations seldom were dominant discourses in premodern Sino-Tibetan relationships. Instead, individual manipulations and strategic interactions marked the historical turns of significance. Fredrik Barth (1969) pointed out that ethnic boundaries are always fluid and could be cut through to different degrees by different individuals and groups with their different interactive kind of agencies. Border crossing is both undertaken by actors along the horizontal line of ethnicity or nationality, and along the vertical hierarchical line of center-periphery. Those studies on imperial elites and knowledge productions (see Bobrovnikov 2007; Ssorin-Chaikov 2003) contested the stark dichotomy of the rulers and the ruled. Different actors participate in the making of the empire.

In line with the criticism on boundedness of statehood and ethnicity, and the focus on fluidity and mobility, this research will take “empire” as an analytical category, crosscutting multiple variables and references such as region, religion, ethnicity, nationality, and class, etc. Specifically, to challenge the idea of rigid ethnic boundaries, this project will look at the flows of gifts, titles, lands, salaries, and honors through rituals, or ritualistic interactions, between the Manchu-Qing imperial center and its fringe. Further this project will dig into how the local Tibetans made sense of the tangible and intangible exchanges between the Manchu imperial court and the local government and monasteries. This will be further scrutinized through the following questions:

• What individuals, institutions and agencies took part in the organization and implementation of the ritual and ceremonious interactions between the imperial court and the Tibetans?
• What were the rules, procedures, and manners that were followed, and the quantity and quality of the things exchanged, the titles and honors granted, and the salaries and lands rewarded in the Manchu-Tibetan encounters, and
• how were these norms discussed, negotiated, resisted, and practiced in different situations?
• As the other side of the coin, what kinds of violent or legal conflicts occurred and how did these enable exchanges and facilitate changes in organization?
• How did conflicts begin and end?
• What were the effects of the rituals and conflicts, in terms of different spaces of the social (religious, political, social etc.) and layers of the individual (aristocrats, lamas, peasants, Han Chinese and Muslim in Tibet, etc.)?
• What concepts and notions were developed in Tibetan Buddhist thoughts and practices to accommodate the norms, hierarchies, orders and chaos introduced by the rituals and wars?
• How were the rituals and wars talked about, recorded, depicted and practiced in monastery collections, personal memoires, popular literatures, epics, legends, dramas, etc.?

The time span of the project is from 1652 to 1793, roughly a century and a half. In 1652, the Fifth Dalai Lama set out from Tibet to seal the relationship with Manchu-Qing Empire through an imperial audience in Beijing with Emperor Shunzhi (Kapstein 2010, 140; Chia 1991, 214-215). Although before the Manchus marched into Beijing and claimed the establishment of Qing in 1644, they already had contacts with Tibet through the Mongols (Grupper 1989), the audience in 1652 officially marked the recognition of Dalai Lama and his government by Qing empire. 128 years later, the Sixth Panchen Lama (1738-80)’s visit to Beijing and his audience with Emperor Qianlong (1711-99) signaled another crucial moment in Sino-Tibetan relationships (Chia 1991, 215-217). However, with the settlement of Gorkhar war in 1792, a decree from Emperor Qianlong launched the “twenty-nine administrative reforms” in Tibet. The reforms lasted from 1792 to 1793, undergoing several rounds of discussions and negotiations (Jagou 2007, 154). Kapstein described the reforms as “the most resented, so that every effort was made to circumvent its use” (2010, 159). Jagou believed that the reforms placed the monopoly of Tibetan political affairs in the hand of Manchu court (2007, 156). The reforms elevated the position of the ambans as equals of the Dalai Lamas and higher than Tibetan local governmental officials. Whether be it positive or negative, the reforms deeply affected different realms of Tibetan society from religious and social customs to military, commercial and foreign affairs (see Feng 2007, 107-108; Zhang 2007). Therefore, this project focuses its investigation on this critical turning point in Sino-Tibetan relationships.


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