An Overview Of Amdo (northeastern Tibet) Historical Polities

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An Overview of Amdo (Northeastern Tibet) Historical Polities

by Gray Tuttle

Introduction - The Exercise of Institutional Power in Amdo from the 13th to 20th Centuries

The cultural region known as Amdo seems to have developed into its current shape from the middle of the 17th to the 19th century, and this historical understanding of the scope of its territory seems to mostly agree with the understanding of Amdo that persists today. Amdo is often called a “province” of Tibet, but there never was an administrative unit of any political power that was called Amdo. Instead Amdo as a term seems to have accompanied the rise of the Gelukpa religious tradition in the region since the 17th century, and the territorial extent of Amdo seems to have kept pace to some degree (at least in historic texts) with the expansion of Gelukpa monasteries. Of course today we can talk about Amdo as a cultural-linguistic unit, since most of the areas that are now included in Amdo speak the same basic language (some would say dialect, but since the spoken language is mutually unintelligible to people from Kham or Central Tibet, I prefer language). These areas now understood as Amdo include the Tibetan parts of Qinghai (with the exception of Yushu prefecture) and Gansu (Kanlho prefecture and Hauré county) provinces as well much of Ngawa (Ch. Aba) prefecture. Some people from Golok do not acknowledge the region as part of Amdo; linguistically it is linked to the rest of Amdo, but in terms of religious culture, it shares as much in common with Kham as the rest of Amdo. At its greatest extent, Amdo covers a region roughly the size of France, but it is not at all clear that such a conception of a single cultural territory of this vast scope predates the rise of the Gelukpa dominance of this area in the 16th century. For instance, Desi Sanggyé Gyatso’s 1698 Golden Beryl, a survey of Gelukpa monasteries, does not use the Amdo region as an organizing principle (though much of the book is organized in a geographic manner). The first historical work to take this region as its central focus was the 1652 Amdo Religious History of Rebgong’s Kelden Gyatso, and like this present essay, it was focused mostly on the settled (agricultural) regions of what might be called northern-eastern Amdo. I want to be quite clear that the focus of my attention is those parts of northern Amdo that are part of present-day Qinghai and Gansu provinces, with almost no attention to developments in the parts of southern Amdo located in Sichuan province (and little attention to Golok).

This detailed study of how institutional (mostly political, but often religio-poltical) power was wielded in Amdo complements the narrative history of Amdo by Françoise Robin. This study is concerned not only with what larger (usually external) power held sway over the local leaders but also the nature and distribution of local leadership. Unlike Central Tibet (especially dbus gtsang since the rise of sa skya power in the 13th century), the whole of Amdo as cultural region has never been ruled by a single regional Tibetan power. Instead, local Tibetan leaders have generally ruled relatively bounded areas, often in some kind of alliance with or under the titular authority of a larger, more powerful non-Tibetan regime. These non-Tibetan regimes can be described roughly according to this timeline: the rise of the Mongol empire in the 13th century, followed by the relatively weaker Ming dynasty (which influenced Amdo mostly at the borders), the intervention of Mongols again from the 16th to 18th centuries (culminating in the Khoshot Khanate based in Amdo), the rise of Qing dominance in the region from 1724, the gradual growth of Muslim domination from the late 19th century to its end in 1949, and the advent of the modern (Han) Chinese state’s control of the region since 1949. Because we have little detailed information about the institutional structure of power in Amdo (aside from a few titles from the imperial period and the Tsongkha kingdom that flourished in the late 10th and early 11th centuries) before the arrival of the Mongols in the 13th century, I will start my study in this period. I also pay special attention the so-called tusi (local ruler) system characteristic of Chinese imperial influence on the frontiers. While this system has a long history as an imperial strategy for dealing with the borderlands, the actual title of tusi was rarely applied to Tibetan rulers in Amdo. Nevertheless, twentieth century Chinese historians have chosen to view the local rulers of this region as if they had always been part of this “system,” a position to which I take strong exception. Another problem in discussing Tibetan local leadership is understanding precisely the structure of A mdo Tibetan society. Terms rarely used in Central Tibet (such as Tib. shog pa, tsho ba, Ch. buluo) are still poorly understood and difficult to translate into English. Often such terms are translated as “tribe,” but this is a loaded term and is only use here when citing others’ scholarship to preserve the terms they used; when working from Chinese sources, my use of “clan” translates the Chinese zu, while “tribe” translates Chinese buluo. However, a term like clan may also not be accurate, as these groupings did not seem to have an even fictive sense of sharing a common ancestor. Thus, until these terms are better understood, I will simply use the term “division,” especially for the Tibetan term tsho ba.

A Note on the Sources for Amdo History

This essay is largely dependent on Chinese sources, because like the present Chinese state, historically the China-based states of the Mongol Yuan, Chinese Ming, and Manchu Qing dynasties were particularly concerned with the institutional distribution of power on their respective state’s frontiers. While the same was somewhat true of the early Ganden Podrang polity in Central Tibet, especially under Desi Sanggyé Gyatso, the extent of his (available) recording of institutional power in Amdo was limited to his 1698 Golden Beryl, The History of Ganden, which records basic information about the Gelukpa monasteries in Amdo (which gives monastery name, founder, abbots, and sometimes the number of monks and other such details). It is possible that details about Amdo history prior to the 17th century might be found in the biographies of important lamas who visited the region, such as Sakya Pandita, Pakpa, the 3rd and 4th Karmapas, and so forth. But the bulk of Tibetan language records of Amdo history start in the 17th century with the rise of Gelukpa power in the region. The first, albeit short, history of Amdo was written in 1652 by the Gelukpa lama who converted Rongwo Monastery in Rebgong to the Geluk tradition, Shar Kelden Gyatso. The 5th Dalai Lama’s biographies of the 3rd and 4th Dalai Lamas, as well as his own biography, are particularly rich sources of information on Amdo history as all these lamas passed through Amdo. The secret biography of 6th Dalai Lama describes his life in Amdo after 1706 with great attention to local history. The 7th Dalai Lama’s biography also describes the period of his youth and education in Amdo. The 9th and 10th Panchen Lama also spent a great deal of time in Amdo, as did the 13th Dalai Lama, who wrote a biography of his teacher the Zhwa dmar bla ma of Amdo. There are literally dozens of other biographies that would be equally useful. Also important are the Mongol Sumpa Khenpo's historic works, especially the 18th century Annals of Kokonor—the first expansive history of Amdo. The pinnacle of Amdo history writing is Brakgönpa’s 19th century Oceanic Annals (Debter Gyatso), often mistakenly called the Religious History of Amdo (Tib. Amdo chöjung, a title found nowhere in the work). Between 1633 and 1900, some thirty other Tibetan language works on local history (mostly monastic abbatial lineages, but also monastic or canonical registers, surveys of religious history or geography) were written. But all of these records are characterized by a focus not on institutional power-holding (per se) but instead only mention these in relation to the support of (almost exclusively) Gelukpa religious institutions. Thus, it is extremely challenging to generate a coherent picture of how power was distributed in Amdo from these sources alone. More recent Tibetan language work, especially that of the Amdo scholar Bruktar (Ch. Zhouta) is especially helpful for understanding the tribal/division social structure, but his work is mostly focused on Tibetans in Kan lho (Ch. Gannan), the southeastern part of Gansu province. The Chinese language works of Chen Qingying and his colleagues on Tibetan “tribal” structures of power are essential for understanding all of nomadic Tibet, from Amdo to Central Tibet, yet hardly any western scholar has even consulted these volumes. Aside from Hortsang Jikmé’s edited six volume history of Amdo, few of the Tibetan language secondary sources attempt to deal with the entire scope of Amdo history, but are instead focused on particular monasteries, counties, lineages, or incarnations. Thus the challenging job of pulling Amdo history together remains; with over 300 Chinese and Tibetan language sources and many more being added every year, any study is bound to be partial and limited.

The Mongol Dynasty (13th-14th Centuries): Institutionalizing Local Leadership

The earliest records of Mongol incorporation of parts of far eastern A mdo date to 1236, when the Mongol general Aljur/Anjur (1195-1263) secured the allegiance of the Tibetan chieftain Kantuomengjia, as he took the Sung empire’s border towns of Jiezhou (just east of present Minxian) and Wenzhou (northeast of Songpan), which the Mongols held until 1253. Then from 1261, the Mongol general retook this region, rekindled his alliance with the Tibetan chieftain, and fortified the town of Wenzhou as the Mongol base for the region, from which his descendants ruled the area for a quarter of a century. In 1262, a man named Yeshena (Ye shes lags?) was appointed Chief Military Commander of the Western Regions and the Tufan or Mdo smad Government Commissioner, and he stayed in this post for twenty-four years. It seems one of the main roles of this commission was to keep the postal stations open between China and Central Tibet. Starting in 1268-1269, Qubilai Khan created the Yuan dynastic administration of all of Tibet. In 1269, the Tufan area, or Northeast Amdo, was “placed under the control of the princely administration” under which were several lower and overlapping offices. The supreme authority among these was the Tufan Government Commissionership (Ch. xuanweishi 宣慰使都元帅, Tib. swon wi si) under the authority of a commanding general of a circuit (Ch. lu, Mong. chölge, Tib. chol ka, sometimes klu), whose title was thus the Government Commissionership commanding general (Ch. xuanweishi duyuanshuai 宣慰使都元帅, Tib. swon wi si du dben sha). This commission had posts north of the Yellow River, at Guide (khri kha), and east of the Tao River in Gansu (near Coné). After being run by General Aljur's grandson (starting around 1278) as well as two Uighurs for the first thirty years or so, several Tibetans were appointed to leadership of the Tufan Circuit, starting with Rin chen 'byung gnas in 1292, and other Tibetans in 1320 and 1325. The headquarters of the Tufan Circuit was in Hezhou (now known as Linxia, in southern Gansu). Köden, who had brought Sakya Pandiate and his nephew Pakpa to the region in the 1250s, and his sons also played an important role in Tufan from their base in the northern city of Liangzhou (Tib. byang ngos). Aside from the office of Xuanweishi 宣慰使, other offices that existed on the Tibetan frontier include those of the myriarch (Ch. wanhu 万户, Tib. khri dpon, wan hu) and chilarch (Ch. qianhu 千户, Tib. stong dpon, chen hu, chan hu). For instance, there was a myriarchy office (wanhu fu) of the Mdo smad Circuit, which presided over the settled areas, mostly farmed by Chinese, around Minzhou and Tiezhou in what is now southern Gansu. This circuit was distinct from the Tufan Circuit in the 14th century. Hezhou was the base for the civil headquarters for most of eastern Tibet, from Guide (Tib. khri kha) to Taozhou in southern Gansu, to Maozhou (now Maowen), Yazhou (now Ya'an) and Lizhou, farther south in Sichuan. A Mongol presence in central and western Amdo (mostly nomadic areas) is not mentioned in the sources from the period. By 1343, Mongol authority in Amdo had weakened considerably: Köden’s fiefdom had been leaderless for some time, and the Tibetans were harassing the Mongols near Liangzhou (byang ngos). In 1347, a general rebellion erupted in some two hundred places in eastern Tibet, and though troops were sent to suppress them, by 1355 eastern Tibet was no longer mentioned in the dynastic history of the Mongols.

The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644): Elaborating on a System of Local Rule

Amdo’s political history took another important turn in 1370, when a large of army of the Ming dynasty took Hezhou and secured the submission of the Tibetan commanding general Sonanpu (Xuanweishi 宣慰使 bsod nams mgon po) and confirmed him in his position. The Ming Taizu emperor (r. 1368–1399) gave him the Chinese surname He, which was carried on by his descendants to the time of his great grandson and his death in the early 16th century. He Sonanpu visited the Ming court in Nanjing twice, in 1371 and 1379, and even went to Central Tib et (dbus) on behalf of the Ming court. The area of Hezhou largely became sinicized under Ming rule, and at present it is dominated by Muslims. Given the importance of horses for the Ming military, which faced a continued Mongol threat to the north, a lucrative exchange of Tibetan horses for Chinese teas seems to have played a key role in bringing Chinese, and probably Muslims, into this area. In 1376, a Horse and Tea Trading Station (Chama si 茶马司) was set up in Hezhou under the Bili qianhu (Ch. 必里千户), who presided over twenty-one “tribal” divisions, some of which seem to have extended as far west as Chab cha, Rtsi gor thang & Gad pa gsum mdo (Guinan & Tongde). A Horse and Tea Trading Station also was set up near Co ne in 1404 to trade with the eighteen divisions of the The bo Tibetans (in the Tiebu Valley south of Co ne), which gave the Co ne Tibetan leader Shis bsdus (Ch. Shijiadi, Xiedi), thereupon recognized as the first king see entry on the THL Coné Kingdom, the opportunity to be recognized as the ruler of these people by the Chinese, who awarded him the position of chiliarch (Ch. qianhu 千户, Tib. stong dpon), meaning leader of a thousand households. Aside from these trade stations, the Ming also maintained military posts in Amdo. Ming set up the Baoan outpost near Reb gong in 1371. The Guide (Khrikha) Commandery under the control of the Xining Commandery (wei), established in 1375, had jurisdiction over Gcan tsha and Reb gong.

Present-day Chinese sources imply that the positions of authority given to local Tibetans, which started in the Yuan dynasty and continued thereafter, were part of the local ruler or tusi system: “Yuan tribal leaders were granted such titles as xuanwei, xuanfu, anfu, zhaotao, zhangguan. They were established as officials at the fu 府 (government office), zhou 州 (prefecture) and xian 县(county) levels. The Ming government had xuanwei, xuanfu, and anfu positions in the military and zhifu, zhizhou, and zhixian positions in the civil government. All these titles were hereditary. Tusi not only had responsibility to the local government for contribution and requisition, but they also exercised traditional power in their local area.” But we must be suspicious of the generic application of the idea of the tusi as a handy rubric by which modern historians try to describe more complicated past relations between Amdo Tibetans and dynastic regimes to the east. According to Chinese sources, the Ming dynasty initiated a policy of “divide and rule” (lit. “dividing the indigenous peoples by assigning peerage to their leaders, so that they can guard against each other”; Ch. lietufenjue, biziweishou 裂土分爵,俾自为守). For the Qinghai region, this apparently meant establishing eight chiliarchs and seven centurions (Tib. rgya dpon, be hu'u, Ch. baihu 百户). But as Elliot Sperling has so convincingly argued the rhetoric of “divide and rule” seems to have been a later creation of Chinese historiographers and not the original intention of the early Ming. In fact, the decimal organization of these chiliarchs and centurions suggests that the Ming were merely recognizing the Tibetans who held Mongol positions under the Yuan dynasty.

In reality, there was a wide range of local positions of power that the Ming recognized, and many of these positions reflect Tibetan indigenous terms (nangso, garwa), for local leaders. At first these positions seem to have been secular ones, passed down through a single family, but at least in some places in later times, monks could also hold these positions. The position of nang so, dating back to the early 14th century, was important in Rebgong and Dhitsa link to THL “Dhitsa nangso” description by Tsehuajia/Tse dpal rgyal as well as further east and north in areas such as Drotsang and the Monguor Huzhu county. The position of nang so reached as far east as the eastern border of present day Qinghai, as the bA jo’i nang so/ bA ju nang so was associated with ba'i jo dgon (Ch. Baijia si) in Minhe and was mentioned in connection with the lama A zhang shi ri thu/ Bsam blo A zhang manya+dzu shi. The position of nang so may have been linked to the Sakya presence in these regions during Yuan Mongol rule. In Tsang the title of nangso seemed to indicate a secretarial position held by Sakya leaders in the 14th century. Maybe the most relevant definition of this position is that provided by the well-known Gyelrong scholar Tsenlha who defines nang so as a “minister looking after domestic affairs” (nang tshags du so byed pa'i blon po). This focus on internal affairs suggests a connection to another term, tuguan, as described by the Monggul (Monguor, Ch. Tuzu) scholar Limusishiden, who used the Chinese term for nang so (angsuo) here: "During the Ming Dynasty 明朝 (1573-1619), the tughuan 'internal affairs officer' position was granted by upper level Tibetan religious authorities to Mongghul. There were three angsuo in Huzhu―Tuhun 吐浑 angsuo (Tuguan angsuo), Xiawaer 夏哇尔 angsuo (Shibadonggou 十八洞沟 angsuo), and Zhade 扎德 angsuo (Zhuashitu 抓什图 angsuo; Baizhade 白扎德 angsuo). Monks were eligible for this position and the position was also hereditary. They separately governed the contemporary Hongyazigou, Halazhigou 哈拉直沟 townships, and Wushi Town. The angsuo system was abolished in 1930 when Huzhu County was established."

Another title that survived into modern times is sgar pa (Ch. ga'erwa 噶尔哇), which in Tibetan simply means “encampment” or “military camp” but came to be defined in Chinese as fudi 府邸 (mansion house, manor), which seems to mean the same thing as the A mdo term, nang chen (estate). Louis Schram, who lived in the region in the early 20th century, described this institution as follows: The word Karwa is used in the country to designate the residences inhabited by Living Buddhas in the lamaseries; it is also used to indicate a domain and subjects granted by the Chinese emperors of the Ming dynasty to meritorious lamas as their “personal” property with “right of bequeathing” it to their lama successor. It does not mean a grant of domains and subjects bestowed on a community of lamas or a lamasery.

Given that these positions grew originally from the presence of Sakya power in the region, it should not be a surprise that they often combined secular and religious power. For instance, the 20th missionary-scholar Louis Schram describes these two positions of power (as well as the position of chanshi described below) in this way: "From the very beginning the Ming created in Huang-chung Huangzhong= Tib. Sku ‘bum County for these lama chiefs three peculiar institutions: the Nang-suo nang so, the Karwa sgar pa, and the Ch’an shih chia Ch. chanshi jia. Nang-suo and Karwa consisted basically of the granting of a territory, the fixing of a yearly tribute, the recognition of the chieftainship of the lama who had brought in the tribe, and of the heritability of that chieftainship. The Ch’an shih chia also enjoyed the privilege of heredity and a yearly allowance of wheat-flour, but no territories were granted to them."

This peculiar characteristic of heredity for lamas is explained by the fact that at that time they must have belonged to the Red Sect meaning Sakya, Kagyü or Nyingma, and have been married. Red lamas living in the same tribe must have had a chieftain among them who had been granted the privilege of having the chieftainship transferred upon his death to his son. The difference between Nang-suo and Karwa chiefs was that the Nang-suo chief was the leader of a group or community of lamas, so constituted that the entire group was interested in his privileges and benefits. The Karwa chief was a single lama presiding over a small group of subjects. His privileges included only his own family and private interests. The Ch’an shih chia’s privileges applied only to him personally. Another important difference between Nang-suo and Karwa was that later, when a group of Red lamas adhered to the Yellow Sect, the Nang-suo privileges of their chief lama were transferred to the intendancy of the monastery, while the privileges of a Karwa chief of the Yellow Sect were transmitted to his apprentice (usually his nephew) and remained as before a private interest.

He further described the number, history and position of the “Karwa” as: "According to a tradition well known all over the region, thirteen Karwa were established north of the Hsining River during the Ming dynasty. In 1912 seven of them still existed, Li-ch’i, Ch’ien-tsun-urgon, Pei-cha-erh-ti, Sia-mer, Tsan-tsa, Chao-chia, and Huo-puo. There are no records of Karwa south of the Hsining River. A Karwa is a kind of mediaeval seigniory presided over by a lama. Granted by the emperor, it is a more or less vast domain in which usually forty to fifty families live."

Given the relatively low level of authority that such a position would command, it is not entirely surprising that we do not have detailed histories or knowledge of many of these positions or the people who held them. However, details can be gleaned from the biographies of important religious figures who visited the region or from the monastic registers of local monasteries. For instance, in 1775 the Thu’u kwan (THL phonetics should reflect the local pronunciation here and elsewhere: Tukwan, from the Chinese tuguan) lama wrote about the local Tibetan leaders who had gone to Central Tibet in the first years of the 1600s to seek assistance in establishing a Gelukpa monastery (Dgon lung dgon) in the region. One of the two local leaders who came up with the idea for going to central Tibet was Bra sti sgar ba nang so She rab grags. Three other local leaders who accompanied them included, the A kya (a clan name in Huzhu county) sgar ba, the Dpa' rin (from Hualin cun, Danma xiang, Huzhu county) sgar ba, and the Cog tsa (clan name in Huzhu county) sgar ba. Of these, we know that the Bra sti leader remained locally important well into the Qing, and the A kya (Ch. A jia, or A family) name became best-known through its association with the lama incarnation series of the same name. The A kya bla ma (said to be the reincarnation of Tsongkhapa’s father) became the leading lama of Sku ’bum monastery. Thus, as described by Schram, some of these local leaders were able to parley their earlier positions of authority into new high-status positions, once the Gelukpa presence in Amdo became closely linked to social authority and leadership.

Returning to the origins of such positions of local leadership in the 14th century, it is important to note that the Ming dynasty also developed a system of religious leadership based purely on Chinese titles, such as the chanshi (jia) mentioned above, which included recognizing a lama's political rule over a (tribal?) divisions and temples. For instance, Tomoko Otasaka organized the titles given by the Ming court to Tibetan Buddhist hierarchs in the following ranked order:

  1. fawang(法王 Prince of the Dharma),
  2. guanding guoshi (灌顶大国师 Great Dynastic Preceptor Who Performs the Ritual of Abisheka),
  3. da guoshi (大国师 Great Dynastic Preceptor),
  4. guoshi (国师 Dynastic Preceptor),
  5. chanshi (禅师 Teacher of Dhyana Chan/Zen),
  6. dougang (都刚 Supervisor of Buddhist Precepts).

She gives examples of these imperially authorized posts such as the hereditary positions of the guoshi (surname Zhang 张) of Honghua si (Dzomo khar), which was the temple of the Dzomo tribe, the guoshi (surname Han 韩) of Yongchang si of the Zhenzhu tribe, and the chanshi of the nearby Maying si, which was the temple of the Lingzang tribe. She described how nineteen tribes linked to Hezhou were ruled by Dzomo khar's guoshi and other native officials. The chanshi institution remained important after the Ming dynasty, as discussed by Michael Aris in his history of the 6th Dalai Lama’s later days in Amdo. When the 6th Dalai Lama (who, according the Tibetan tradition, survived his deportation from Lhasa under Qing escort in 1706) arrived in the Huaré region of northeastern Amdo, he was welcomed by the Drati and Drigung (Ch. Zhigong) nang so who controlled the “thirteen meditation centres sgom sde, chan yuan of the six tsho (divisions) of Jakrung.” Eleven of these thirteen meditation centers are listed as belonging to the local Drigung Monastery (’bri gung dgon dga' ldan legs bshad gling). The chanshi position lasted into the 20th century through being passed down within families (thus, chanshi jia, translated as “Master in Dhyana” families), and Schram described it thus:

This institution, dating from the Ming, seems to be in the line of the Karwa. In Huang-chung Huangzhong, Tib. Sku ’bum County there was attached to the title of Ch’an-shih (“Master in Dhyana”), the privilege of receiving every year from the Chinese administration a fixed quantity of wheat. At the same time, if the lama happened to acquire some fields on which to build a grain or oil mill, his fields and mills were exempt from taxes. The title of Ch’an-shih appears to have been hereditary. This seems to be the reason why the people always talk of Master in Dhyana “families” and seldom of Master in Dhyana lamas. In the country north of the Hsining River, with which I was best acquainted, there were still several Masters in Dhyana, independent of any monastery, living next to their relatives and each having a small temple of his own. The family tried to provide a nephew as an apprentice, for such a lama would upon the death of his master become Master in Dhyana by the transfer of the original seal and the original patent letters.

Finally, the most important Supervisor of Buddhist precepts was Sanluo (Tib. Bsam blo) lama from Gro tshang Monastery (Ch. Qutan si) who was the Xining Senggang si 僧刚司's dugang, controlling thirteen divisions on the basis of this title. Despite the low ranking of this lama’s position in Tomoko Otasaka’s list, this monastery grew to be of great importance in the Ming dynasty. The monastery grew to resemble a Chinese imperial palace in layout and architecture and dominated the region of northern Amdo.

These Tibetan leaders were recognized by outside authorities precisely because they already exercised influence in the region, but the power of such figures was reinforced by external support. Here is how Schram describes the process: "In order to repopulate the country, the Ming adopted the policy of attracting lamas and settling them in the region with the subjects they induced to submit to the empire. It granted them territories and made the lamas the hereditary chieftains of the groups they had brought in. They were responsible for the tribute to be offered to the emperor and had complete jurisdiction over their subjects. Hence the flourishing of lamaseries, Nang-suos, Karwas. The protection bestowed upon the lamas and the immunity granted to them by the emperor made the dissatisfied Chinese officials keep quiet and swallow their national pride."

Consequently, large territories were assigned to the Monguor clans and larger or smaller ones to the lamaseries, Nang-suos, and Karwas, whose inhabitants were completely withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the Chinese officials. . . .

The chiefs of the lama institutions accredited by the emperor lived in their seigniories like princes, surrounded by a large or small retinue, occupying a more or less elaborate residence built within a compound of temples, the quarters of the lamas, and large granaries. They appointed the staffs of lama officials for administering justice among the subjects (officially appointed chiliarchs still exist in Kumbum, Erh-ku-lung Dgon lung and Seerkok Gser khog/ Bstan po dgon), meting out punishments (instruments of torture are still displayed at lama courts), and imprisonment (the prison of Seerkok still exists); caring for the preservation of peace and order in the territories assigned to them, inquiring about travelers passing through it; administering the distribution of fields, the imposition and collection of taxes, the imposition of tolls on bridges (the bridge of T’ien fang and raft of Kan ch’an), and the imposition of corvées. In other words, they directly ruled most of Amdo well into the 20th century, more or less independent of Chinese local authorities, though formally their authority derived from the emperor in Beijing.

The Actual Functioning of These Positions as Understood from Later Sources

Although we know of the titles, such as that of nang so, from the 14th century, the activities and responsibilities of these figures were mostly not recorded until much later. Later sources most frequently mention the nang so leaders in relation to their support for monastery construction. For instance, the 17th century local ruler of the Dro tsang area (now Ledu county) discussed above was called the Gro tshang nang so, Dpal ldan rgya mtsho. Together with a prominent lama, he sponsored the building of the new Gro tshang gsar dgon Ch. Yaocai tai si, in 1624, though the temple was actually built by 'Bras spungs Bsam blo Rab 'byams pa Li kya She rab mchog ldan pa. In another example, the first Lde tsha dgon pa (Zhizha si支扎寺)—the older original one—was established in the 17th century by the Lde tsha nang so, who ruled over the ten clans (zu) of Lde tsha. And yet another example: the Sems nyid nang so of ’Ju lag (the Datong river valley northeast of Xining) invited an Amdowa back from central Tibet to found Sems nyid monastery. So supporting local monasteries is one of the important ways that these local leaders made an impact on their community—and merited a mention in the records preserved by local lamas. The PRC source Huangnan Gaikuang recorded that the first Reb gong nang so was recognized in the closing years of the Yuan Dynasty (1206–1368) and gives the second year of the Ming Dynasty’s Xuande Emperor (1427) as the year when the position was first recognized by the Ming court. This same source also cites four duties of the nang so stipulated in an imperial order issued much later, in the fourth year of the Qing dynasty’s Yongzheng Emperor (1726):

  1. preserve order among the people, prohibit banditry and theft,
  2. ensure the annual collection of grain and the timely delivery of public taxes to the Hezhou imperial depot,
  3. provision of transportation corvée (’u lag) for officials passing through the territory of the nang so,
  4. reports of any official matters, great or small, to be made to the fujiang, shoubei and wenguan (imperial guards and officials).

From this evidence it would seem that the nang so might have had similar responsibilites to other tusi during the Qing dynasty; however, because they were not formally a part of the tusi system they survived the later reforms of the Nationalist period (Huangnan Gaikuang 1984: 31). Modern sources argue that: "During the Ming and Qing dynasties, there were more than sixty tusi in Qinghai. In the present Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture a Khams pa area that only came under Qing influence after 1724, there were more than forty tusi. The remaining, more than twenty, tusi controlled present Minhe, Ledu, Ping'an, Huzhu, Huangzhong, Xining, Datong, and Xunhua counties. The government further stipulated that every three hundred families should have a qianhu 千户. Under this position there were baihu 百户, baizong 百总, and shizong 十总. Every one hundred families were led by a baihu, every fifty families were led by a baizong and every ten families were led by a shizong. If the tribe exceeded one thousand families there were three leading officers. The qianbaihu was known as “headman” in herding areas and he had the most power, including powers of judicature. In 1931, the tusi system was abrogated in agricultural areas, and former officers became landlords. The tusi system in herding areas lasted until 1958. At that time it was abrogated during the period of democratic transformation.”

Such a neat division of Tibetan society was probably not universally realized on the ground, at least I have never seen records that would confirm the universal application of these principles of governance down to the level of groups of ten families. For a more realistic and historically based understanding of the tusi system, especially in the Xining area of northern Amdo, the work of Louis Schram is especially important, though he only had access to Chinese language historic materials and early 20th century informants.

Because the modern Chinese state sees these local leaders as part of the tusi system, it is useful to understand how this system developed in China. The institution has been described as “a unique subbureaucratic institution created during the early Ming to extend nominal Chinese state control over the non-Han peoples located just beyond Beijing’s administrative reach.” The system of native chieftains was actually divided into two categories: military chieftains or tusi, and civilian chieftains or tuguan (see discussion above). Tusi tended to be appointed in areas where the emperor’s control was most tenuous. While the tuguan often had to accept a Chinese official at his side and meddling into his administration, the tusi had a considerably higher level of autonomy in the way he (or she) ruled his (or her) territory. Especially during the Ming and the early Qing, the imperial bureaucracy did not interfere with tusi administration and demanded only a nominal level of tribute. A more important task for the chieftain was to maintain troops that could be mustered by the emperor in his military campaigns in the region. I know of no evidence to support this duty for Tibetan leaders in Amdo; there is little evidence they could muster a regular militia, and none that I know of that the Qing court ever asked for such troops. For the native chieftain, the title contributed to legitimate his position locally since the tusi could, in theory, ask the court for support in case his position or territory was threatened, and trespassers of his decrees were in principle subjected to imperial legal code, rather than the customary law. One important symbol of this authority was the seal. “This seal was the official symbol of recognition by the Chinese court as a tusi or hereditary native chieftain.” Furthermore, “In addition to the seal (yinxin), the tusi was also required to have an official charter (haozhi) as proof of his title. Each time a tusi died, the heir had to be acknowledged by the imperial court as the rightful successor, and in principle the charter had to be renewed.”

The tusi system is documented in the massive People’s Republic of China (PRC) survey of the tusi system by Gong Yin. This source lists the Tibetan ruling families, including the names (in Chinese) of each generation of these leading families along with a short history of the family's role in controlling the area under consideration. Gong Yin counts positions such as tu (native) qianhu, tu baihu, tu guanren 土官人 (native military official), and tu touren 土头人 (native headman) under the rubric of the tusi system, which is technically incorrect, as far as I can tell. Since he seems to have inserted the term tu in front of every title (as if there were a non-native version of myriarch, etc.) I have omitted the term from the Table 1 below.

Table 1

Area of ControlTitleSurname1st Date listedPage
Hezhou-Linxia shiZhihui shi 指挥使Han 韩Ming-Yongle1288
Hezhou-JishishanZhihui tongzhi 指挥同知He 何Yuan1289
Hezhou-Linxia shiZhihui qianshi 指挥佥事 ; later became Baihu 百户Wang 王Ming-Hongwu 13701290
Hezhou-Linxia chengQianhu 千户Han 韩Yuan-Hongwu
Hezhou-Linxia chengQianhu 千户Han 韩15531292
Minzhou-Zandu gou攒都沟Zhihui shi 指挥使; later became Baihu 百户Hou 后 Yuan-Hongwu1295
Minxian 岷县Zhihui tongzhi 指挥同知Bao 包Unknown1296
Minxian (northwest)Fu Qianhu 副千户Zhao 赵1426 1298
Minxian-Lüjing 闾井Baihu 百户Hou 后13951299
Minxian 岷县Baihu 百户Ma 马Ming- Hongwu1300
Cone county seatZhihui qianshi 指挥佥事Yang 杨 14041300
Lintan-Meichuan 梅川Zhihui qianshi 指挥佥事Wang 王 Yuan.Hongwu1302
Lintan 临潭 (south)Qianhu 千户; Baihu百户Zan 昝Yuan.Hongwu1303
Lintan 临潭 (west)San'aikou 三隘口baihu Yang 杨Ming-Yongle1305
Yongchang 永昌 (west)Xishan qianhu 西山千户Mu 木 17361314
Minhe (county seat)-Upper Chuankou 上川口 Zhihui tongzhi 指挥同知 This seems to be the same family usually described as Tu ethnicity Li 李 (related to below)Yuan (made Xining zhou tongzhi)1326
Ping'an-later XiningZhihui tongzhi 指挥同知Li 李 Ming-Xuande1328
Ledu 北赵家湾Zhihui tongzhi 指挥同知Zhao 赵 Yuan (wanhu)1330
Huangzhong 吉家庄 (N of W Xining)Zhihui qianshi 指挥佥事Ji 吉 Yuan1228
Giude Angla= Khri kha Snang raAngla qianhu 昂拉千户 (Snang ra stong dpon)Angla clanUnknown1349
Giude-Rinansan gouRinansangou qianhu 日南三沟族千户Rinansangou clanUnknown1349
Giude-LuzhaLuzha zu qianhu 鲁扎族千户Luzha clan (Glu tshang)Unknown1349
Giude-GangchaGangcha zu qianhu 冈察族千户Gangcha clanUnknown1350
Guide-Rian 日安Duxiu zu baihu都秀族百户Duxiu clanUnknown1350
Guide-Rian 日安Qiexiu zu baihu切秀族百户Qiexiu clanUnknown1350
Guide-Rian 日安Tadai zu baihu他代族百户Tadai clanUnknown1351
Around Koko-nor2 qianhu/ 6 baihu6 tribesUnknown1351-1358
Golok2 qianhu/ 5 baihuUnknown1358-1362

One significant figure in the region, to both Tibetan Buddhist history as well as to the various dynasties based in Beijing was the Lüjia tusi. The Monguor Lü family leader was officially recognized as a tusi by the Ming court, though the family had been important, from Yuan times to the nineteenth century at least. From his base in the town of Liancheng 连成, Gansu (just south of Tianzhu county on the ‘Ju lag/Datong River), the Lü tusi supported a massive complex of Tibetan Buddhist temples supporting over 1,500 monks.

Excursus: Contrasting and Linking the Local Rulers in Amdo with Those in Central Tibet

Because we have a few ruling families whose lineages have been credited with ruling Central Tibet (Sakya, Pakmodru, Rinpung, etc), we tend to think of Central Tibet as more of a region of centralized rule. However, the divided nature of local rule in Amdo was also more or less often the norm in Central Tibet until the advent of Mongol military presence changed the dynamic to the more centralized rule of the Ganden Podrang under the 5th Dalai Lama and his regents. For an example of the numerous local rulers (sa skyong) important near Lhasa, see the passage regarding the 4th Dalai Lama’s welcome to Lhasa in Guiseppe Tucci’s Tibetan Painted Scrolls: “As he got nearer and nearer to his see, acts of homage became more frequent: the sakyong of Ganden Yülgyel Norbu came to meet him, with his son, then the Pönnyer Kudün Rinpoché Chözang Trinlepa of Ganden palace, the Zhelngané Gendün Gyeltsen. When he arrived in Ganden Namgyel Ling and Rasa Trülnanggi Tsuklak Khang, the sakyong Trashi Rapten invited him in the feud of Ganden Khangsar, while the prince of Neudong Ngawang Sönam Drakpa and Gyelzangpa did him great honor. ”

The real centralization of power in Lhasa could only come with the strong military support of the Mongol khans whose seat of governance was in Kokonor (Amdo). This royal line of Qoshot Mongols is well described by Uyunbilig Borjigidai and Chris Atwood so I will not go into the details of these foreign rulers of the Tibetan Plateau here. Suffice it to say that what is most important about these Mongol rulers is that they were seen as the formal (if at not times not very effective) rulers of all of Tibet (Amdo, Khams and Central Tibet) from 1642 to 1717. Even after the civil wars ended in 1727, their “lineage” might be said to have continued through the recognition of Miwang Polhané as a reincarnation of Galden Khan, eldest son of Gushri Khan, ruler of Tibet. This status was described by his biographer, Dokharwa Tsering Wanggyel, as having been recognized by “his relatives, the high lamas, and the king of Tibet meaning Lhazang Khan, the last Qoshot Mongol to rule Tibet, for whom Polhané worked. For Tibetans then, for whom such reincarnate status was taken very seriously as a source of authority, it might be argued that with the exception of a few years the Qoshot Mongols ruled Central Tibet from 1642 to 1747. Of course, this would be an extreme position to take, but I think it helps redress the neglect of these key figures in Central Tibetan politics. Just to give a sense of the important presence of these Amdo-based Mongol rulers of Tibet I outline some key events and perspectives, especially of the first European missionaries to visit Central Tibet. In 1638 Gushri Khan was given title King Who Upholds the Religion (bstan 'dzin chos kyi rgyal po). In 1642 Gushri Khan “retained the title of king” of Tibet. In 1655 Gushri Khan died and was jointly succeeded by his oldest son Bstan 'dzin rdo rje and youngest son Bkra shis ba dur (who focused on rivalries in Kokonor region, leaving Central Tibet alone). In1660 the new sde pa (governor) was appointed at the suggestion of and in presence of Gushri Khan's two sons, who at this time divided their rights so that Bstan 'dzin rdo rje became the sole king of Tibet with the new title Bstan 'dzin Dayan Khan. In 1661 when the European missionaries Grueber and D'Orville came to Lhasa for two months, they describe the King Depa as “descended from an ancient race of Tangut Tatars Mongols and who resides at Butala....where he …carries on the government.” Richardson dismissed this statement, explaining that the Qoshot king Dayan Khan spent all his time at 'Dam (80 miles north of Lhasa) and resided at Dga' ldan Khang gsar when in Lhasa. Grueber and D'Orville also describe Lhasa as the capital of the kingdom of Barantola, which was part of Tangut, “a description covering at that time all the country from the Kokonor to the source of the Ganges.” The year after Bstan 'dzin Dayan Khan died in 1668, envoys were sent to Kokonor to ask about succession to the Qoshot kingship. A real rise in Tibetan reassertion of power seems to have come around 1670 in the period between the appointment of the Mongol kings of Tibet, when Tibetan traditions associated with imperial Tibet were revived and Mongol titles, clothing, and styles of correspondence were discouraged. Nevertheless, in 1671 Bstan 'dzin Dalai Khan was enthroned in Tibet; in 1675 he was present at the installation of the new regent Blo bzang sbyin pa, and in 1679 he was again present at the installation of the new regent Sanggyé Gyatso. The story of Lhazang Khan’s rise to power, an effective restoration of direct Qoshot rule of Tibet lasting from 1706 to 1717, is also well known. Qoshot rule of Central Tibet was challenged by the Dzungar Mongols from 1717 to 1720, and the role of the Amdo Mongols in harboring the seventh Dalai Lama and their involvement in the campaign to retake Central Tibet was key to the success of the Qing supported mission to drive out the Dzungars. The failure of the Qing to deliver on their promise to the Qoshot Mongols––that they would be restored to their rightful place as the rulers of Central Tibet––was the root cause of absolutely critical event in Amdo history: the 1723-1724 uprising of Lobjang Danjin against Qing influence in Amdo.

The Advent of Qing Authority in Amdo

The Qing institutional presence on the frontiers of Amdo might be traced to the foundation of Gansu province (presumably including much of what is now the prefecture of the Mtsho shar Ch. Haidong as the present day boundary of Qinghai shifted northeast in the early 20th century) in 1667. The Qoshot khans of Kokonor entered into various alliances with the Qing court too detailed to be examined here, but the main point to be made about Amdo local rule prior to 1724 was that the Qoshot Mongol rulers were the dominant power, and they seemed to recognize Tibetan leaders whose authority in local areas was long-standing. These Tibetan chieftains came under authority of Xining Amban after 1724. The Xining Amban was the first such permanent amban position to be created in the Qing, and depended directly from the imperial household and not the Board for Managing the Frontiers, as was the case with later amban positions in Tibet and Mongolia.

The Qing court seems to have granted titles based on the decimal system of organization so long in use in Mongol military systems. According to PRC sources, after the Qing defeated Lobjang Danjin in 1724, a census was taken of the Qinghai Mongol and Tibetan clan or “tribal” (buluo 部落) divisions. What appears to be a vast expansion of an older system was applied to the leaders of these groups, who were awarded titles based on the decimal system of chilarch, centurion, and decade. Given this decimal grouping of leaders, it is clear that the Qing were basically recognizing the existing system, possibly with some remnants of the old Yuan Mongol positions (as with Reb gong and Sgo me), but probably mostly newly imposed by the Mongols in the 16th or 17th century when they came to dominate A mdo. Since no records of this later Mongol system survive, the Qing records are the earliest explicit grouping of Tibetans in such articulated divisions. Groups of 1,000 households (Tib. shog pa, Ch. Xiaoba 肖巴 or Tib. sde pa, Ch. dewa 德哇, which the Chinese translate as buzu 部族) were presided over by a chiliarch (Tib. stong dpon/ Ch. qianhu, also called Tib. shog dpon, Ch. xiaohuan 肖宦, reflecting the A mdo pronunciation of dpon as “hwon” or Tib. sde dpon, Ch. dehuan 德宦). Groups of one hundred households (Tib. tsho ba, Ch. cuowa 措哇, which the Chinese translate as cunzhuang 村庄, meaning “village”, though this must be applicable to encampments as well) were presided over by a centurion (Tib. rgya dpon/ Ch. baihu, also called Tib. tsho dpon, Ch. 措宦 cuohuan). Groups of less than one hundred households were called a “decade” (Tib. bcu, Ch. ju 居or juyue 居约, meaning “approximately ten”) and were led by a decanus (Tib. bcu dpon, Ch. shizhang, 十长; or Tib. bcu sde hu, Ch. qiudehu 秋德户). In 1745, the position of chiliarch was recognized as the equivalent of the fifth rank in the Qing state, the position of centurion was recognized as the equivalent of sixth rank, and the position of decanus was equated with the ninth rank. For three tables listing the various positions associated with specific Qinghai “tribes” (buluo), and giving numbers of households, general locations, and livelihood (pastoral, agricultural or mixed) see the charts in the Brief History of Amdo Tibetans. The first lists the eight clans around Kokonor (Huan hai ba zu), with a total of eight myriarchs, forty-seven centurions, and 16,100 households of nomadic families. The second, covering Yushu (and therefore Khams), lists only one myriarch, thirty-one centurions, seventy-seven positions of baizhang 百长 (possibly the same as baizong listed above, overseeing groups of fifty households), and 7,100 households, who were mostly pastoral, though a surprising number are listed as also practicing agriculture. The third list includes all other areas (twenty-two in all) and includes one Golok queen and six Golok myriarchs, nine other myriarchs, two nang so, sixty-two centurions, and 23,000 households. The most important “tribes,” with at least 1,000 households each are the Golok, Gomé of Mtsho lho/Hainan and Guide, Lutsang of Guide/Khri kha, Rebgong, Ditsha, and Goucha of Hualong. Two monasteries, Guanghui/Serkhok of Datong county and Xianmi/Semnyi of Menyuan county, also had myriarchs overseeing 400 and 300 households respectively. The remaining thirteen tribal divisions, numbering from 100-400 households each, were located in Hualong county (see Table 2 below).

Table 2 Qing period Tibetan “Tribes” (buluo) and Their Rulers in Qinghai

Tribe Myriarchs Centurions Households Location Golok 6 + 1 queen 5,000 Upper Yellow R. Gomé 郭密 2 9 2,000 Hainan/ Tsho lho Lutsang 鲁仓 1 20 5,000 Guide/ Khri kha Rebgong 热贡 1 nangso 12 2,500 Huangnan Ditsha 的扎 1 nangso 10 1,000 Hualong/ Ba yan Guanghui si 1 800 Datong Xianmi si 1 600 Menyuan Goucha 苟察 1 1,000 Hualong/ Ba yan La zha 拉扎 1 Hualong/ Ba yan Keze 科泽 1 400 Hualong/ Ba yan Adaha 阿达哈 1 300 Hualong/ Ba yan Shang (Upper) Duoba上多巴 1 200 Hualong/ Ba yan Xia (Lower) Duoba 下多巴 1 200 Hualong/ Ba yan Xiyi 西义 1 300 Hualong/ Ba yan Rigaang 日尕昂 1 200 Hualong/ Ba yan Hongkawa 宏喀瓦 1 100 Hualong/ Ba yan Douge jia 斗格加 1 100 Hualong/ Ba yan Lanha zha 兰罕扎 1 200 Hualong/ Ba yan Duzang 都藏 1 100 Hualong/ Ba yan Xialonghula 夏隆胡拉 1 100 Hualong/ Ba yan Gajia 尕加 1 100 Hualong/ Ba yan Yixizha 益西扎 1 100 Hualong/ Ba yan Totals 18 62 23,000

However, in general, far too little is known about these various local rulers and the peoples they ruled over. For example, the nine Gomé divisions (go me tsho ba dgu) who live in Chab cha and northern Khri kha counties have been described by one Tibetan native to the area in this way: "The Gomé Tibetans eat horses meat and thus we treat them as Mongolians. The place names they use are Mongolian names. When the third Dalai Lama came to Amdo, Altan Khan was based near Kokonor, and Gomé was occupied by Mongolians. Gushri Khan would summer near Kokonor and spend the wintertime in Chab cha. The Tibetan communities don’t marry across the Rma/ Yellow river, as they belong to different kingdoms: the King of the White Tents to the north, Hor i.e. Mongols; King Gesar south of river, Ling a Tibetan kingdom in Khams important from the 14th century … "

While Chinese language materials are useful for gaining a sense of the large picture (how many rulers there were, how many households they commanded, etc.) the rich details of who these divisions and their leaders were and how they were important in Tibetan history will have to be gradually built up based on a wide reading of Tibetan language materials such as religious histories, monastic registers, and lamas’ biographies in conjunction with Chinese sources and consultation of local scholars, monks, and officials.

The Qing developed minor military outposts in the settled regions of northeastern Amdo, but the extent of their power was fairly limited. The Qing built a fort at Baoan north of Reb gong in 1743, as an extension of the Khri kha fort, and later built another one just below Rong bo dgon chen in the late 19th century, as an extension of their outpost in Xunhua. Problems around pasturage and the spread of farming and trade (with the Chinese and Hui) led to fighting between Tibetans and Chinese as early as 1806, and when Tibetans crossed the Yellow River to extend their pasturage in 1822, they were defeated by Qing troops. Such problems flared up again in 1828 and 1832. The Qing forced some Mongol nomadic groups to move south to Henan and, after taking a census, brought some Tibetans under a household registration system. This did little to calm things, and the Qing had to send further expeditions in 1845 and 1850. The movement of Tibetan clans in Amdo has not been studied outside Asia, but the important family genealogical histories (khyim rgyud) of the Bong stag clan are a useful place to start exploring this issue link to Tsehuajia’s work on THL.

The Exercise of Power by Amdo Monasteries

As already described by Schram above, real power in many areas was actually held by the dominant monasteries in the area and their affiliated branch monasteries or incarnation estates (nang chen). The obvious examples include Drotsang Monastery during the Ming dynasty (mentioned above), Gönlung Monastery during the rule of the Qoshot Mongols (to be discussed shortly), and Labrang Monastery discussed elsewhere by Paul Nietupski link to Paul’s work on THL. While Labrang is the most obvious and well-studied example of a center of real political and economic power in the 18th through 20th centuries, there were several other monasteries that played similar roles in earlier Amdo history, and many more that functioned mostly on the local level. At the local level for instance, in Hualong/ Ba yan and Minhe/ Bka' ma log counties, the Sgar ba kha 'drug (formerly, bdun) monasteries were formally under the authority of the Tshe tan Zhab drung incarnation. Similarly, in the Dpa’ ri (THL alt phonetics: Huaré) area, after the Stag lung zhabs drung returned from training in Central Tibet in the late 17th century, he became the abbot of Stag lung, Mchod rten thang and Tas thung Monasteries. Later he “went to Peking in order to arrange for funding for these . . . monasteries and was honored by K’ang-hsi Kangxi, who made him lama of Cha gwan se in the palace complex. He visited China four times and Tibet four times.” In 1696 the Ju lag and Tsong chu (Xining) river valleys came under imperial authority (probably as a result of allegiance of local Mongol leaders), so the Kangxi emperor granted the Taklung Zhapdrung power over more than ten temples and eighteen “tribes” where he supported some 1,000 monks.

Other monasteries are described as having exercised political-religious rule (without specifying the position of leadership at the monastery). For example, the Dpa’ ris monastery hor nags yangs dgon zhol ma bkra shis chos 'khor gling (Ch. daxue xia si) established in 1645 served as the center of an area of joint political-religious rule of the area south of Liangzhou (covering the villages Ch. xiang of Danma, Qilian, and Maozang). Also, Byakyung monastery (where Tsongkhapa studied and the subject of several Tibetan historic texts over the centuries) controlled eighteen tribal divisions, the monastic communities of which were each represented by an elder (Ch. ganba 干巴, Tib. rgan ba), who also had influence over the tribal division itself. The tribal divisions also had chiliarchs, centurions, and headmen who would work with the monastic leadership (mostly the senggang 僧刚, monastic official just under the post of the abbot) to resolve any problems. Under the elders, there was a bureaucratic position called a zuhuan (组欢 or zuzhang 组长, group leader), the holder of which oversaw ten or more monks. The monastery grew tremendous by the 18th century, with nearly 900 monks and imperial support from the Qing dynasty. A final example of this sort of institution is the bA jo’i dgon in Minhe/Kamalok county. When the lama from this monastery was elevated as the guru of the Qing dynasty and rewarded with temples in Beijing, his relatives were made rulers of the local area, and the monastery in the hands of the Bai family was essentially given political and religious authority (zhengjiao daquan 政教大权) by the Qing to rule a vast territory. For instance, during the Qing era, the monastery had over 1,000 acres (7,200 mu) of 'incense grain land' (xiang liang di 香粮地) as a tax base, essentially dominating the upper parts of the valleys of north central Bka' ma log (Minhe) County. With these resources, the monastery was able to support four great educational faculties (xueyuan 学院, zhazang 扎仓= Tib. grwa tshang) with 500 monks at its peak and over 200 monks during the Daoguang reign (1821-1851).

There are probably dozens more monasteries like this in Amdo that deserve to be explored more fully.

This essay will conclude with a brief discussion of two other major monasteries that exercised political power in Amdo: Dgon lung and La mo bde chen. Both of these monasteries were closely connected with the Qoshot Mongol ruling family of Gushri Khan that dominated Amdo from 1638-1724. The name of Dgon lung Monastery is relatively well known because it served as the home of the Lcang skya Changja, to reflect local pronunciation and Chinese origin, Zhangjia, Thu’u kwan, Chu bzang, incarnations, as well as Sumpa Khenpo, whose intellectual, historical, and biographical legacy is so significant for later Tibetan history. However, little has been written in western languages about the functioning of the monastery itself, despite the existence of several Tibetan and Chinese language historical sources on the subject. Most significant is the fact that in 1649 Gushri Khan placed the territory of Dpa’ ris put under the control of Dgon lung monastery. At this time, Dpa’ ris included most of northeastern Amdo, so this was a massive land grant that greatly enriched the monastery, no doubt playing a key role in allowing the monastery to reach its peak size of some 7,000 monks. The connection of these Mongol (such as Sumpa Khenpo) or Monguor (as were many of the Lcang skya, Thu’u bkwan and Chu bzang incarnations) lamas was a key factor in Gushri Khan’s willingness to relinquish such extensive territory to this monastery. Likewise, the growth and support of the Mongol khans for La mo bde chen Monastery was also closely connected to the Mongol origins of its leading incarnate lama. This incarnation line, known as the Chaghan Nominhan (Tib. Zhabs drung dkar po, Ch. Baifo) served as a major Amdo political power-holder for centuries from the 17th to 20th centuries. The first in the incarnation series came from Central Tibet and missionized among the Mongol princes in Amdo. The second incarnation Blo gros rgya mtsho was born to the Mongol prince Ho lo che, among the Tumed Mongols of Inner Mongolia, but he became the guru to Hongtaiji, an important Mongol prince in Amdo. In 1680 when the 3rd Zhabs drung dkar po (Ngag dbang blo bzang bstan pa’i rgyal mtshan, 1660-1728) returned from Central Tibet, the Daiqing nangsuo acted as a donor (shizhu) and granted him: 1) Guinan county's Mangla chuan (Tib. Mang ra chu) and Shakou (Tib. Bya khog), 2) Tongde county's territory east as far as headwaters of the Baqu (Tib. Ba chu) river, which extends into Zeku/Tsekhok county, where there is still a inholding of land owned by Hainan zhou and 3) the western part of of Hualong/ Ba yan county. In recognition of this lama’s power, after Lozang Danjin’s uprising of 1723-4 when the Qing created the twenty-nine Mongol banners of Qinghai, the 3rd Zhabs drung dkar po was made a first rank Taiji Dalama of the Chahan Nomimhan Banner and exercised joint political and religious control over the western parts of Guinan and Tongde counties, the southern part of Guide, much of Chentsa and Zeku counties and western Hualong county, as well as Haibei prefecture’s Haiyan county. It was only after the old central ruling line of Qoshot Mongols was driven out of power by the Qing in 1724 that Labrang Monastery was able to rise to the position of cultural, political, and economic power that it enjoyed well into the 20th century. Before that time, Dgon lung and La mo bde chen were the most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Amdo, and their influence lasted at least through the late 18th century.

Clearly there is much more to be written about the exercise of local and regional power in Amdo, but hopefully this essay will encourage others to explore other aspects of this critical region, now home to at least a third of the world.

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