Abodes of Alien Ancestors: Buddhist Geography and Genealogy in 18th-Century Beijing
Wen-shing Chou, Associate Professor of Chinese Art, Hunter College, CUNY
In 1780, the Sixth Paṇchen Lama (1738-1780) presented a rebirth lineage supplication prayer (’khrungs rabs gsol ’debs) to the Qing Qianlong emperor (1711-1799) on the occasion of the emperor’s seventieth birthday. The prayer recognizes Qianlong’s previous incarnations as royal and monastic luminaries from Buddhist India, dynastic Tibet, the Mongol Empire, and the transnational Gelukpa institution, producing a temporally and geographically articulate affirmation of the Qing imperial claim to a pan-Asian spiritual lineage. The Qing emperors’ status as emanations of Mañjughoṣa had been firmly established, but to what extent was Qianlong’s rebirth lineage known and accepted in the Tibetan Buddhist world, and what role did Qianlong and his court play in its formulation?
This lecture seeks to contextualize the Sixth Paṇchen’s gift to Qianlong by uncovering an extraordinary effort on the part of the Qing court and the courts of the Paṇchen and Dalai Lamas to remap, through visual and material means, rebirth lineages of the Qing emperor and his Gelukpa clerical allies. Their interconnected genealogies were pictorialized in prints, thangkas, and illustrated albums. These objects operated within a lively culture of gift exchange and artistic adaptation between Qing and Tibet. The lecture considers their calibrated deployment of history, language, style, and form towards the creation of a new Buddhist geography and genealogy in eighteenth century Beijing.
Bhāviveka. Late 18th century. Thangka, color on cloth. 135.3 x 84.5 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art.