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The relation between politics and religion at a Tibetan Buddhist Temple from a historical anthropology perspective.

Chengde City is located in Hebei Province, about 200 kilometres northeast of Beijing. James Hevia went there in 1991 and 1993. Having observed the reconstruction process and the reopening of the Temple of the Potaraka Doctrine, Temple of Sumeru Happiness and Longevity and Puning Temple, he wrote an article entitled "Chengde Today". (1) In it, Hevia compared Chengde as seen through his eyes with that described by Sweden explorer Sven Hedin, and he also attempted to explain the volition of the state and the influence of the tourism market on the construction process of Waimiao or Waibamiao (the floorboard of the eight Tibetan Buddhist temples in the northeast of Chengde Imperial Summer Resort in Hebei Province). Hevia posits that Chengde before the end of the 1980s was still interpreted the way Emperor Kangxi did as an institution for ruling over various ethnic minorities at frontier areas. Chengde was later regarded as a place of ethnic harmonious coexistence. Anyway, this is a familiar scenario in which the Communist Party of China (CPC) will manifest its glorious legacy through gaining recognition from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). However, Hevia recognised that tensions exist between the CPC which envisions building Chengde as a multi-ethnic state and the monastic communities whose main preoccupation centres on the preservation of religious traditions. The CPC will not validate the legitimacy of its relations with Tibet via the historical expression of the Qing Dynasty, particularly when such expression is connected to tourism. The Chengde Imperial Summer Resort, which is presumably a cultural and historical symbol, has now become a place simply for recreation where visitors come to relax. Hevia reflects:
   For if there has been one constant throughout the last three
   centuries, it is that Chengde's distinctive convergence of
   mountains, rocks, streams, and hot springs that first attracted the
   Kangxi emperor's attention three centuries ago continues to provide
   abundant resources for human beings to weave rich tapestries of
   aesthetic, political and cosmological imagery. (2)

Is it true, as described by James Hevia, that the state's interpretation of history will cause unavoidable cleavage? Or is it for want of material gain and oversight of the historical past that the state stifles the self-acknowledging process in the historical narration? In an attempt to connect the anthropological foundation with the historical study of Chengde waimiao system, this article discusses the relationship and differences between the ways Tibetan Buddhism was organised during the Qing Dynasty and the temple administration of today.


With the aid of three main chiefs of Dorbet and Amarsanaa, the Qing Dynasty conquered Davachi during the 20th year of Emperor Qianlong's reign (1755), leading to the collapse of Junggar Khanate. In October that year, Emperor Qianlong threw a lavish banquet in Chengde Imperial Summer Resort for the noblemen of four clans of the Velatic Mongolians and also decided to build the Puning Temple which resembles the Samye Temple in Tibet. Puning Temple was the very first Lamaist temple Emperor Qianlong had built outside Chengde Imperial Summer Resort. Different from the Chinese architecture of Puren Temple in Chengde built during the Kangxi period, Puning Temple is a combination of both Chinese and Tibetan architectural styles, whereby the structure within the temple gate is of Chinese style and the structure behind the Hall of Mahavira is of Tibetan style. The spectacular wooden statue of Avalokiteshvara in the Mahayana Pavilion measures 27.28 metres tall. Emperor Qianlong also requested Icang-skya-ho-thog-thu to send for dance teachers from Tibet so as to start Tiaodagui (the ritual of driving ghosts) in Puning Temple. Subsequently, Tiaodagui was performed on New Year's Day or other festivals, and the emperor would often watch it during his stay in Puning Temple. There are three epigraphs in Puning Temple which tell the story of the conquest of Velatic Mongolia, written by Emperor Qianlong himself in Manchu, Mongolian, Tibetan and Chinese. In the past, the Tibetan language had never been used before in epigraphs in the Chengde area. Puning Temple had been subordinate to the Lama Office in Lifanyuan (also known as the Court of Colonial Affairs which was a top-echelon agency in the central government of the Qing Dynasty) ever since its establishment. The Khenpo Lama was also appointed from the Lama Office. During Qianlong's reign, Puning Temple was once a place of strategic importance in dealing with Buddhist affairs in the Mongolia area for Emperor Qianlong and Icang-skya-ho-thog-thu. During his audience with Emperor Qianlong in 1780, the Sixth Panchen Lama from Tibet stayed in Chengde for several months and the lamas who followed him from Tashilhunpo Monastery in Tibet remained in Chengde to assist Emperor Qianlong with affairs in Waimiao or Waibamiao. Since then, the Chief Khenpo Lama of Waimiao had been assigned by the Panchen Lama from Yonghegong Lamasery to Chengde and been stationed at Temple of Sumeru Happiness and Longevity in Chengde City. The decline of Puning Temple began following the death of Emperor Xianfeng, and Chengde lost its strategic significance ever since. Waibamiao were also on the wane after the subversion of the Qing Dynasty. After the Japanese invasion, the last Chief Khenpo Lama from the Xigaze region returned to Tibet, and the succeeding Chief Khenpo Lama was a Mongolian who moved to Puning Temple. Until November 1948, there were only 72 lamas in Waibamiao instead of over 600 as previously registered. As for Puning Temple, there were 17 lamas against 324 in its heyday. From the lama registration list which gives the dates of birth, it can be deduced that many were in their teens or early 20s and had just become ordained as Buddhist monks. (3)

Waibamiao's Board of Trustees came into existence in 1949 and the director was the previous Chief Khenpo Lama (equivalent to abbot in Han-Chinese Buddhism), Rinchen Sangpo. During that time, many lamas still came in groups from adjacent areas of Chengde City. In 1950, the Panchen Lama, at that time in Qinghai Province, wrote a letter to Chairman Mao, requesting for effective protection of the architecture and cultural heritage of Waimiao. (4) However, the central government could not afford to support these lamas and maintain the buildings in Waibamiao. An entrance fee of five cents per head was imposed for the Great Buddhist Temple. As the temple walls were in a dilapidated state, people could enter the grounds without buying entrance tickets. Hence, there were no revenues coming in, and the government could do little to solve the problem. Consequently, the State Ethnic Affairs Commission donated some money to establish an elementary cooperative for Waibamiao and managed to amass an aggregate landholding of 150 mu. Founded in 1955, the cooperative president was named Wang Deming and the office was located in Guangyuan Temple in Chengde City. However, only young and married lamas were members of the cooperative and they were paid by the government, as were the non-members. Elderly lamas were allowed to work in production from the sidelines. In 1956, apiculture alone generated 500 jin (250 kilos) of honey. This sideline production included pig and rabbit rearing, and the like. In 1956, 5,000 yuan in living subsidies were given to these lamas by the Chengde government and 400 yuan in relief money was offered by the Ministry of Civil Affairs to impoverished lamas. (5)

With the establishment of cooperatives, the lamas resumed secular life one after another, leading to the decline of the sangha community. Although many people participated in temple activities, most were just "hei lama", i.e., odd-job men. With progress made in protecting cultural relics, some elder lamas resumed secular life within the temple grounds and remained working with the Board of Trustees. The most important Buddhist activities observed in Waibamiao were Tiaodagui on 13 January, Buddha's Birthday on 8 April and the dharma assembly's celebration of Tsong-kha-pa's birthday on 25 October, all prescribed in the lunar calendar. However, all Buddhist activities were stopped in 1962. (6) The dwindling sangha community also led to deterioration of ethics and discipline among the erstwhile monks who lost their moral compass. In 1950, there were reported thefts by lamas from both the Temple of Sumeru Happiness and Longevity and Temple of the Potaraka Doctrine, of the golden layering on the temple roof. (7) Dismissals of lamas for disobedience were not rare, but larceny of this kind was extremely infrequent.

Waibamiao and Puning Temple gradually decayed into grand but decadent building complexes and the trend did not cease until the early 1980s. At this time, the monks were continually asked to partake in political study sessions at which they reviewed the speeches of Chairman Mao and then President Liu Shaoqi. In addition to spurring the monks' interest in agricultural production, instilling the ideology of patriotism and anti-imperialism were of top priority. Thus, both the secretary of the Municipal Party Committee and the mayor participated in the lama dharma assembly.


The secretariat of the Party's Central Committee issued a document entitled, "The Basic Ideas and Policies Concerned with Religious Issues during Socialist Period in China", on 21 March 1982 as one of the activities that reflected on historical events and experiences in the Cultural Revolution. It discussed the attitudes, policies and methods of the CPC regarding religious affairs. Based on this document, the State Council transmitted its recommendation in the form of "The Religious Affairs Bureau of the State Council Confirms Key Temples of Buddhism and Taoism in Han Areas", which was passed on 9 April 1983. It confirmed 142 temples in the Han areas, including some monasteries of the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism, such as Yonghegong Lamasery and Huangsi Temple in Beijing, and Puning Temple in Chengde. The three main aspects highlighted in the document were: first, both the temple and ritual implements that were under the control of the Cultural Relics Department should be transferred to the Religious Affairs Department and supervised by religious organisations themselves; second, the State Council should be assisted in electing abbots, to provide training to religious staff like Buddhist monks and Taoist priests, to establish and improve the administration of organisations and various institutions, and to ensure that religious activities for professional religious practitioners and religious adherents are valid; and third, the protection of cultural relics and the restoration of buildings should be closely monitored.

The Ethnic Affairs Commission of Chengde submitted a report to the municipal government in 1983, requesting the Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs to reclaim Puning Temple, which was then subordinate to the Cultural Relics Department. The recovery included the transfer of family living quarters of the Cultural Relics Department, the laboratory house rented by the Bureau of Animal Husbandry, the surrounding cultivated land that previously belonged to the lama cooperatives, and the ritual implements, Buddhist statues and sutra in Puning Temple. The report gave 1 January 1984 as the deadline to reclaim Puning Temple. In addition, it was reported that 20 lamas from Inner Mongolia, Liaoning Province and other places were recruited to re-establish the sangha community. (8)

Puning Temple was to achieve self-supporting status after restoration. The three confirmed sources of financial support were the income from donation boxes in the temple, ticket fees and the house rents from the temple's real estate. (9) Large-scale repairs to the buildings of Puning Temple were also funded by appropriations from superior-level governmental bodies. As reported in a document recording the progress of the Temple's reconstruction, though the project encountered twists and turns, many plans were gradually implemented.

At the outset of this undertaking, government leaders at various levels and other influential people came to visit, including Venerable Puchu Zhao, Venerable Panchen, Venerable Juzan, visiting Buddhist groups from Tibet, Singapore's former Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Cambodia's former King Norodom Sihanouk and representatives sent by the Dalai Lama from India. However, except for three lamas who resumed secular life working in the Temple, there was no lama engaged in spiritual practice. Thus, there was no alternative but to borrow some lamas from other temples, including Tashi Lama from Pingquan County and Gao Lama from nearby Anyuan Temple. This embarrassed the Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs, (10) but the recruitment procedure could not commence until the transfer was finished. Some of the repairs had already been started by the Cultural Relics Department. The transfer was not smooth because there were issues relating to house and job settlement for many working staff, issues involving sugar and wine companies and also the Bureau of Animal Husbandry and the house rentals. Making things difficult, even things as trivial as the sofa and telephone in the reception room were involved. (11) The Municipal Ethnic Affairs Commission of Chengde frequently reported the progress to its provincial counterpart and even the State Bureau for Religious Affairs. The transfer was finally completed on 1 June 1985 and soon after the takeover, the Municipal Ethnic Affairs Commission of Chengde transferred cadres to establish the Puning Temple Administration Department, with 43 staff from the previous team of the Cultural Relics Department. The office of the department was inside Puning Temple. (12)

On 31 July 1985, the vice-governor of Hebei Province, Yi Hong, increased the number of lamas from 20 to 30. Subsequently, the Ethnic Affairs Commission actively canvassed for funding to make the much-needed repairs to Puning Temple and pay for the incoming lamas' accommodation, salaries, household registrations, and grain and oil ration registration. Recruitment was well underway in Liaoning, Inner Mongolia and other places. They planned to recruit two kinds of lamas: first, young lamas who were aged above 18, had junior secondary education or above, were able to speak Mongolian, were willing to remain celibate for life and whose family members' background was clean; and second, elderly lamas. No specific requirements were set for the latter. Two or three mature lamas were needed to help restore the Buddhist activities in Puning Temple. (13) In December 1985, Vice Mayor, Wang Yuxi, and Department Director, Buyandalai, went to Chifeng City to recruit lamas. There they met with a member of Chifeng's Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Living Buddha, Sen Yang, who told them that if Puning Temple was reconstructed to serve as an example of China's religious policy, the rules of Lama Buddhist activities should be observed and there must be no loopholes for people with insider knowledge. Hence, at least 12 experienced lamas would be needed.

With the assistance of the local committee of the CPPCC, 15 young lamas were recruited from Wengniute Banner. Three had senior high school education and one was Elbegsang, the secretary general of the Chengde Buddhist Institute. The 15 elder lamas were from Ar Horqin Banner and Bairin Right Banner. Three were reincarnated Living Buddhas: the abbot and Living Buddha Hameur, Living Buddha Tereljid, Living Buddha Sedeng and the chief manager, Nasunbuyan (named Wang Fushou in Chinese). (14)

Living Buddha Hameur, from Ar Horqin Banner, was then 65. When he was six, he was confirmed as the incarnate soul boy of the third Living Buddha Hameur by the Panchen Lama. He was later ordained by Vjamdbyangs Rinpoche in Hanmusu Temple. In 1939, his Buddhist initiation ritual was held by Living Buddha Zhagan. He went on to live in the Tar Lamasery from the age of 20 to 40 years, after which he went back to Genpei Temple in Ar Horqin Banner and reconstructed it. Upon receiving the invitation from Vice Mayor Wang Yuxi, Hameur was hesitant because he was doubtful of the sincerity to rejuvenate Lamaism at Puning Temple and was uncertain of the actual implementation of religious policy in inland areas. Elbegsang was Living Buddha Hameur's Chinese translator upon Hameur's arrival in Puning Temple and he described Hameur as "laoshi" (honest and frank). Living Buddha Hameur had great respect for both the Communist Party and his religion throughout his life and never declined any governmental requests. However, Living Buddha Tereljid was always dissatisfied with some of the instructions and orders from the government, believing that it exercised too much control over the Temple. He finally returned to Chifeng in 2001. The people in Shizigou Village said he was being forced out due to a lack of discipline. Tereljid is now the secretary general of the Chifeng Buddhist Institute. Since the transfer and housing arrangements for the lamas were not completed, the lamas did not come to Great Buddha Temple until April 1986.

The incoming lamas received various kinds of training in order to instil the idea of "Taking the Temple as Home" through strict observance of the state religious laws and regulations. In other words, they were not only responsible for conducting Buddhist activities, but they also had to develop tourism in order to help maintain the Temple financially. (15) For this reason, Elbegsang and four other young lamas had to learn Chinese and English, as well as tour guiding. They were the first five people to obtain Tourist Guide Qualification Certificates in Chengde City. Meanwhile, "solemnifying the country and benefitting the sentient beings" were identified as the guiding principle of religious activities. It was reiterated that religious activities must be held according to the state laws and regulations, and that the essential aim of these activities should centre on presenting and popularising the state religious policies.

The Administrative Commission of the Lamas was established as soon as Living Buddha Hameur came to Chengde to take charge of the daily Buddhist activities in the Temple. Needing ritual implements, the Ethnic Affairs Commission of Chengde borrowed some from the Palace Museum and the Yonghegong Lamasery, and others from the Cultural Relics Department. (16) Living Buddha Hameur also went to Tar Lamaery with some colleagues to buy some. The Tripitak in Puning Temple was bought by Living Buddha Hameur from a temple in Kham. Sutra chanting in the temple returned on 20 May 1986, and two other big Buddhist events were held in the same year. (17) In February 1987, the Ethnic Affairs Commission of Chengde arranged a visit for the lamas to Beijing. The leader of the delegation was Buyandalai. They visited several important temples, the Palace Museum, Summer Palace, Ancient Observatory, Great Hall of the People, Chairman Mao Memorial Hall and Peony TV Factory. On 27 May, the Panchen Lama received these lamas at his residence. They also visited Chengde Ironworks and silk factories. The obvious aim of these factory visits was to expose the lamas to the idea of self-support through production. (18) This kind of visit was later organised on an annual basis and the destinations included Wutai Mountain, Emei Mountain and Hainan Province. However, despite being the most important holy place for the lamas, they were never allowed to travel to Tibet.

The earliest visitors to Puning Temple, such as the current abbot, Mergentu, and Elbegsang were allowed to further their studies in Huangsi Temple in Beijing. The vice abbot, Dailin Lama, studied in a Buddhist institute in Zhejiang Province. Other lamas as well as other people were sent to study in Labuleng Lamasery in Gansu Province and in Tar Lamasery in Qinghai Province. The expenditures incurred were all borne by Puning Temple. Before the 14 March 2008 incident in Tibet (the 3-14 Riots), Yundan Lama studied in Tashilhunpo Monastery in Xigaze. However, everyone was sent back inland due to the incident. Yundan Lama is currently still in Puning Temple.

The Chengde Buddhist Institute, founded in 1987, is still located in Puning Temple. In attendance at the opening ceremony, were the leaders of the United Front Work Department, leaders of the religious departments of Hebei Province, Chengde City and the hometowns of the lamas, and Islamic, Catholic and Protestant religious leaders of Chengde. Living Buddha Hameur was the honorary president and Nasunbuyan was the president. The only non-lama vice president and secretary general was Buyandalai, the director of the Board of Trustees. The Chengde Buddhist Institute was still under the control of the Ethnic Affairs Commission of Chengde, thus all applications for funding had to be approved by the Commission. Resuming secular life, Elbegsang is now the representative of the Commission accredited to the Chengde Buddhist Institute and is still the secretary general.

In 1988, among the lamas who came to Puning Temple, five studied in Gansu Province, two studied in the Buddhist Academy of China in Nanjing, one was accidentally crushed to death while building a cave to store vegetables for winter, and three returned to their hometowns to recuperate from illnesses. The Ethnic Affairs Commission of Chengde reported the shortage of lamas to the municipal government which in turn reported it to the provincial government, requesting permission to recruit another 15 lamas. Nasunbuyan and Elbegsang set off to Qinghai Province and recruited 15 lamas from Tar Lamasery. Thus Puning Temple had lamas from Qinghai and Inner Mongolia, between which disputes had long simmered in the past. Tensions among these lamas still occur today.

Living Buddha Hameur appointed Buddhist music teachers to revive the music ambience of Puning Temple. From February to March 1995, the Buddhist Music Group was invited to the Philippines by the Puhtohtze Temple Association for Friendship. (19) On 20 June 1991, the tradition of Tiaodagui was restored by teachers sent from Yonghegong Lamasery. (20) Now, Puning Temple is capable of holding large-scale dharma assemblies. Apart from organising religious activities, Puning Temple also held big assemblies following the "5.12" Wenchuan earthquake and the Yushu earthquake to raise funds for the survivors. When Chengde City holds the "Chengde International Tourism Festival" every summer, a dharma assembly is held in Puning Temple. In the winter of 2009, a candlelit dharma assembly was held to promote tourism in the slack period. In commemoration of the 85th founding anniversary of the CPC, a prayer dharma assembly was held in Puning Temple.


A great deal of importance has been attached to tourism ever since the reconstruction of Puning Temple, as well as advocacy for "Equal Stress on Agriculture and Religion". As Puning Temple holds no property in its name, the income from tourism is its main source of funding. The municipal government of Chengde was unwilling to take the burden. Lamas, who were against the tourism aspect, were regarded as uneducated by both sides. However, along with tourism were chances for the government to interfere in the Buddhist activities.

In 1989, the Puning Temple Administrative Commission of the Lama put forward the idea of "monks' control over the temple", asking for full control over the management of the hall, sanitation, tourist reception and finances, including state appropriated funds, ticket income, income generated from religious activities and almsgiving. (21) The request was finally approved by the municipal government. However, according to Elbegsang, the Puning Temple Administrative Commission of the Lama has been under the control of the Puning Temple Administration Department and without any decision-making rights. In the end, the lamas were given administrative control of only the hall and sanitation. In terms of finances, the Puning Temple Administrative Commission only looks after the income from ticket sales, property, religious activities and small donations while the Puning Temple Administration Department controls the rest and is in charge of the state fund appropriations.

The change in the morning chanting schedule was also mentioned in the application. In order to attract tourists, the chanting was held at nine instead of the time set in Buddhist regulations, i.e., from five to seven in the morning except during the high season on the first, 8th, 15th and 29th of each month. During the slack seasons, the chant session should begin at six to seven in the morning. However, this request was not mentioned in the report submitted to the municipal government by the Ethnic Affairs Commission of Chengde. (22) Elbegsang expressed his displeasure with this statement: "In Buddhism, the morning chanting should be over before sunrise. But it is held at nine in Great Buddha Temple for the tourists. This is not solemn and not good for lamas' hermit cultivation. Some tourists even ask them if they want to get a wife. The more they ask, the harder it is for their cultivation."

Another problem arising from tourism is the frequent appearance of fake monks in the Temple of the Potaraka Doctrine and Temple of Sumeru Happiness and Longevity who do not serve religious functions. Lamas are not supposed to live in these temples that were previously administered by the Cultural Relics Department. Neither should donation boxes be set up. But now both exist. The fake monks do not appear from nowhere but are secretly supported by people in the Cultural Relics Department. Attempts at arrests by officials such as the section chiefs from the Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs were always in vain because the fake monks would be tipped off by people in the Cultural Relics Department.

The ticket income generated in both 1986 and 1987 amounted to 0.3 million yuan. After 1 April 1988 when the ticket price was increased from 0.5 yuan to one yuan, the income doubled. The ticket price is now 80 yuan. Visitors to the gigantic statue of the Thousand-Hand Bodhisattva in Mahayana Pavilion must now buy a separate ticket to enter. The ticket income was initially under the control of the Administrative Commission of the Lama. In 1992, this ticket income amounted to 2.80 million yuan with a surplus of 0.2 million yuan. The financial turnover was 0.642 million yuan in which 0.23 million yuan of the dharma assembly expenditure was drawn out. This was requested by the Ethnic Affairs Commission of Chengde, who stated that 30 per cent of the total ticket income or 0.9 million yuan with a one per cent incremental increase in subsequent years was to be turned over to the authority. (23) In April 1994, the finance department of Chengde City asked Puning Temple for one million yuan to be turned in to the authority each month. (24) Apart from revenue generated from regular ticket income, Puning Temple also earns some income from holding exhibitions on thang-ga, Buddhist statues, etc. Between 1 May 1994 and 31 October 1995, Puning Temple rented a set of precious esoteric Buddhist statues from the Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs of Lhasa and put up an exhibition for display. The ticket fee to the exhibition was five yuan and the rental fee was 0.15 million yuan. (25) The specific income is unknown but is said to be a large amount. The Distinguished Guest Hall in Puning Temple was reopened in 2000 and is now the most expensive hotel in Chengde City. After 2004, it was contracted out to a businessman from the south at 1.2 million yuan a year. The abbot and vice abbot have moved in after the removal of the previous abbot in 2010 and the fee reduced to 0.6 million yuan. In 2003, new housing for the lamas was constructed in Puning Temple. The existing houses were turned into a business street, i.e., today's Puning Street, which also generates some income. To attract tourists, the street was built to resemble a marketplace during the Qing Dynasty. Souvenirs and Buddhist paraphernalia are sold by vendors garbed in Qing Dynasty-style clothing.


In 1990, Nasunbuyan once again went to Qinghai Province to recruit lamas. Mergentu, among those recruited, said he was then unwilling to come but he knew there was a little Potala Palace of Tibet (Temple of the Potaraka Doctrine) somewhere inland. As for Puning Temple, he had not even heard of it. Nasunbuyan told him that the little Potala Palace of Tibet is in Chengde City and was built by Emperor Qianlong for his imperial concubine to ease her homesickness. Upon learning that it is an imperial temple, Mergendu finally decided to come. In his opinion, temples in Chengde, though of minor religious importance, are of high status due to their political significance. To him, imperial temples are of high political status but not religious status. Tibet holds the greatest religious significance. He said, "The emperor is of high political rank while the Panchen is of religious importance. When teaching Buddhism, it is natural that emperors should be good students. Even Living Buddha should show their respect to their teachers." He also added that as the abbot in an imperial temple, some of his teachers would give him a salute when they met each other in meetings. But if he returns to Qinghai, it is the reverse as he must salute his previous teachers. He emphasised that Waibamiao is a symbol of ethnic unity. In the Mongolians' eyes, a good emperor is identified as one who constructs temples. For this reason, a few of his classmates are now executive officials in the Mongolian region. It would be difficult for Mongolians to regard the emperor as a good one if temple-building was not in his legacy.

Recruitment of lamas via recommendation and referral from the lamas in Puning Temple is another hiring tactic. The current chief manager, Han Lama, came to Puning Temple in 1989. Just before he graduated from high school, his uncle, Qi Lama, asked someone to take a message back to find out if anyone wanted to be a lama. As Han Lama was not confident about the college entrance examination, and his two older brothers were married, becoming a lama seemed a natural choice. Before his arrival, he did not know that Puning Temple was a complex of Buddhist temples. Although the Great Buddha Temple in Chengde is in no way comparable to other temples in Qinghai, Gansu or Tibet, it is still the most important Buddhist holy place inland. Nowadays, under the leadership of Living Buddha Hameur, the Great Buddha Temple has become an internationally famous place of worship. Still, under no circumstances would the influence of Great Buddha Temple exceed Tibet. Han Lama emphasises that what differentiates imperial temples from Buddhist temples is that the former are of great political influence.

Elbegsang also had no inkling of any temples in Chengde. Nevertheless, he agreed with Mergentu. Although there was no emperor in Chengde Imperial Summer Resort and even in Beijing, as an imperial temple, Puning Temple is still extraordinary. As lamas from Puning Temple, they were preferentially treated by local lamas when visiting Qinghai, Inner Mongolia and Tibet. Elbegsang acknowledged that the temples in Chengde are important for their political status instead of their religious status.


The so-called "imperial temples" are in fact Tibetan Buddhism temples administered by the lama managing the seals and the Lama Office, including many temples in Beijing, Rehe, Wutai Mountain, Dolon-nuur and other places. The separation of church and state applies to these temples, with political affairs and finances during Qing Dynasty being managed, respectively, by Lifanyuan and Neiwufu, also known as the imperial household department (a multi-agency administrative organisation responsible for serving the personal needs of the emperor, his immediate family and his intimate attendants in the private residential quarters of the imperial palace). Thus, Neiwufu provided the money to support lamas and repair the temples. In terms of religious and educational affairs, they are the responsibility of the sangha. In principle, all lama teachers in dratsangs were selected from temples in Tibet. As the centre of the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism, these imperial temples are still considered the legitimate source of knowledge and religious laws for temples in Beijing. However, in terms of administration and management, the temples in Beijing operate as branches of independent religious organisations. Since its construction, Puning Temple has been under the strict control of the state and has had deeply strained political relations with the state.

Religiously speaking, it has always suffered low status. When it was reconstructed in the 1980s, the Lama Office had ceased to exist due to several adjustments made in the management system for lamas in Beijing after the imperial Qing rule was replaced by the founding of the Republic of China. (26) In principle, the affairs of sangha were managed by the local Buddhist institute. Neither the previous Lama Office at Yonghegong Lamasery nor the Gelug temples in Tibet played an important role in the reconstruction process. Living Buddha Hameur, who played a significant role in the re-establishment of the sangha community, was selected and invited by the municipal government of Chengde City. The current abbot, Mergentu, came on board by authorisation of the Hebei Buddhist Institute, rather different from the former mechanism of choosing a Khenpo. The Buddhist ritual instruments and Tripitak in Puning Temple were brought in through Living Buddha Hameur's religious relations established during his education experience. Puning Temple acquired a high level of independence in education. The former systematic method was stopped though monks were continuously sent to Gelug temples in Beijing, Gansu, Qinghai and Tibet to be educated. The education method was rather lax then, without a complete institution to support and monitor the education of Buddhists. Lamas of Tibetan Buddhism today focus on fulfilling personal practice and pilgrimage instead of transmitting religious knowledge from the temple.

The political affairs and management of Puning Temple are the responsibilities of the Puning Temple Administration Department, which is subordinate to the local Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs. The recovery of the temple's property, building repairs and development of tourism were organised by the department and bureau during the reconstruction. The state, through the bureau, invested large sums of money for the reconstruction, and at the same time, governed the religious activities of sangha as well as Buddhists' ideology with rigorous control. Unlike in the Qing Dynasty period when monks were supported by funding from the Qing government's Lifanyuan and Neiwufu, and were remunerated according to rank, monks today are paid in principle by the bureau under the precondition that the temple must develop tourism in order to maintain itself as well as pay tax. To some extent, this is quite similar to the management system of imperial temples during the Qing Dynasty, i.e., a temple should be responsible for its self-support. The basis of this policy is that the original institutional distinctions between sangha organisations and Tibetan Buddhist temples had been removed. The system of "imperial temple" as a branch of a religious organisation gradually collapsed after the end of Qing rule and in its place was the organisational model of an independent temple administered by the Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs.

To separate religion from politics, the basic institutional structure of the Lama Office from the Qing Dynasty has been preserved during the temple reconstruction and it also became the institutional basis for almost all of the Tibetan Buddhism temples in the country, while the economic management model of the non-imperial temples in the Qing Dynasty became the core of today's economic management in temples. Elements of institutional history have been reassembled to meet the needs of state construction. Both historical cleavage and constancy were being distorted in the process of reconstruction. The constancy more evident in Puning Temple is not by sheer fortuitousness but attributable to the fact that the management system of the Lama Office, together with Yonghegong Lamasery and some other imperial temples, have put in historical records that it has become the institutional basis of religious revival in ethnic areas in the 1980s.

The historical cleavage in Puning Temple is due mainly to the fact that the religious organisations and political system it once belonged to have died out. Particularly after the gradual languishing of other temples of Waibamiao, Puning Temple stood out as a lonely survivor, looking back in emotional turmoil. However, the entanglement and confusion were rather difficult to detect solely through observation over a short period of time. James Hevia made two mistakes on this point. For one thing, he acknowledged that Chengde made a suitable candidate for independent, unbiased observation and survey, without noticing that religion in Chengde was affiliated to a part of a religious organisation branch like the Lama Office, which was a necessary basis for judging the relationship between the present and the past. For another, attention was focused narrowly on the temples without taking into account the lamas in residence and the administration by the Cultural Relics Department. Therefore, the full picture is lost when the issue of religious revival in Chengde is examined without considering the essential factors. What Hevia perceived of those temples were presentations of Tibetan origin. He did not notice or realise that the sangha involved in religious revival was composed mainly of Mongolians. In Chengde, the Cultural Relics Department, on the one hand, frames the issue centring on the political relations between the Qing Dynasty and Tibet. On the other, the Cultural Relics Department frames it as the religious issue concerned with Mongolians. The significance of Chengde as China's window on religious policy is not embodied in James Hevia's observation of the daily activities. Instead, Hevia included eventful foreign affairs such as the arrival of Dalai Lama's brother or brother-in-law, as well as domestic and overseas political figures, the meeting with Panchen Lama in Beijing, overseas performances and visits, and so on. However, these events were not observed by him. Also, tourism can be classified into two types: the first, as described by James Hevia, is concerned with the presentation of the relations between the Qing Dynasty and Tibet, and is developed for the leisure economy and controlled by the Cultural Relics Department. The second is based on the investigation by prominent figures of today's China and Mongolia and religion of Mongolians, and is developed for self-support and controlled by the Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs.

Perhaps, only by returning to the historical development of the relations between religion and politics in temples after analysing the methods of division and management of Tibetan Buddhist organisations in the Qing Dynasty can we truly picture history as a wool ball, which is analogous to the state of being constantly drawn apart and spun together, resulting in an intertwinement of struggle between constancy and cleavage. Also, we can truly appreciate the strenuous efforts of both the state and sangha, and interpret what led to resentment and irreconcilable differences between both parties. This will lead to a better understanding of the political and religious underpinnings of the reconstruction process at Puning Temple, unfolding various reflections from historical and anthropological perspectives.

(1) James L. Hevia, "Chengde Today", in New Qing Imperial History: The Making of Inner Asian Empire at Qing Chengde, ed. James A. Millward, Ruth W. Dunnell, Mark C. Elliott and Philippe Foret (New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004), pp. 209-15.

(2) Hevia, "Chengde Today", p. 215.

(3) The data were provided in November 2009 by the ex-secretary general of the Buddhist association called Buyandalai.

(4) Interview conducted with Buyandalai, 24 Nov. 2009.

(5) Ibid.

(6) Ibid.

(7) Ibid.

(8) Chengde Archives, 73-1-15, "Chengdeshi minzushiwu weiyuanhui guanyu Puningsi kaifang zongjiao-huodong he jiaojie de yijian" (The Ethnic Affairs Commission of Chengde Indicated its Opinion on Puning Temple's Taking the Property from Other Units and Holding Religious Events).

(9) The recruitment criteria, as well as the redundancy and remuneration details, are not discussed in this article.

(10) Chengde Archives, 73-1-24, "Guanyu Puningsi kaifang zongjiao huodong qingkuang de huibao" (The Report on the Status of Puning Temple's Opening-Up of Religious Events).

(11) Chengde Archives, 73-1-15.

(12) Chengde Archives, 73-1-24.

(13) Chengde Archives, 73-2-18, "Zhaoshou lama tiaojian ji banfa" (The Conditions and Methods of Recruiting New Lamas).

(14) Ibid.

(15) Chengde Archives, 73-Yongjiu (Forever)-32, "Guanche dang de zongjiao zhengce, qieshi ba Puningsi guanhao" (Managing Puning Temple Well According to the Policies of the CPC).

(16) Chengde Archives, 73-Yongjiu (Forever)-29, "Guanyu jiejue Puningsi sengfang he fa, gongqi wenti de jinji baogao" (An Urgent Report on the Problem of Lamas' Housing and Ritual Implements).

(17) Chengde Archives, 73-Yongjiu (Forever)-32.

(18) Ibid.

(19) Chengde Archives, 73-5-58, "Guanyu Puningsi foyuedui fu feilvbin jinxing foyue yishu jiaoliu de qingshi" (Invitation to go to the Philippines to Perform Buddhist Music).

(20) Chengde Archives, 73-Yongjiu (Forever)-50, "Guanyu Puningsi gongzuo qingkuang de huibao" (Report about the Work of Puning Temple).

(21) Chengde Archives, 73-Yongjiu (Forever)-46, "Chengdeshi minzu shiwuweiyuanhui guanyu Puningsi shixing lama guanmiao de qingshi" (Referendum about Lamas Managing Puning Temple from Chengde Ethnic Affairs Commission).

(22) Ibid.

(23) Chengde Archives, 73-Quanzong (Genaral)-43, "Chengdeshi minwei guanyu shangjiao Puningsi menpiao shouru ticheng bili de baogao" (Report from the Chengde Ethnic Affairs Commission on the Turning-In Proportion of the Ticket Income of Puning Temple).

(24) Chengde Archives, 73-5-41, "Chengdeshi caizhengju guanyu xiada yijiujiusinian menpiao shouru renwu de tongzhi" (Information from Chengde Treasury Bureau about the Task of Tickets Income in 1994).

(25) Ibid.

(26) Jinliang, eds., Yonghegong zhilue (The Brief History of Yonghegong Lamasery) (Beijing: China Tibetology Press, 1994).

Zhang Yahui ( is Assistant Professor in the School of Ethnology and Sociology at Minzu University of China in Beijing. He received his PhD in Anthropology from Peking University. His research interests include religions of the Manchu, Mongolians and Tibetans of the Qing Dynasty, the social history of water in northern China and the ethnographic study of Shamanism.
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Title Annotation:PART ONE: Special Issue on the Religious Revival of Ethnic China
Author:Zhang, Yahui
Publication:China: An International Journal
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Aug 1, 2013
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