Xumifushou 弥福寿 (Blessings and Longevity of Sumeru)

In 1780, the 6th Panchen Lama, Blo bzangs dpal ldan ye shes (1738–80) arrived at Chengde (承德), the summer retreat complex of the Manchus, to participate in the seventieth birthday celebrations of the Qianlong emperor (r. 1736–95). As part of the celebrations, the emperor had ordered the construction of the Xumifushou Temple, which replicated Bkra shis lhun po, the seat of the Panchen Lama in Central Tibet. The birthday celebrations, and the elaborate preparations and ritualized activities that accompanied it, were based on historical precedents (as well as creative innovations) and served as displays of the emperor’s righteous rule over his Inner Asian subjects.

The practice of constructing Buddhist sites honoring political victories harked back to the Kangxi emperor (r. 1662–1723) who built the Huizong Monastery in Dolonnor for the Khalka Mongols after their surrender to the Manchus in 1691. The Qianlong emperor adopted this practice and built two more temples commemorating the conclusion of political victories: the Puning Temple (普宁寺), which was modeled after Bsam yas Monastery, in 1755 at Chengde to honor the Manchu defeat of the Dzungar Mongols, and the Putuozongchengmiao (普陀宗乘), modeled after the Potala Palace in Lhasa, in 1771 at Chengde for the combined occasions of the Empress Dowager’s eightieth birthday, Qianlong’s sixtieth birthday, and the return of the Kalmuk (or Torghut) Mongols to the Qing empire. Thus the construction of replicated Buddhist sites was instilled as an appropriate commemoration of political expansion. The act of replication, which was utilized in many different ways during the Qianlong reign, has been discussed as ritual acts where semiotic reinterpretation and alterations produced effects in experienced reality as well as permanent alterations of the significance of the original form.

The Shunzhi emperor (1644–61) established the precedent of constructing elaborate residences for visiting Tibetan prelates. In 1652, he ordered the construction of Xihuang Monastery (西黄寺) in Beijing for the visit of the Fifth Dalai Lama, Ngag dbang blo bzangs rgya mtsho (1617–82).

Thus, since the Qianlong emperor viewed his seventieth birthday as an occasion to impress upon his Inner Asian subjects the legitimacy of his rule, he drew upon these precedents to create spectacular settings for such ritual enactments. In 1778, the Qianlong emperor was overjoyed at the news that the Sixth Panchen Lama wished to be present at his birthday celebrations (likely influenced by Rol pa’i rdo rje, the senior-most lama in the imperial court and guru to Qianlong), as he was then the highest ranking prelate in Tibet and his visit would mark the second most important state visit from Tibet since the visit of the Fifth Dalai Lama. The order to construct the Xumifushou was issued on 26 January 1779, just three days after the emperor issued the official invitation to the Panchen Lama. In another letter to the Panchen Lama, dated to 18 February 1779, the emperor mentions that the Xumifushou was being built following the precedent of the Fifth Dalai Lama’s visit to Beijing.
The emperor decreed that construction was to be completed before the fourth month in 1780 to allow time for accommodating the monks and massive amounts of luggage that would arrive ahead of the Panchen Lama’s entourage. Indeed, construction was finished in the spring of 1780. The Xumifushou was built, under the close supervision of Rol pa’i rdo rje, to the east of the Putuozongcheng (Potala replica) on a mountain slope. While the façade of the complex is in the Tibetan style, the actual layout was designed like a Chinese monastic complex, on a central north-south axis. The complex consists of a main hall, called the Miaogao zhuang yan (妙高庄), Lofty and Solemn Hall, which was designed for the Panchen Lama to give teachings and use for meditation and devotions. The roof of the Panchen Lama’s residential building, the Jixiang Faxi (吉祥法喜), Auspicious Omen and Joy in the Law, as well as the roof of the main hall were gilded in copper twice by imperial command. Two smaller pavilions were located to the right and left of the main hall. The pavilion on the left was that of the Panchen Lama’s, while the pavilion on the right, the Yuzuo, or Royal Throne, was that of the Qianlong emperor, and where his throne was installed. To the rear of the complex is the Wanfa zongyuan (万法宗源), Source of Ten Thousand Dharmas, which was the dormitory of the Panchen Lama’s entourage.

Documents record that massive amounts of objects were tranferred to Xumifushou from the temples of the Forbidden City and imperial workshops of the Zaobanchu in Beijing. An inventory submitted in 1800 records that there were 21 thangkas of Buddhist images in the main hall, 84 thangkas in the Yuzuo (Qianlong’s pavilion), 5 thangkas of Amitayus and 5 thangkas of Shakyamuni on the north side of this same pavilion, 12 bronze images and two sets of glass wugong sets (an incense burner, two candlesticks, and two vases) on the alter of this pavilion, and embroidered thangkas of Lhamo and eleven-headed Avalokiteshvara that were hung in the Jixiang Faxi, where the Panchen Lama resided.

While the replica of Bkra shis lhun po at Chengde only superficially followed its original, the actual purpose of its construction was communicated by the emperor himself in the four-language stele located at the entrance to the complex. In Chinese, Manchu, Tibetan, and Mongolian, the emperor observed that the two greatest disciples of Tsong kha pa, the founder of the dGe lugs pa school, the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama occupied separate monastic seats located at great distances from each other. Under the auspices of Qing imperial birthdays, these two seats of Tibetan Buddhism were brought together side by side, in replication, at Chengde. The construction of the Xumifushou folowed the precedent set by the building of Xihuang Monastery for the Fifth Dalai Lama’s visit. Qianlong goes on to declare that beyond following precedents, all the temples at Chengde served political functions by uniting China and its frontiers into “a single family.” By using visual similiarity, analogy, and proximity, Qianlong could extol his own “nonaction” as the key to his successful rule and to radiate his merit outward for the benefit of others. Thus the replication of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries at Chengde served as a means for the emperor to re-order his empire in panoptic form in a way that legitimized his rule as a benevolent and meritorious monarch and in the language of his Inner Asian subjects.

  • Patricia Berger. 2003. Empire of Emptiness: Buddhist Art and Political Authority in Qing China. U Hawaii Press
  • Terese Tse Bartholomew. 2001. Thangkas for the Qianlong Emperor's seventieth birthday. In Cultural intersections in later Chinese Buddhism. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i.

Entry by Eveline S. Yang 4/3/07