Hong Taiji (r. 1626-1643)

Hong Taiji, also known as Abahai, ascended the throne after the death of his father, Nurhaci in 1626 through strategic political manoeuvres among the Jurchen Banners. He consolidated and established the Qing dynasty in 1636 after a series of aggressive campaigns against the Mongols in Inner Asia. Hong Taiji also changed the name of the Jurchens to Manchus, as well as the dynastic name of Later Jin to that of Qing, signifying a break from their Jurchen Jin (1115AD-1134) predecessors who were contented to remain in the Northern parts of China rather than conquering the whole of China. Even though Hong Taiji had proclaimed himself as Emperor (huangdi), indicating his propensity for military expansion and conquest of China, he never saw the Manchu Banners enter Beijing because of his death in 1643.

Hong Taiji, who was part Mongol, followed in his father’s footsteps and continued the patronage of Tibetan Buddhism and set about the precedent for the consolidation of relationship among the Manchus, Tibetans and Mongols through the policy of using Tibetan Buddhism (first through Sa-skya-pa and then the dGe-lugs-pa later on in the dynasty) as a mediator It is likely that both Nurhaci and Hong Taiji did see themselves as Buddhist rulers who tied their source of legitimacy and power to Tibetan Buddhism, especially to Tantric doctrines, as a means of control over the overwhelmingly Tibetan Buddhist Mongol population in Inner Asia. This is most evident after Hong Taiji defeated the Chahar leader, Ligdan Khan; and was presented with the Mahakala statue as a form of tribute. He actively moved the Mahakala statue, a symbolic emblem of Mongol right to rule, to Mukden, in modern day Shenyang and then capital of the Manchus. The Mahakala statue, as the protector deity of the Mongols, represented the lasting patronage of the Mongol aristocracy’s to the Sa skya pa sect of Tibetan Buddhism, thus suggesting Hong Taiji’s continuation of a similar attitude towards Tibetan Buddhism. Hong Taiji initiated the building of the Mahakala Temple in 1635 and later extended the building of the complex in 1643, encircling Mukden and the Mahakala Temple within a mandala with four other temples and adjoining stupas. The project was completed in 1645, after the death of Hong Taiji. The Mahakala statue would later be moved to Beijing after the Manchus captured China and established its capital there. Hong Taiji’s appropriation of the Mahakala statue is seen as the public transfer of authority from the Mongols to the Manchus, as well as claims to the legitimacy of the cakravartin ruler.

  • Crossley, Pamela, 1999. A translucent mirror: history and identity in Qing imperial ideology. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 221-246, 262-273
  • Rawski, Evelyn, 1998. The last emperors: a social history of Qing imperial institutions. Berkeley: University of California Press. Rulership: 197-201
  • Grupper, Samuel, 1984. Manchu Patronage and Tibetan Buddhism during the First Half of the Ch'ing Dynasty: a review article. The Journal of the Tibet Society 4:47-74.
  • Elverskog, Johan, 2006. Our Great Qing: The Mongols, Buddhists and the State in Late Imperial China. Ch3-4, pp. 63-126.

Entry by ShiQi Wu, 3/20/07