Monk Officials of Gling-Tshang

Under the rule of Ming Ch’eng-tsu, commonly referred to as the Yongle emperor, interest and diplomatic relations between China and the Gling-Tshang and Gon-gyo regions of Tibet began and developed. Although both regions, beyond the Szechwan frontier, were initially important, the former eventually took precedence and its leader was allowed to be dubbed wang, translated as king. The two monks in Gling-Tshang and Gon-gyo were the only two monks dubbed wang outside of central Tibet.

A monk from the Gling-Tshang region named Chos-dpal-rgyal-mtshan served as the Chinese envoy’s contact in the Gling Tshang region. He was bestowed with the title on April 20, 1407, coincidentally the same day of the visit of the Fifth Karma-pa to the Chinese Ming court. The emperor’s interest in Chos-dpal-rgyal-mtshan remained purely secular. Interested in opening up passages between China and Tibet, the Ming court focused on trade and, in the beginning, its need to obtain foreign horses. In 1456 or 1457, tribute was set at once every three years. Finally in 1482/1483 officials in the Ministry of Rites tried to streamline the ritual of tribute and mandated that tribute also include envoys limited to 150 per mission.

Sometimes known as the Tsan-shan wang (“prince who assists virtue”), the monk received a gift of letter patent, robes and damask brocades from the Yongle emperor’s envoy on March 31, 1405. The entry recording the gifts was the first to mention him by name. A similar gift was made to Od-zer-nam-mkha in the Gon-gyo region.

The next entry in the Ming shih-lu on Apil 20, 1407 records the emperor’s demand that both monks cooperate to “reestablish relay stations, so as to allow the passage of envoys of the western Regions.” At the same time, the Chinese court nominated a number of local leaders to military positions.

Military positions are also an indication of how dangerous the routes between Beijing and Tibet could be. One instance had a Ming envoy attacked at a relay station in Gling-tshang, which indicated the need for increased local cooperation.

  • Elliot Sperling. “Ming Ch’eng-tsu and the Monk Officials of Gling-tshang and Gon-gyo,” in Lawrence Epstein and Richard F. Sherburne, eds., Reflections on Tibetan Culture: Essays in Memory of Turrell V. Wylie, Lewiston, N.Y., 1990, pp. 75-90. 16pp.

Entry by Megan H. Chan