Sangge /Sangko (? – 1291)

This Tibetan (Kamalok) statesman rose to power quickly from his first meeting with Pakpa to his official appointment in Qubilai Khan’s court. He was also rumored to be of Ughyur descent and little recorded history exists considering his early years. As the head of the Sino-Mongol financial empire, Sangge’s control went unchecked by the emperor and was characterized in memory by corruption, oppression and tyranny.

Fluent in Mongolian, Chinese, Ughyur, Tibetan and other languages, Sangge ascended to power mainly through his interpreting skills, which gained him favor with Pakpa. During his appointment in the Zongzhi yuan (created in 1264), Sangge enjoyed the favor and protection of the lama who in turn introduced him to Qubilai Khan. 1272 is the first year on record where Sangge is mentioned as an imperial official.

Sangge’s power climaxed in 1287, when he was appointed as chancellor of the right of the Supreme Secretariat. At the same time, he served as the head of Zongzhi yuan and another governmental body in charge of Buddhist pious works. Sangge continued his power by influencing the appointments underneath him, giving him full control of his bureaucracy.

Sangge strengthened the Mongolian military grasp over Tibet, strategically distributing troops at the center and border of the territory. This marked the first permanent occupation of Tibet by Chinese imperial troops. Soon after, Sangge focused his efforts on reorganizing the Tibetan postal service – a move that failed due to the immense pressure it exerted on residents who lived in postal districts and quickly fled. At his golden years in power, Sangge also continued to reform the country’s currency system.

In his incredibly powerful position, Sangge only needed to answer to the emperor himself, an unchecked power system that eventually led to his downfall. When the emperor was finally made aware of Sangge’s disrespectful etiquette and corruption (for example, he unsealed a box of fruit sent from the emperor as tribute), he ordered Sangge executed. After a long delay and governmental seizure of his family’s assets, Sangge was executed on Aug. 17, 1291.

  • Luciano Petech, Sang-ko, a Tibetan statesman in Yüan China. Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientarium Hungaricae 34:193-208. 1980

Entry by Megan H. Chan, 2/12/07