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A 19th-Century Chinese Emperor’s Pilgrimage to a Buddhist Mountain: Jiaqing’s Pilgrimage to Mount Wutai

(The following is a post by Jeffrey Wang, Reference Specialist for the Chinese Collection, Asian Division.)

At the beginning of the Qingshui River in China’s north-central Shanxi Province, one will find the sacred site of Mount Wutai, which also goes by the name Qingliang Mountain in reference to its clear and cool climate. It is renowned as one of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains in China, along with Mount Emei in Sichuan Province, Mount Putuo in Zhejiang Province, and Mount Jiuhua in Anhui Province.

Jiaqing xun xing Wutai tu shuo” 嘉慶巡幸五臺圖説 (“Map of the Jiaqing emperor’s pilgrimage to Mount Wutai”) is a traditional Chinese map with colored illustrations, which has been digitized and made available online as part of the Chinese Rare Book Digital Collection. Produced during the Jiaqing Emperor’s reign (1796–1819) in the Qing Dynasty 1636–1912), the map details his journey from Mount Wutai to Beijing in 1811.  It consists of 15 stops from the Great Wall to the Summer Palace. The distance between the stops is given in Chinese miles (li 里), including the stop numbers, place names, and mileage marked by the side, as well as a description of its geography and history.

The title of this illustration is “Shen jia di yi zhan zi chang cheng ling zhi da jiao chang” 聖駕第一站自長城嶺至大教塲, 共三十里 [Emperor’s pilgrimage route, the first stop from Great Wall Ridge to Grand Parade Ground, total fifteen miles]. Image 3 of juan 1 in “Jiaqing xun xing Wutai tu shuo” 嘉慶巡幸五台圖說 (“Map of the Jiaqing emperor’s pilgrimage to Mount Wutai”), 1811. Chinese Rare Book Collection, Asian Division.

Due to its proximity to the capital at Beijing, Mount Wutai became a favorite pilgrimage destination for several Qing emperors. Kangxi made the pilgrimage four times in 1683, 1698, 1702, and 1710. Qianlong went a total of six times in 1746, 1750, 1761, 1781, 1786, and 1792. Preparations for Jiaqing’s tour to Mount Wutai began in 1804, some eight years before he made his single pilgrimage in 1811, which was the last imperial pilgrimage to Mount Wutai in Chinese history.

The title of this illustration is “Shen jia di yi zhan zi chang cheng ling zhi da jiao chang” 聖駕第一站自長城嶺至大教塲, 共三十里 [Emperor’s pilgrimage route, the first stop from Great Wall Ridge to Grand Parade Ground, total fifteen miles]. Image 3 of juan 1 in “Jiaqing xun xing Wutai tu shuo” 嘉慶巡幸五台圖說 (“Map of the Jiaqing emperor’s pilgrimage to Mount Wutai”), 1811. Chinese Rare Book Collection, Asian Division.

Mount Wutai had already been established as a holy mountain of Daoism, a Chinese religious tradition originating from Laozi’s natural philosophy and founded by Zhang Daoling 張道陵, (A.D. 34–156) in the Later Han period (A.D. 25–220). In the Early Han period between 202 B.C. and A.D. 8, Buddhist monks from the Indian subcontinent brought Mahayana Buddhism into China. Mount Wutai then became a Buddhist site early in Buddhism’s arrival. According to Buddhist legend, it was during the reign of Han emperor Ming (A.D. 58–75) when two eminent Indian monks, known in Chinese as Jiaye Moteng 迦葉摩騰 and Zhu Falan 竺法蘭, built a Buddhist temple on Mount Wutai dedicated to Manjusri. Manjusri (Chinese: Wenshu 文殊) is one of the four bodhisattvas, or Buddhas-to-be, in Chinese Mahayana tradition along with Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin 觀音), who represents compassion; Samantabhadra (Puxian 普賢), who represents practice; and Ksitigarbha (Dizang 地藏), who represents aspiration. One of the guardians of Shakyamuni Buddha, Manjusri represents great wisdom and is the head of the four bodhisattvas. The veneration of Manjusri developed greatly and gradually replaced the sacred position of Daoism on Mount Wutai.

The title of this illustration is “Shen jia di shi wu zhan zi huang xin zhuang zhi yuan ming yuan” 聖駕第十五站自黄新莊至圓明園, 共五十八里 [Emperor’s pilgrimage route, the fifteenth stop from Huangxin zhuang to the Summer Palace, total twenty nine miles]. Image 56 of juan 1 in “Jiaqing xun xing Wutai tu shuo” 嘉慶巡幸五台圖說 (“Map of the Jiaqing emperor’s pilgrimage to Mount Wutai”), 1811. Chinese Rare Book Collection, Asian Division.

Mount Wutai later became a religious site in Tibetan Buddhism. Phagaspa 八思巴 (1235–1280), the fifth king of the Tibetan Buddhist Sakya sect, first introduced Tibetan Buddhism to Mount Wutai in 1257. In his visit, he identified Mount Wutai’s five peaks with the Five Buddhas central to Tibetan Buddhism: Vairocana, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, and Amoghasiddhi. During the Qing period, the Qing court patronized Tibetan Buddhism to solidify its allegiances and effectively rule the region. From that time, Tibetan Buddhism had a solid foundation on Mount Wutai. This led to the construction of several temples and closer relations between Tibetan monks (lamas) in monasteries and the Qing court.

This detail from the “Map of sacred spaces on Mount Wutai” features a representation of the bodhisattva Manjusri, wielding a flaming sword while mounted on a lion and surrounded by a blue cloud. In addition to Chinese, the map contains text in Manchu, Mongolian, and Tibetan, reflecting the diversity of religious communities assembled on the mountain. “Wutai shan sheng jing quan tu” 五臺山聖境全圖 (“Map of sacred spaces on Mount Wutai”), 1846. Geography & Map Division.

Many Buddhist temples were built on famous mountains where practitioners can practice quietly. Those mountains therefore gained the reputation of being a major Buddhist pilgrimage site in China. Mount Wutai is also home to many of China’s most famous monasteries and temples, such as Nanchan Si 南襌寺, Foguang Si 佛光寺, and Tayuan Si 塔院寺, and the Tibetan Buddhist temples of Wenshu Si 文殊寺 and Zhenhai Si 鎭海寺. It is also the only Buddhist mountain in China where Mahayana Buddhist temples and Tibetan Buddhist temples coexist.

Because of its lofty status, Mount Wutai was a favorite pilgrimage site for many emperors who wished to express their respect for Buddhism and pray for peace and prosperity. From the Northern Wei period (471–499) to the Qing dynasty (1636–1912), the following nine emperors made pilgrimages: Xiaowen (467–499) of the Northern Wei dynasty (386–534); Yang (569–618) of the Sui dynasty (581–619); Taizong (939–997) of the Song dynasty (960–1279); Chengzong (1265–1307) and Yingzong (1303–1323) of the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). Emperors Kangxi, Qianlong, and Jiaqing of the Qing dynasty made a total of 16 pilgrimages to Mount Wutai.

Other 19th-century works related to Mount Wutai found in the Chinese Rare Book Collection include “Wu tai shan dao lu quan tu” 五臺山道路全圖 (“Illustrated Guide to Routes on Mount Wutai”), which is available online as part of the Chinese Rare Book Digital Collection; and “Wu tai shan lu cheng quan tu” 五臺山路程全圖 (“The complete map of Mount Wutai”).

If you have questions about any of these works, please contact the Asian Division through Ask-a-Librarian.

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