Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mongolia | Bogd Khan and Mongolian Independence

Whatever his Personal Peccadilloes, for almost a decade the Bogd Gegeen had persistently pursued the cause of Mongolian independence. As early as 1894 the Bogd Gegeen had sent a secret letter to St. Petersburg via one of his chief disciples, a man named Badamdorj, asking whether the Russian government would provide arms and other material aid in the event Mongolia staged an uprising against Manchu rule and established an independence state. He also queried whether Russia would send troops to assist in such an endeavor in the event they were needed. The Bogd Gegeen had his sights set high at the time, envisioned a new Pan-Mongolian state encompassing much of the old original Mongolian homeland. If the uprising succeeded, he wondered in his letter, “May we be allowed to rule the whole of the ancient Mongol territory, making the White Wall [Great Wall] stand as the frontier of Mongol territory?“ The Russians took the letter under advisement, agreeing to the Bogd’s proposals in theory but suggesting that the time was not yet right for an armed uprising. Better to wait until an obvious pretext or opportunity arose before taking any overt action, officials in St. Petersburg cautioned.

The pretext appeared to present itself in late 1908. On Nov. 8 the ineffectual thirty-seven year-old Qing emperor Guangxu died. He had suffered from a nervous condition so severe that loud noises made him ejaculate, and since 1898 he had been under house arrest by order of the Empress Dowager Cixi, his mother by adoption, who ruled in his stead. On the very next day the Dragon Lady Cixi, who had overseen the Qing Dynasty either as regent or power-behind-the-throne for forty-seven years, also transmigrated. The most lurid rumors surrounded the deaths. According to one Cixi had Guangxu strangled by her chief eunuch because she had a presentiment of her own death and did not want him to outlive her. Thus over the years she been accused of killing her first husband, her own son, her co-regent the Empress Cian, assorted by-standers, and now Guangxu, her adopted son. According to yet another rumor Cixi herself had been gruesomely dispatched by a bullet in the vagina by warlord Yuan Shikai. Most of these rumors have been dismissed by modern historians, but the very fact that that were so widely believed at the time demonstrates the Grand Guignol atmosphere which surrounded the the final days of the Qing Dynasty. The twelfth emperor of the Qing, little two-year old Pu Yi, was duly installed on the Dragon Throne on December 2, 1908, but by then hardly anyone believed the dynasty could survive.

In 1909 the Bogd Gegeen, sensing which way the wind was blowing in Qing China, issued the following decree to the Mongolian princes:
Now is the time to make firm our Mongol faith and church, to protect our territory and homeland; and to decide a policy for dwelling in long-lasting peace and happiness. Merely to sit still and let slip this opportunity would mean, far from dwelling in peace and happiness, that we should look upon all kinds of suffering and become unable to rule over our own land and territory . . . Let all of you lamas, princes, and officials consider well your own devices and promptly let me hear what each of you has thought and considered. It will not do for you to sit indifferent, obstructing the important affairs of all the pitiful Mongols who honor and respect your every word and humbly look up to you.
As he probably expected, his noble advisors threw the matter back into his lap. “What do we know? Whatever the Bogd thinks right and clearly instructs from on high and vouchsafes to us, that we shall duly carry out as a command to the best of our endeavor,” was their reply. The Bogd Gegeen promised them that at the following year’s Danshug (ceremonial festival) in Örgöö he would announce his plan of action for Mongolian independence. In the summer of 1910 all the great princes of the four aimags again assembled in Örgöö and asked for the Bogd’s decision. “The secrets of Heaven may not be revealed in advance,” he informed them, “but if all of you could confirm without fail that you would duly obey and fulfill whatever I say, I can make a policy.” This they did, presenting the Bogd with a document with all of their seals on it promising to take whatever course of action he suggested.

In July of 1911 the Mongolian aristocracy again assembled in Örgöö to make their annual offerings to the Bogd Gegeen. These out-of-town visitors usually camped just south of the Bogd’s palaces on the Tuul RIver, near the base of a hill which for this reason became known as Zaisan Tolgoi (Nobleman’s Hill). The issue of Mongolian independence was now at the fore. In a meeting with the Bogd Gegeen they asked, “Supposing the Ch’ing [Manchus] come with a punitive expedition,there are in Mongolia no arms and we have no military training or equipment.What shall we do?” The Bogd replied “If you have the will to set up a state and give our Mongolia peace and security, I will be responsible for making the Manchu troops go back.”
Zaisan Tolgoi, where the Mongol noblemen made offerings
Thus assured, they decided to at last declare the independence of Mongolia and make the Bogd Gegeen both the temporal and spiritual ruler of the new sovereign state. The Bogd also agreed to dispatch a three-man delegation to St. Peterburg to inform the Russians of their decision and to seek aid in the form of cash and weapons. When the Qing amban in Örgöö, a man named Sandoo, learned that the delegation had already left the city he sent twenty soldiers north to the border with Russia to intercept and arrest the delegates before the left Mongolia. They arrived too late, however, and the delegation managed to slip across the border. According to one report, Sandoo, “was almost out of his mind with anger” when he was eventually informed that the delegation had managed to reach St. Petersburg. The delegation arrived back in Örgöö with the news that the Russians were again advising caution, but had tentatively agreed to provide 15,000 rifles and 7.5 million rounds of ammunition in the event armed conflict broke out with the Manchus. Sandoo then sent a missive to the Bogd Gegeen threatening the death penalty for anyone seeking aid against the Qing from foreign powers. The Bogd Gegeen, no doubt aware that Sandoo did not have the wherewithal to carry out these threats, simply ignored the Qing amban.

Then came the October 10 Wushang Uprising in the Chinese city of Wuhan, after which dissident army officers proposed a new provisional government to be headed by Sun-Yat-sen. The Qing Dynasty, although not yet ruled dead, was in its death throes. Mongolia independence had already been declared and now the time had come to assert it. On the evening of November 18, 1911, the Bogd Gegeen sent a four man delegation to the office of Sandoo with a decree which read, “Sandoo amban and his officials and troops are ordered to leave the confines of Mongolia within three days. In the case of failure, troops will be utilized to drive them out . . .”A Russian living in Örgöö at the time reported that “when they read to the amban the decree of the gegeen, the amban was startled and fell back onto a chair and could not say anything for a long time.” It was no doubt hard for him to believe that 220 years of Qing rule in Mongolia was over.

Sandoo (1876–192?), the last Qing Amban in Öröö, was in fact part Mongolian, although he had been born, brought up, and educated in China. He had arrived in Örgöö to serve as amban on February or March of 1910. He was not an uncultured individual. He eventually wrote at least seven volumes of poetry and took a deep interest in the archeology and history of Mongolia. While in Mongolia he visited the stele of the Khökh Turk ruler Kultegin (685–731) in what is now Arkhangai Aimag. He apparently erected some kind of temple to commemorate the stele and etched a short inscription on its back side. He also visited the stele of Kultegin’s advisor Tonyukuk near the current day town of Nailakh, east of Ulaan Baatar, and made copies of the inscriptions, which he sent back to Beijing for the benefit of interested scholars.

His literary and scholarly interests could not, however, protect him from the rising anti-Manchu sentiments in Örgöô. Not long after his arrival in the city he attempted to intercede when a mob of Mongolian lamas attacked and looted the premises of the Chinese trading company Da I-Yu. The lamas pelted him with stones and he barely escaped with his life.

After receiving the Bogd Gegeen’s November 18 decree Sandoo dithered for twelve days, unwilling to abandon his post but bereft of support from Beijing. On November 30 a still more sternly worded ultimatum was handed to him. Scared out of his wits, Sandoo and attendant officials sought protection in the Russian Consulate. Most of the soldiers in the one hundred-man Qing garrison remaining in the city deserted. On December 4 Sandoo and his entourage, protected by an escort of Russian Cossacks, traveled north to Khyakhta and crossed the border into Russia. In Verkhneudinsk (now Ulaan-Ude) they caught a train back to Beijing.

Local bards were never slow in commenting on current affairs in Mongolia, and one immediately composed a song about the Amban’s expulsion which was then bawled out with glee in the city’s marketplaces and streets:
The stinky lanterns that twinkled every evening
Are burnt out
Where is gone the notorious amban
Who commanded the masses?
The lanterns refer to the street lights that Sandoo had introduced into Örgöö. Apparently they burned a smelly oil. Like the Örgöö amban himself they soon disappeared.

Nepal | Animal Sacrifices | Virtual Hugs

Glad to see that Tenpa at Tibetan Digital Altar and V. D. Konchug Norbu at Bitterroot Badger’s Bozeman Buddhist Blog have given each other a virtual hug by both calling attention to the Appalling Animal Sacrifices taking place in Nepal today and tomorrow. It will be remembered that when Sonam Gyatso, the Third Lama, Converted the Mongolian Altan Khan to Buddhism one of the first things he did was ban any more animal or human sacrifices by the Mongols:
Sonam Gyatso then delivered a discourse to the assembled throng. He implored them to give up the practice of human and animal sacrifices which so often accompanied the death of a important Mongol (Chingis Khan's own son Ögedai reportedly had forty "moon-faced virgins" and numerous horses and other livestock sacrificed in honor of his father's memory) and told them to destroy their ongghot, the shamanic idols which many Mongolians kept in their homes and worshipped. Instead of blood sacrifices he suggested that the Mongols offer part of the deceased possessions to temples and monasteries and offer prayers to the deceased. He also implored the Mongols not to conduct bloody raids on their neighbors, including the Chinese, the Tibetans, and other Mongol tribes, and instead try to live in peaceful coexistence with their neighbors. He also suggested they make prayers and conduct other religious practices on the days of the new, half, and full moons. Finally he taught them a meditation on Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, and the accompanying six-syllable mantra Om Mani Padme Hum.