Friday, May 19, 2017

Now Found: Tibetan Works of the Banished Song Emperor

Gongdi Emperor (1271-1323 CE).  From Wikicommons

Every now and then in the Tibeto-logical world something pops up that is truly astounding. For the life of me, I never ever expected to see a collection of works of this particularly fascinating individual of the late 13th century. He has recently been written about by Leonard van der Kuijp of Harvard University, and a peripatetic and precocious young scholar named Hua Kaiqi. Paul Pelliot’s treatment is an old but still good one. The Chinese name of the person in question is, in the old Romanization Chao Hsien, and in the new, Zhao Xian. As ruler, a position he held very briefly, he was called the Gongdi Emperor. He belonged to what is called the Southern Song Dynasty. The Mongols had already conquered the north. 

He ruled as an infant, obviously not without assistance, very briefly from 1274 to 1276. From that time onward he was little more than a captive of the Mongol rulers. In 1288 Khubilai Khan had him sent to Sakya in southern Tibet where he stayed in exile, a quite evidently involuntary exile, for almost all his life. He had taken on monastic robes even before moving to Sakya. In what would turn out to be very nearly his last days the Mongols recalled him from Tibet, and on his way back, in the Hexi Corridor area, he lost his life. My guess is the Mongols were concerned he could serve as a figurehead for an anti-Mongol rebellion and therefore preferred to have him securely out of the way. The Wiki article, which I am in no position to contradict, says he was forced to commit suicide on account of his poetry causing the Mongol ruler Yinzong displeasure.

Some four years ago when I was fortunate to hear Kaiqi’s lecture on the subject, I thought I could find out more about his life in Tibetan sources, but came up with disappointingly little. Well, his name does appear several times in colophons of Tibetan canonical texts as either translator or reviser of earlier translations, and there are Sakya histories that mention him briefly. We know he kept up his knowledge of Chinese in Tibet, since his translation activities were all based on Chinese.  

You can scarcely imagine my surprise to suddenly find out that he authored books in Tibetan during his 35-year-long exile in Tibet. Who knew? Nobody as far as I know. It happened just this morning, as I was looking at some texts newly uploaded by the recently renamed TBRC. Besides the writer’s name given as Chos-kyi-rin-chen, there was no further clue who the author was, and no cataloging of the content. I had no idea who he was when I started looking to see what was there and ran across what looked like a surprisingly long work of praise devoted to the famous Phagspa Lama. My interest piqued, I went on to look for the title in TBRC to see if it might appear elsewhere in their catalog (and thinking to perhaps in the process further identify the author). But no, the Phagspa praise seemed to be unique. It was only when I started checking my reference works to determine which Chos-kyi-rin-chen the author might possibly be that I started putting 2 and 2 together.  

Now I do not expect that the political scientists will be happy at what they find in his compositions, quite the contrary, although students of Tibetan Buddhism will find them fascinating without a doubt. Most of them, except nos. 2-5 with their lineage prayers and praises to the famed Sakya teachers Drakpa Gyaltsen and Phagspa, are on those difficult -to-comprehend and forbiddingly secret Vajrayâna practices of guruyoga (nos. 1 & 6), initiation and sâdhana. For today it isn’t so much that they are fascinating for what is written in them, but that they exist at all.

§   §   §

Here is a list of the titles for those who find it interesting:

1. Bla ma'i rnal 'byor dngos grub kun gyi 'byung gnas.  5 fols. (running nos. 1-5).

2. Rje btsun grags pa rgyal mtshan la rnam thar gyi sgo nas bstod pa.  3 fols. (running nos. 6-8). In the colophon the author gives his name as simply Byams-pa (but see the colophon of no. 3 that follows, where we see that Byams-pa was part of his name). It was composed at "Dpal-'byor-bkra-shis-'jom-pa'i Bla-brang.

3. 'Phags pa rin po che la bstod pa. 9 fols. (running nos. 9-17),  Author's name given on final folio as Dge-slong Byams-pa Chos-kyi-rin-chen, scribe: Dge-bshes Smon-lam-'phel. This actually contains several prayers, and not just one as the front title would seem to indicate.

4. Bcom ldan 'das 'jam dpal khros pa'i bla ma brgyud pa la gsol ba 'debs pa sa lam ngo sprod ma byon.  6 fols. (running nos. 19-23).  Seems to include and continue a lineage prayer composed by 'Phags pa.  Colophon on final folio gives author as Shâkya'i Dge-slong Byams-pa Chos-kyi-rin-chen, the scribe being Nam-mkha'-chos-dar.

5. A 2- fol. text with no front title, containing lineage prayers and a praise to Rje btsun Rnal 'byor ma. The author in the colophon on the final folio refers to himself by an interesting expression "ya pho ba'i lag tu shor ba'i spre'u lta bu'i rnal 'byor pa."  I like to try and translate this as "Composed by a yogi who is like a monkey that fell into the hands of men of distinction."  The translation of ya-pho-ba as 'men of distinction' is the problematic bit here. The rest is very clear.

6. Bla ma'i rnal 'byor dbang bzhi gdan thog cig ma.  1 fols. (running no. 26).  It says it was composed in the Lu-phu Chos-kyi Pho-brang, the scribe being Shâkya'i Dge-slong Nam-mkha'-chos-dar.

7. Dpal kye'i rdo rje'i lam dus kyi dbang gi chu bo ma nub par len pa'i man ngag dri med kyi byin brlabs.  10 fols. (running nos. 27-36).  Author gives his name as Shâkya'i Dge-slong Byams-pa Chos-kyi-rin-chen, place of writing Bsam-rdzong Chos-sde'i Dben-khang Skyid-phug.

8. Dbang gong ma gsum gyi khrid yig gi zin bris.  14 fols. (running nos. 37-52).  A note on fol. 15 verso says that two folios were lacking (in the 'mother copy'), so it appears the text is not complete, and it ends suddenly without a colophon.  TBRC has scanned separately a ms. of unidentified authorship with this same title.

9. Bcom ldan 'das dpal chen po'i bdag 'jug sku bzhi mngon du byed pa'i thabs.  28 fols. (running nos. 53-82). In penultimate folio, the author names himself as Shâkya'i Dge-slong Byams-pa Chos-kyi-rin-chen, location Se-mkhar-chung Rdo-rje'i Brag-gi Yang-rtse.  Scribe named as Dge-bshes Lha-dbang.

10. Dpal chen po'i rgyu dbang lam du bya ba ting nge 'dzin gyi dbang blang ba.  8 fols. (running nos. 83-90).  Author gives his name on final fol. as Shâkya'i Dge-slong Byams-pa Chos-kyi-rin-chen, location Bsam-rdzong Chos-sde'i Dben-khang Skyid-phug.

11. Bcom ldan 'das rdo rje 'jigs byed kyi mngon par rtogs pa'i dka' 'grel gsal stong dbyer med kyi ngo bo rgyud gsum gyi rba rlabs g.yo ba. 165 fols. (running nos. 91-255).  Author gives his name as "nus pa med kyang nus ston gyi tshul gyis Dge-slong Rig-pa-'dzin-pa Byams-pa Chos-kyi-rin-chen, location Lu-phu Chos-kyi Pho-brang. The modest expression that precedes his name appears to be saying that he is one who seems to display ability while lacking the same.

Parting clouds

§  §  §

Tips for finding sources of knowledge & a few notes:

The cursive manuscript was scanned and posted by TBRC is labelled as being the Collected Works of Grub-chen Chos-kyi-rin-chen. In case you would like to try to gain access to it, you had best know that the work number is W3CN2940.

Hua Kaiqi, entitled “Journey of Zhao Xian (1271-1323) from Chinese Emperor to Tibetan Monk under the Mongols,” a lecture delivered on Nov. 26, 2013.

Leonard W.J. van der Kuijp, The Kālacakra And the Patronage of Tibetan Buddhism by the Mongol Imperial Family, Central Eurasian Studies Lectures series no. 4, Dept. of Central Eurasian Studies, Indiana University (Bloomington 2004), p. 57.

There is an entry “Facfur” in Pelliot's Notes on Marco Polo (Paris 1963), pp. 652-661, with the relevant part beginning on p. 657. If you go here, you may be able to get to the digitized version.

Our frontispiece is the only portrait I know about right now, and what you see is a bad xerox-quality b&w photo taken at an angle of something originally in color. At the moment this was the best I could do.

The southern Sung (Song) is rarely mentioned in Tibetan histories, and when it is it’s called something like Sman-rtse or Sman-rtsi, both of them Tibetanizing spellings of the borrowed Chinese term Man-tzu, or Manzi. 

If you don’t mind the cyborg voice — and you might! — Wikiaudio has put up a Youtube on the conquest of the south here.



As it turns out, on the same day I put it up, I found out this blog has a nearly fatal flaw.  I'm going now to put up a second blog, a retraction entitled  "Not found! Those Are Not the Works of the Deposed Sung Emperor after All."


  1. I've been trying to get my hands and eyes on Wangyao's book on the subject published in Hong Kong. It's in Chinese. Meanwhile I've noticed a brief blog about the deposed Sung Emperor: It's in Tibetan.

  2. Oh, one more funny thing about that Khabdha blog entry on the deposed Sung Emperor. The author of the piece has the interesting name mi-gsal, which means Unclear. Is that a new way of saying Anonymous? The title of the piece could be translated as “The Chinese Ruler Sung Gung-ti Who Became a Great Tibetan Lotsâba/Translator.”


Please write what you think. But please think about what you write. What's not accepted here? No ads, no links to ads, no back-links to commercial pages, no libel against 3rd parties. These comments won't go up, so no need to even try. What's accepted? Everything else, even 1st- & 2nd-person libel, if you think they have it coming.

Follow me on