Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Flood that Backfired, & the Tangut Refugees

A Tangut Tangka
Below is a donor couple, the man holds an incense burner

This is hardly the first time we’ve spoken of Tanguts. You might remember we once blogged on evidence of the Tangut ties of Padampa and his spiritual descendents.* I’m walking on air these days, since an unbelievable source for the history of Tibet and the Western Xia has suddenly popped up. This is the biography of Tishirepa by his Tangut-born disciple Repakarpo. Let me assure you it is chocked full of fascinating information about the life of a court-appointed Tibetan ritual master’s activities in Tangut Land. The proud but few experts in Tangut studies will particularly crave to know everything that is in it. Part of what makes it most fascinating, its frequent first-person narration, also creates difficulties. It’s somewhat colloquial and a challenge getting used to the cadences of the syntax, a style of Tibetan we moderns are bound to find strange.** It is further complicated by being located in a somewhat alien environment that was even then disappearing from the face of the earth, person and place names were transcribed back and forth between very different languages. Here the Tibetanists require the help of Tangutists, Mongolists and Sinologists.
(*See The Tangut Connection, and for more interesting discussion see the articles of Sun Penghao listed below. **Bear in mind the text was put together by a non-native speaker of Tibetan. Tangut and Tibetan may be distantly related, but the two languages were never going to be mutually intelligible.)

We find that Tishirepa very often tells his prophetic dreams, but immediately before and after them he also narrates the events of his day matter-of-factly, in a somewhat glib manner, without a lot of descriptions or adjectives. We can’t dismiss what he says just because we might not think dreams can be taken serious as prophecies or signs as most people did believe in the past, and many in fact still do today. We didn’t have such excellent and contemporary sources on the events in Tangut Land from the Tibetan side before, but now we have something, so I’m asking you, How would it hurt you to stop complaining about the difficulties and try to overcome them?

Today I’m just going to translate one brief paragraph. That should be enough of a taste of it to awaken somebody’s appetite to study the entire text in detail, since I’m not about to do it.

Repakarpo’s biography of Tishirepa, at page 304:  

Then on the first day of the third moon the fortress was surrounded by water, which made people anxious. In the evening of 17th day of the 7th moon prior to this I had dreamed it was surrounded by water, but then I dreamed that things turned out well.  But then in the evening of the 15th day the water supply of the fortress overflowed. Just as [the fortress] was about to be breached (?), a way was shown to stop the water, so it did not destroy the fort from within. Later that evening Tsangsoba and I together made tormas and hurled them into the water. Then on midnight of the 6th day the water spilled outward, and much of the Mongol encampment was swept away. On the 14th they made a gift of the king's own daughter and held negotiations. They went back to their own country. On the 17th the Tibetan lama teachers requested a timeout (?tshe-ka) and went each to his own monastery. I, too, went to the Gzing-gha Monastery of Ling-chu.* In those times I had one evening a dream in which the Precious Taglungthangpa was giving teachings and said, “The inhabitant of the center has a lotus ground.”
(*Ling-cu or Ling-chu has sometimes been taken as a Tibetan form of the name of the city of Liangzhou, but Sperling believes it transcribes the name of a different Tangut city, Lingzhou. For its location see this Wiki page. It is just over the river from Yinchuan, so this means Tishirepa didn't go far away.)

Here is the Tibetan text in Wylie transcription:

de nas zla ba gsum pa'i tshes gcig la mkhar chus bskor / blo ma bde bar byung / sngar zla ba bdun pa'i tshes bcu bdun gyi nub mo chus bskor ba rmis nas / de nas bde bar byung bar rmis / de nas tshes bco lnga'i nub mo mkhar gyi chu khung nang du brdol bas / chod la khad du yod pa'i dus su chu 'gog pa'i thabs bstan pas chu khog nas mkhar ma zhig / phyir de dgong mo rtsang so ba dang nged gnyis kyis / gtor ma byas nas chu la 'phangs pas / tshes drug gi nam phyed na chu phyir bo nas / hor gyi dmag ra mang po phyags / tshes bcu bzhi la rgyal po'i bu mo byin nas 'dum byas / khong rang gi yul du phyir song / tshes bcu bdun la bod kyi bla ma dge ba'i bshes gnyen rnams / tshe ka zhus nas rang rang so so'i dgon par song / nged kyang ling chu'i gzing gha dgon du song nas / de'i dus su nub cig rmi lam du rin po che stag lung thang pas / dbus pa padmo'i sa gzhi yod // ces bya ba'i chos bstan gsungs.

The mysterious words received in a dream about the lotus ground I understand to be prophetic in the sense of saying that the “center” (Central Tibet) would be the safer option. Overall, this seems to be the same as the story from Chinese language sources, but our eye-witness Tishirepa saw things differently. According to him, the city’s own water source welled up and overflowed — nothing here about the river water being diverted through Mongol dam and dike building. Yet we are left to wonder why to begin with water surrounded the city. When the water later spilled out of the city to flood the Mongol camp we are meant to understand that this was due to a torma ritual performed by the Tibetans. Admittedly there are problems in the reading of the passage that may allow it to be read differently, and bluntly stated, I have probably made mistakes. But this is the kind of material historians need to do their job, and I think they ought to go to work on it.

Tishirepa says the Mongols “went back to their own country.” This is an overly hopeful statement. I think what really happened is they retreated to higher ground to regroup and rethink strategy. The Mongols kept coming back until 1226 when they finally defeated the Tanguts. We know from their later campaigns in other parts of the world that the Mongols did not in the least appreciate it when people refused to give in to their awesome military power, and they simply could not stand the effort invested in lengthy siege warfare, so in the end they punished and made examples of the resisters by slaughtering them one and all. The only Tangut survivors fled to Tibet and Tibet's eastern borderlands. Tishirepa and his disciple Repakarpo were among them. That’s why they could tell the story of the tragic events they witnessed firsthand.

At the Tangut Royal Tombs. I believe these eerily unearthly monumental figures are protectors.
Photo by Andrew West - see this blog entry at Babelstone CC BY-SA 3.0

Read these today or tomorrow:

Wikipedia has what turns out to be a very creditable page called "Mongol Conquest of Western Xia."
“One of their first endeavors at siege warfare, the Mongols lacked the proper equipment and experience to take the city. They arrived at the city in May, but by October were still unsuccessful at breaking through. Genghis attempted to flood the capital by diverting the river and its network of irrigation canals into the city, and by January 1210 the walls of Yinchuan were nearly breached. However, the dike used to divert the river broke, and the ensuing flood wiped out the Mongol camp, forcing the Mongols to take higher ground.”

Ruth Dunnell, “Translating History from Tangut Buddhist Texts,” Asia Major, third series, vol. 22, part 1 (2009), pp. 41-78. There is quite a lot of discussion here about who the Dishi actually were. The same author has a number of articles on Tanguts that deserve attention.

H.H. Howorth, “The Northern Frontagers of China, Part VI: Hia or Tangut,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, new series vol. 15, no. 4 (October 1883), pp. 438-482, at p. 472:
“... after which the Mongols crossed the Yellow River and attacked Chung sing, the Calatia of Marco Polo, and now called Ning hia, which was the capital of the empire of Hia. Finding the city too stong, Chinghis tried to turn the waters of the river into the town; but the current burst the artificial banks which he had erected, and flooded his own camp so destructively that he was obliged to raise the siege. Thereupon he determined to gain his end by peaceful means, and sent an envoy into the city to invite the King to treat with him. To this the King agreed, and in token of his friendship he sent Chinghis his daughter to wife.”

Rob Linrothe, “Xia Renzong and the Patronage of Tangut Buddhist Art: The Stūpa and Usnīsavijayā Cult,” Journal of Sung-Yuan Studies, vol. 28 (1998), pp. 91-123. This essay mostly concerns a slightly earlier period, but it does demonstrate the Vajrayāna interests of the Tangut royalty.

H. Desmond Martin, “The Mongol Wars with Hsi-hsia (1205-27),” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1942), pp. 195-228, with maps. It has this to say, on p. 201, about the flooding incident of 1210, entirely based on Chinese language sources:

“The enemy at his gates, Li An-chuan took personal command and directed the defence with such energy that by the end of October the Mongols had not gained a single foothold on the walls. But there then occurred a catastrophe that nearly brought the capital to its knees. Seeing that the autumnal rains had swollen the Huang Ho, Chinghiz Khan ordered the construction of a great dyke to turn the river into the city, and the waters entering Chung-hsing, took a fearful toll of life and property. 
“Faced with this predicament, Li An-ch'uan sent in November to beg the Chin for help. Many Chin ministers and high officers urged that troops be dispatched to break the leaguer, for they pointed out that the conquest of Hsi Hsia would certainly be followed by an attack upon their empire. But the new emperor Yüng-chi (1209 1213) regarded both contestants as enemies and turned a deaf ear to the Tangut cry for succour. The siege dragged on until January, 1210, when the walls of the city were on the point of collapse. Then suddenly the pent up waters of the river burst their outer dykes, and spreading over the surrounding plain, forced the Mongols to retire to higher ground.”

Adrienne Mayor, “Rivers as Weapons in Ancient War.” Learn about some historical instances of weaponized water here at “Wonders and Marvels.”

Mi-nyag Ras-pa-dkar-po (1198-1262), Bla ma rin po che 'gro ba'i mgon po ti shri ras pa'i rnam par thar pa, contained in the series entitled Lo paṇ rnam thar phyogs bsgrigs, Krung-go'i Shes-rig Dpe-skrun-khang (Beijing 2018), vol. 7, pp. 255-365. This is the biography of Tishirepa (1164-1236). Note that this volume 7 has its own distinct cover title: Lam yig phyogs bsgrigs.

Kirill Solonin, “Local Literatures: Tangut/Xixia,” Brill Encyclopedia of Buddhism, vol. 1, pp. 844-859. Especially valuable as a survey of surviving writings in Tangut including translations from other languages, and for its bibliography. Other works of the same author should have been listed here, although they haven’t been. And if there is any chance you might be contemplating learning Tangut language, try this link. And don’t be too discouraged, because as you will learn when you watch it, “Compared to Tibetan, Tangut is relatively easy.”  "A very simple language in fact." Well, I can never tell when he’s not joking, and this might not be an example.

Elliot Sperling, “Further Remarks Apropos of the 'Ba'-rom-pa and the Tanguts,” Acta Orientalia Hungarica, vol. 57, no. 1 (2004), pp. 1-26. I believe this article is the only one to take notice of the Tibetan-language flooding account (at pp. 17-20). Of course this mid-15th century history translated by Elliot, the Lho rong chos 'byung, even if it did made direct use of our 13th-century biography, is nonetheless a secondary source compared to the Repakarpo. I only wish Elliot could still be around to hear the news , he would have been so excited.  Although the Lho rong chos 'byung preserves the first-person nature of the account, it abbreviates and leaves out quite a lot, as you can see in Elliot's translation of it:
“...I had a dream that the Xia citadel was surrounded by Mongols. In the first month of the Horse Year [January 17-February 25, 1210] the Mongols surrounded the Xia citadel. Shri Phug-pa, Rtsang-po-pa and I, we three, took steps to repulse the troops. On the 1st day of the third month [March 27, 1210] the citadel was surrounded by water. We did a gtor-ma and on the 6th [April 1, 1210] at midnight the water fell back and many Mongol troops were swept away. On the 14th [April 9, 1210], using the king's daughter, peace was made...”
— Elliot besides his brilliance dealing with languages both old and new had a famously acute sense of humor, and I'm sure he felt no need to point out that the backwash took place on April Fools Day.

Elliot Sperling, “Rtsa-mi Lo-tsâ-ba Sangs-rgyas Grags-pa and the Tangut Background to Early Mongol-Tibetan Relations,” contained in: Per Kvaerne, ed., Tibetan Studies, The Institute for Comparative Research in Human Culture (Oslo 1994), pp. 801-825.

Elliot Sperling, “The Szechwan-Tibet Frontier in the Fifteenth Century,” Ming Studies, no. 26 (Fall 1988) 37-55. This is important for evidence of Tangut migration and eventual integration into the Tibetan population.  In Tibetan, the name for both the original Tanguts and their later descendants is Mi-nyag (མི་ཉག).

Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt, “The Tangut Royal Tombs near Yinchuan,” Muqarnas, vol. 10 (1993), pp. 369-381.

Shen Weirong, “A Preliminary Investigation into the Tangut Background of the Mongol Adoption of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism,” contained in: Orna Almogi, ed., Contributions to Tibetan Buddhist Literature, International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies (Halle 2008), pp. 315-350.  This article emphasizes significant Sakya connections with the Tangut court. Our source is all about the Kagyü connections, and during the time of Tishirepa the awareness of different subschools of the Kagyü was only just getting started. His biography has important information about a struggle between the Taglung and Drikung sub-schools that started in around 1209 in an argument about books that escalated. After his return to Tibet from Tangut land Tishirepa tried to mediate peace between the two sides.

Sun Penghao, “Four Texts Related to Pha dam pa sangs rgyas in the Chinese Translation of the Tangut Kingdom of Xia,” contained in: Shen Weirong, ed., History through Textual Criticism (Beijing 2012), pp. 85-97.

Sun Penghao, “Pha-dam-pa Sangs-rgyas in Tangut Xia: Notes on Khara-khoto Chinese Manuscript TK329,” contained in: Tsuguhito Takeuchi, et al., eds., Current Issues and Progress in Tibetan Studies, Research Institute of Foreign Studies (Kobe 2013), pp. 505-521.

Andrew West, Western Xia Tombs Revisited. Totally worth visiting.

Assignment: Go study Tangut art at the site of the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.  Notice especially this one that is identified as a Dishi or Guoshi.

It could just be me, but I’ve been there and found it so awesomely hideous it had best be dismantled. You’ll have to go to the link if you want to see it since I won’t put any photo of it here on my blog:

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A note on ethnonymsTibetans always call the Tangut country and nation and language by the name Mi-nyag (spelling variant: Me-nyag). The Tanguts called themselves something like "Mi-nia," and their state the "Great Xia" (Chinese sources call them Xixia, or Western Xia, in an effort to disambiguate which Xia is meant). This "Xia" (once upon a time not so long ago transcribed as "Hsia") is represented in Tibetan sources as 'Ga' or Gha (འགའ་ or གྷ་), and later on as Sga and sometimes Rga (སྒ་ and རྒ་). There were a number of famous persons in later Tibetan history who belonged to this clan called Sga, including teachers of both Sakya and Bön schools, and I believe they are all supposed to be descendants of Tangut families who escaped the Mongols and emigrated to Tibet.  I'm sure you know of it, but I won’t go into the problem of historical [mis]usages of the ethnonym "Tangut," a category where even Tibetans have sometimes found themselves placed.

—  Oh, and I think the right name of the other Dishi (in the present text it is sometimes spelled De-zhi, and that word is the same as the Ti-shi or Ti-shri in Tishirepa; the "repa" means cotton-clad, just like in Milarepa), or Imperial Preceptor, had the name Tsangsoba, and not Tsangpopa. The 'p' and 's' are close enough to be confused in Tibetan cursive script. To my mind, he was likely from a place called Tsangso (Gtsang-so) in La-stod region rather than from the Tsangpo (Gtsang-po) River. 

I'm not too sure, but this is supposed to be a wall painting of an imperial preceptor
of the Tanguts depicted in Yulin Cave no. 29. 
If there were five points in his hat, I'd say it could be Tishirepa.

* * *

This blog I solemnly dedicate to the memory of Elliot Sperling (1951-2017). There is so much more he was meant to do in this world.

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