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Forging the Golden Urn: The Qing Empire and the Politics of Reincarnation in Tibet
Published by Columbia University Press
A Qing law mandated that the reincarnations of prominent Tibetan Buddhist monks be identified by drawing lots from a golden urn. In Forging the Golden Urn, Max Oidtmann traces how a Chinese bureaucratic technology was exported to the Tibetan and Mongolian regions of the Qing empire and transformed into a ritual for authenticating reincarnations.
In 1995, the People's Republic of China resurrected a Qing-era law mandating that the reincarnations of prominent Tibetan Buddhist monks be identified by drawing lots from a golden urn. The Chinese Communist Party hoped to limit the ability of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile to independently identify reincarnations. In so doing, they elevated a long-forgotten ceremony into a controversial symbol of Chinese sovereignty in Tibet. In Forging the Golden Urn, Max Oidtmann ventures into the polyglot world of the Qing empire in search of the origins of the golden urn tradition. He seeks to understand the relationship between the Qing state and its most powerful partner in Inner Asia-the Geluk school of Tibetan Buddhism. Why did the Qianlong emperor invent the golden urn lottery in 1792? What ability did the Qing state have to alter Tibetan religious and political traditions? What did this law mean to Qing rulers, their advisors, and Tibetan Buddhists? Working with both the Manchu-language archives of the empire's colonial bureaucracy and the chronicles of Tibetan elites, Oidtmann traces how a Chinese bureaucratic technology-a lottery for assigning administrative posts-was exported to the Tibetan and Mongolian regions of the Qing empire and transformed into a ritual for identifying and authenticating reincarnations. Forging the Golden Urn sheds new light on how the empire's frontier officers grappled with matters of sovereignty, faith, and law and reveals the role that Tibetan elites played in the production of new religious traditions in the context of Qing rule.
Preface and Acknowledgments Abbreviations Introduction Act I: The Royal Regulations Act II: Shamanic Colonialism Act III: Amdowas Speaking in Code Conclusion: Paradoxes of the Urn and the Limits of Empire Chronology of Key Events List of Usages of the Golden Urn Ritual Tibetan Orthographic Equivalents Translation of the Qianlong Emperor's Discourse on Lamas Notes Bibliography Index
Max Oidtmann is assistant professor of Asian history at Georgetown University Qatar.
Reviewer: Lei Ping
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