Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
A Monastery in TimeThe Making of Mongolian Buddhism$

Caroline Humphrey and Hurelbaatar Ujeed

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780226031873

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226032061.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use (for details see http://www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: null; date: 21 June 2018

The Chorji Lama: Inheriting from the Past in a New World

The Chorji Lama: Inheriting from the Past in a New World

(p.289) Eight The Chorji Lama: Inheriting from the Past in a New World
A Monastery in Time

Caroline Humphrey

Hürelbaatar Ujeed

University of Chicago Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter looks at Mönghebatu, the Chorji Lama, and the dilemmas of inheritance. From early childhood he was singled out as an heir in at least two different ways: he was the eldest son of Sechingge, born in the noble family that had become Mergen Monastery's most important patron, and he was the 6th incarnation of the lineage of Chorji Lamas.

Keywords:   Buddhists, monks, lamas, Mergen Monastery, Mongolian Buddhism

Introduction 2002

One way the notion of tradition can be understood is through successive acts of endowing and inheriting. This chapter attempts to deepen understanding of the actor caught between irreconcilable demands from the past by conceptualizing such an actor as an heir. In moving from Sengge to Chorji, we move from the person who bequeaths to the one who inherits. Sengge had made himself into someone who had something to endow, but he had not been born into a patrimony; he did not know his father, and from his mother he received only her love of singing. Matters were quite otherwise with Mönghebatu, the Chorji Lama. From early childhood he was singled out as an heir, and furthermore in at least two different ways: he was the eldest son of Sechingge, born in the noble family that had become Mergen Monastery's most important patron, and he was the 6th incarnation of the lineage of Chorji Lamas.

Anthropology has classically addressed inheritance by examining the rights of successors in different cultures: who can inherit and what property they receive, and how this relates to the reproduction of social institutions (Goody 1973, 3–20). More recent work has pointed out that questions of inheritance reflect and generate complex (p.290) moral as well as material interests.1 As Michael Gilsenan writes, “Inheritance practices are one means of sustaining (or denying) what are regarded as proper relations between the living, and between the living and the community of the dead” (2011, 356). Along with these themes, this chapter will address the more psychological question of what it means to be an heir for a Mongolian Buddhist. In Indic-Buddhist traditions heritage is not an idea limited to material property or social status; ancient Pali usage is concerned also with being the heir to one's own deeds (karma) and the heir to a spiritual tradition. These early Buddhist ideas thus raise the question of the heir's relation to the past in a more general way, a past that not only changes from each perspective of the present,2 but also suggests that each action in the present—becoming immediately the past—should be oriented to its consequences (the future). There is thus a future for the past (Shrimali 1998, 26–30).

These ideas, so central to Buddhism, find a distant echo in the work of Derrida (2006), who reminds us that to inherit is always to shoulder a responsibility of some kind. This means that the heir's orientation toward the future is always caught up (dragged back) into the entanglements of the past. For the duty taken on stems from the will—the willing—of those whose legacy one inherits (“the injunction”). Enigmatically Derrida remarks, “One never inherits without coming to terms with some specter, and therefore with more than one. With the fault but also the injunction of more than one” (ibid, 24). The “more than one” here seems to refer to the opaqueness of any inheritance, the difficulty of knowing what the injunction really was, who and where it came from, and the need for the heir to sort out several different possible lines of action that inhabit the same legacy. Derrida's generalization can be concretized in the following question. How, in effect, should that plurality be narrowed and divided in order to make it actable by heirs (“to carry out the duty”) now, in a time different from the past? In the last chapter we referred to the lamas of Mergen filtering the possibilities of the legacy of “Mergen Gegen,” choosing in effect what to reproduce as the tradition of the monastery. Here we address the dilemmas of inheritance as they fell upon one individual, Chorji Lama.

(p.291) Derrida, alluding to Hamlet and his father's ghost, calls the necessity of coming to terms with the specter “the originary wrong, the birth wound from which he [the heir] suffers, […] an irreparable tragedy, the indefinite malediction that marks the history of the law or history as law. That “time is out of joint” is what is also attested by birth itself when it dooms someone to be the man of right and law only by becoming an inheritor, redresser of wrongs, that is, only by castigating, punishing, killing” (2006, 24–25). Now Derrida's pronouncement stems from quite different preoccupations from ours, notably the Judaic kernel of the father-son relation projected and expanded through the idea of Marxism as the heritage of a political idea that lingers on in the twentieth century. Yet Derrida's merging of the personal and the social-political is illuminating here. In the case of Mönghebatu, the current Chorji, he inherited not so much an injunction to redress one singular wrong in the past, but rather a curdled mass of disturbed and truncated legacies from several sources: those of his father, Sechingge, of his predecessor the 5th Chorji Lama, and of his great-uncle the 8th Mergen Gegen. Mönghebatu has had to choose among these—though “choose” seems somehow a word too light, too suggestive of freedom, for the decisions he has had to make. The “irreparable tragedy” in his case was that his early life during the Cultural Revolution cut him off from a Buddhist education. Born some twenty years after Sengge Lama and after the Communist Liberation of Inner Mongolia, he belonged to a different, socialist-educated, generation. In other words, not only was he heir to diverse legacies that were difficult to reconcile, but he was cut adrift from what mattered most in his monastery: the Mergen liturgy, which he never managed to master.

Incompatible demands have almost torn Mönghebatu apart as a person. His youth saw him reduced in the Cultural Revolution to a piteous “red bloodsucker”3 excluded from society as a member of a formerly privileged family and a high lama. In later years, but only after having been ground through the harsh machine of socialist punishment, he was restored to local prominence and became the master (ejen) of Mergen Monastery. Today, Chorji has a realm under his control, a certain power to exercise, the possibility of carrying out responsibilities, of redressing wrongs. Yet the world around the monastery is utterly changed from that of his youth: the reviling of religion and the stark, (p.292) hungry communes have been replaced by commercialism, urbanization, migrating populations, changing laws, shifting administrative boundaries, rapid ecological degradation of the land around Mergen, as well as a government prepared to support approved kinds of religion as promoting harmony in society. Even the contours of marriage and seniority within families have changed in significant ways. In this chapter we trace Chorji's sometimes tortured, sometimes triumphant, path amid these uncertainties.

Derrida's suggestion that the inheritor is doomed to be the man of “right and law” suggests certain lines of enquiry. Centrally, one needs to ask: what kind of “law” might this be? We shall argue that Chorji, and the people around Mergen in general, had no alternative in the historical turbulence of modern China but to take action in their own way—“action,” that is, not as a colorless abstract but imbued throughout, soaked, in their own Mongol ideas of justice, fate and fortune. The political and ideological changes have been too contradictory and too rapid for external ideas of law or rights (from China or elsewhere in the world) to eliminate these Mongol values. Rather, the latter persist as threads contributing to the practical operation of diverse kinds of modern laws and discourses. Schein has written about the modern as a structure of feeling within China: “People not only position themselves vis-à-vis modernity through multifarious practices, but also struggle to reposition themselves, sometimes through deploying the very codes of the modern that have framed them as its others” (1999, 363–64). Another way to put this is to say that lying within any “modern” public action vis-à-vis the outside world there are both ancient and recent personal or collective ideas and feelings that, from an inchoate mixture, are channeled in a particular direction in order to achieve success. What was always present in our fieldwork was the idea of the non-neutrality of any act. People were not referring only to Buddhist ideas of karma, but through intimations of vengeance, shame, punishment, as so forth, to some other, deeper, inherited, and less explicit notions of what is right and just. It is because Chorji so often invoked his responsibility, “what he had to do,” as an explanation for what he in fact did, and its frequently bruising character, that Derrida's musings about the duty of the heir are so relevant. It seems to us that in Chorji's view, he is fated to be such a man, an heir, and wielder of right and law. Mergen Monastery has not ceased to be a place of passion and intrigue and Chorji's “castigating and punishing” made his subjects often absent themselves, sometimes even flee in droves. Yet we surmise that, in tacit acknowledgement of that elusive sense of justice just referred to, while (p.293) people in Urad railed against him they understood and did not utterly condemn him.

Sechingge's legacy to his son was contradictory; but let us first indicate to readers its main thrust as told to us by his wife Nabchin and her sons:

He [Sechingge] had a special valor (gabiya) and zeal (jidgül). He showed great ardor, for Mergen Monastery. He played a great role for the revival of the lama religion, he stood up to the army, he raised an official suit with the Baotou government. He spent such a lot of money and he did much for the inviting of the Chorji. The whole onward progress of the monastery was initiated by our father. These things he did in faith as his lot (hubi). He was anxious about the disappearance of Mongol Buddhism; he wanted success in continuing this Mongolian tradition, which is so beautiful. He wanted to keep Mongolian history.

The Familial Nexus

Had social relations remained as they were before Liberation, Mönghebatu would have been the heir in a rich and noble (taiji) family. His great-grandfather in the male line was the wealthy Erhimmanglai, deputy administrator (tusalagchi) in the Urad West Banner. Erhimmanglai had two sons by his senior wife: the eldest was recognized to be the 8th Mergen Gegen, did not marry, and had no descendants. The second was Chagan Lama, Mönghebatu's grandfather. “Chagan Lama” was his personal name; he was not a lama and “his whole life was hunting” we were told. Chagan Lama's only son was Sechingge, and Mönghebatu is the eldest son of Sechingge's first wife. So by traditional criteria Mönghebatu is indisputable heir of Sechingge's social status.4 This skeleton of descent does not, however, reveal the changed social meaning of these relations brought about in twentieth-century history.

Erhimmanglai must have been a devout person: an elder of the Haranuud clan, which had its own oboo near Mergen, he was not only head of the birth family (törhüm) of a reincarnation, but his other sons (p.294) were also called Lama—his third and fourth sons, who were born of his second wife, were named Shira Lama and Ulagan Lama. The törhüm relation, as mentioned in Chapter 3, put the whole family in a lasting alliance with Mergen Monastery—and in particular with the Mergen Gegen sang, which paid Erhimmanglai a “bride price” (the “nine whites” referred to earlier) to acquire the young 8th Mergen Gegen around 1903. As nephew of a Gegen, Sechingge might well have been expected to follow his uncle's footsteps into the monastery, an established practice in Urad as it was elsewhere in the monastic world of Inner Asia. However, Sechingge was also the only son and heir, and fathers of political position frequently resisted giving up their only sons to the monastery. As described earlier, Sechingge was to become patriarch of a large family and the chief lay patron of Mergen Monastery.

Sometime in the early 1950s Sechingge left his first wife, mother of Mönghebatu and his younger brother and sister, and married Nabchin, who already had two sons of her own. Sechingge and Nabchin then had three sons. This made a wonderful large family of eight children, as Nabchin told us. But she was thinking in terms of an older patriarchal pattern in which polygamy and the ranking of first and subsequent wives was accepted. After the Communist takeover, marriage laws changed.5 According to this law, Sechingge divorced his first wife and legally married his second. This put Mönghebatu and his siblings in an uncertain position, caught between earlier Mongol norms and the new law. They were doubly bereft when their mother remarried—they were brought up in effect by their grandmother (Sechingge's mother). Meanwhile, Mönghebatu was recognized as the Chorji Lama.

At this time in the early 1950s monks were flooding out of the monastery, the 8th Mergen Gegen was mostly absent on official duty, and most of the sangs could not afford to bring in new reincarnations. The 5th Chorji died in 1950, and his sang being in relatively good shape, a search was instituted for the next incumbent. In 1953 the monks collected the names of thirteen boys, all born in the Hare Year along the Muna Mountain chain. With two other lamas, Boroheshig, who was (p.295) the soibong of the Chorji sang, the lama charged with taking care of the reincarnation, took the sealed names to Kumbum Monastery in Qinghai. Here prayers were chanted for the whole winter of 1953–1954, and finally a single name was selected by the Kumbum high lamas by means of drawing sticks from the Golden Vessel (Altan Bumba). When the three lamas came back to Mergen they opened the sealed package and it was revealed that Mönghebatu was the next Chorji. Sechingge, however, had already become a cadre and refused to give his son. He was persuaded by Communist officials, who told him, “If you do not hand over your son you are not following state religious policy.”6 Evidently Sechingge (although he had remarried or was about to remarry) considered Mönghebatu to be his heir, and he made three stipulations: that if he had no other son, Mönghebatu would leave the monastery and inherit the family property; that at the age of eight he would cease studying Buddhist sutras and learn “[communist] party texts” (Eb Hamtu Nam-un bichig), and when he reached eighteen he would be given the choice whether to become a cadre or return to be a lama. This history, told us by Chorji as a firmly established explanation, was an entirely appropriate response from a party cadre. Chorji himself fully approves of his father's stipulations. “You see, becoming a reincarnate lama is like a girl who leaves her own family and is given to another one,” he once said with a hint that this was not the manly path he would have personally chosen. Meanwhile, a vague suspicion that his selection as a hubilgan was not entirely god-given hovered around in the way people talked. And knowing the history of Mergen, where the duke's kin had so regularly provided reincarnations over the centuries, the fact that one family should be törhüm to two reincarnations fits the pattern.

Still, whatever the hidden agendas, the situation should have been clear: Mönghebatu was handed over from the realm of one master, his father, to that of another, the 8th Mergen Gegen who was master (ejen) of the monastery. But Sechingge's stipulations muddied the water. By insisting that his son was both recallable to heirship in the family and had his own opt out he undermined the rights of the monastery and Mönghebatu's identity as Chorji Lama. This bifurcation of identity (p.296) would have been a difficult enough situation for any young boy to manage, but Sechingge's remarriage complicated matters further. If Mönghebatu did decide on a lay career it was far from certain that he would become the heir, since his traditional rights as first son of the first wife were soon compromised by the birth of three younger half-brothers to whom the new state law might give precedence. The domestic impasse was soon (in the 1960s) to be rendered almost irrelevant by the eradication of all familial property. But Mönghebatu could not simply turn to the Chorji role as an alternative, for that was shortly to be blocked off too.

Mönghebatu as Young Chorji Reincarnation

No occult signs attended the birth of Mönghebatu; nor was he tested for miraculous recognition of holy items belonging to the previous Chorji, as had once been common in such situations. We were told only one curious fact that linked the earlier incarnation to Mönghebatu. It seems that the 5th Chorji had been a singularly ugly man with a dark face pitted with smallpox scars. He was also a drinker. Toward the end of his life he made a will (irügel) that his next incarnation would be a well-favored person with the regular beautiful face of a Buddha. Mönghebatu, as everyone around Mergen recognizes, is a handsome man and fulfills this injunction splendidly. This reincarnation link of physical opposites, via the will of the 5th Chorji, contrasts with the inheritance by the heir of physical traits within the family. Mönghebatu, like it or not, had a very similar shape of head, body weight, and voice to his formidable father Sechingge. Even his intonation and flashes of charm are similar. Because of this, whatever the relations between father and son, he could not escape being the heir of his father in the eyes of all those who knew them both.

Mönghebatu was given the lama name Ishiperenleijamsu when he entered the monastery at the age of five. He was cared for by the soibong Boroheshig whom he remembers with fondness. “When I think about it now, Boroheshig Lama really loved me; he went everywhere with me, he fed me, he used to carry me on his shoulders.” Chorji lived at Mergen for three years. He “sat in services” and he remembers blessing devotees by touching their heads with an implement with a dragon's head handle, but he learned little from his three teachers (“I was too young”). He left at the age of eight, as his father had ordered, to go to a (p.297) state school. Referring to his lack of knowledge of Buddhism, he once said, “If I had studied nom (doctrine) at the time, I would not now have to rely on Sengge, go begging to him.”

After his return to the monastery Chorji had little interest in his previous incarnations and could not remember what Boroheshig told him about them. It was from other people that we learned about the 5th Chorji and the miraculous effects generated by his meditation.7 Chorji said about the discovery of himself as hubilgan that he did not know what it would look like from a religious point of view, but speaking simply it was just a matter of whose child was hit upon. About the future, he told us he had no idea whether he would be reincarnated or not:

Ha, ha, if you ask Galluu or Sengge, they'll always have something to say. If religion develops, then the people themselves will choose someone and the party and government will see to it. If I see any relation between the reincarnation and religion, it is that the hubilgan is worshipped. The Chinese call him “Living Buddha,” but that is a lie. It's a fake. In reality it is just a title. They give you this name and elevate you and make you mysterious. In Tibet the one chosen as Living Buddha is trained, so the hubilgan is a person with really good knowledge of Buddhism and he becomes a true servant of religion. Apart from that, there's nothing.

Chorji—though remember he was speaking to a foreigner—was a reincarnation who was unsure whether he believed in reincarnation or not. Later chapters will show that this was not the entire picture. Meanwhile, we can get some idea about the conditions that led to the expression of such ideas from looking at his life history after he left the monastery.

Seared and Expelled in the Cultural Revolution

Re-entering lay life Chorji became a schoolboy at the Bayanhua state school not far from Mergen. He was a thin, silent, peaceable boy, his schoolmate Buyan recalls, very different from the man he has become. (p.298) Religion receded from his life: he hardly knew his distant great-uncle Mergen Gegen who was living in Höhhot, and he went back to the monastery only once on a visit for the Hare Year ritual dance (cham) in 1963. The other pupils used to tease him for being a lama, but this seemed hardly important among the various insults they bandied among themselves. Indeed, when the Cultural Revolution started in autumn 1966, Mönghebatu took part in destroying monasteries along with the other boys.

It was not until the May 4, 1967, a date he cannot forget, that Mönghebatu was attacked. He was at home in the countryside chopping wood, when a tractor arrived bearing his Red Guard classmates, including Buyan. His hands and feet were tied, he was beaten, then taken to Halgai. He could not stand up, and a teacher's husband dared to ask, “What are you doing beating this child?” But the protest was to no avail: Mönghebatu was hit with a steel door-spring, blood poured from his wounds, and one of his eyes was permanently damaged. The tall conical paper hat they had put on his head was pulped. Over the next few terrible days he was given three kinds of hat to mark his disgrace. One labeled him in Chinese “Turtle's Egg,”8 another proclaimed him one of the “Four Types of Non-Humans,” and a third “Feudal Aristocracy.” Chorji now blames only two of the people who beat him, and says each have experienced supernatural retribution. One developed an incurable ulcer on his mouth; another died not long ago.

Mönghebatu was sentenced to seventy-three days “transformation through labor,” which he had to perform at his school.9 While his friends attended political meetings, he had to clean latrines, make mud bricks, and feed pigs, animals the Mongols hold to be unclean. He was then sent home to his family, this now being Sechingge's household with Nabchin. For the next ten years he was ordered to do nothing but manual labor. The whole family suffered: Sechingge was demoted, accused of being a herd owner, and both he and Nabchin were horribly “struggled.”10 Later, after experiencing constant pain, a rusty needle (p.299) was found inside Nabchin's bladder—broken off it seems during one of these torture sessions. Mönghebatu was periodically called up to public meetings, where, wearing one of the hats, he was humiliated before the whole community. Stuck out in the countryside, unable to make even a simple journey unless ordered to do so, he lost all contact with his school friends. “There are no words to talk about it,” he said about that time.

In mid-1976 Mönghebatu's family was among a group of people whose “hats were removed,” and by the end of the year all of the “rightists” were also returned to common citizenship. He was now able to marry. Before this time, no one would have wanted to have a relation with a pariah “person with a hat” (malagaitai hümün). Still under a shadow, Mönghebatu married a woman from a similar class enemy family; no politically approved boy would have wanted to marry her either. He decided to leave the Banner, unable to bear living with the people who had tormented him for so long. True, there had been occasional kindnesses—his schoolmate Buyan had given him some camel fat11—but Mönghebatu's main memory is of abandonment. “There was no one,” he says.

Reentering the Monastery as a Person of Experience

Mönghebatu's next ten years or so were spent moving from place to place outside the Banner, working in a variety of low-status jobs: from 1977 he worked in a mine, then as a primary school teacher, and then as a jack-of-all-trades at a radio station. He first got a “real post” (i.e., politically approved) in 1981, when he became an assistant in a social security office, and in 1983 he was made accountant of Öljei Sumu. Having thus battled his way up the ladder of employment, in 1986 he was at last able to get some education. He entered the Department of Mongolian Language and Literature at the Inner Mongolia University, where he took his degree in 1988. With this qualification, Mönghebatu finally obtained a cadre-like post in the Political Consultative Committee (PCC) of Chog Banner.

The PCC is an institution that operates, like the Communist Party, (p.300) at all levels, from that of the Chinese state, through the provinces and leagues down to local district level. Designed to give a certain limited political expression to non-Communist social forces, especially those of previous society such as formerly wealthy, high-status, and religious personnel, the PCC ensures that potential opposition is defused and contributes to overall Party goals. It is among a variety of institutions in China that has aimed to reintegrate former “enemies of the people” into their own local society, rather than eradicate or expel them as happened in the USSR (Humphrey 1999). The PCC includes both delegates, who attend meetings but otherwise work elsewhere, and its own salaried employees. Mönghebatu has been in this latter category since 1988, and it is as an official of the PCC that he now manages Mergen Monastery.

How and why did his return take place? In Mönghebatu's account it came about as a result of a chance meeting. On his way to work he ran across Sharatanaa, a former Mergen lama and now a state official, who suggested: “I can get a high position (noyon12) for you, if you agree to do something for the Communist Party. Why don't you go back to manage the monastery—that will be a nice job.” Mönghebatu would be eligible for such a position because he was not a member of the party—he had several times applied for membership but been refused—which forbade members to work in religious institutions. Yet it was now again state policy to support religion, in a strictly limited way, of course. After this conversation, Mönghebatu wrote a letter to Baotou officials asking to return, and the Baotou city United Front committee13 then wrote to the party secretary's office suggesting appointing Mönghebatu to manage Mergen. The monastery was lacking a master (ejen) and it needed someone to continuously and reliably carry out party policy. The party bosses agreed and Mönghebatu was offered the post—“you make a nice religious life there and we'll provide you with some funds to support four or five lamas.” Mönghebatu did not immediately accept, but he was planning to return to his homeland in any case and first took another administrative position near Mergen.

Sengge Lama remembers differently that he and Boroheshig, who (p.301) had become the Da Lama, took the initiative. “That Old Man Lama and I together went to Sechingge and said, Tell Mönghebatu not to become a member of the Communist Party. If he does he cannot become head of the monastery. We are starting lama work at Mergen and therefore we need to find our reincarnation. After all Sechingge was the father—we got him to explain this to his son. When Mönghebatu came back home, his father had a lot of persuading to do.” By this time Sechingge had already played an important role in retrieving the Gegen's ashes and reopening the monastery, so it is possible that the initiative to re-install his son as Chorji came as much from him as the elderly lamas.

Whatever the advantages of the job and changes in the party line, Mönghebatu may have felt pushed around by the elders of his family and the monastery. What complicated the matter was that there was a rift with his father. Sechingge in the 1980s had engaged in various business deals, among which was a project to set up a tourist riding camp. He had ordered his son, who was then working as a lowly radio presenter near the Mongolian border, to buy some camels, horses and saddles for the camp. But the camp went bankrupt, and Sechingge legally transferred all its debts to Mönghebatu, claiming that his purchase of the camels had been too expensive, causing the whole project to fail. Mönghebatu was deeply angered. He was only able to pay off the debts years later after he had taken the post at Mergen.

Both father and son must have realized that in this precarious world it would be best to paste over their differences. However, there was another hurdle before the position of Chorji could be taken up. The officials at Baotou required some gifts. The monastery sent some beef, some tea. But still the final go-ahead was not issued. At this point, the monks were lucky. Chogbüren, son of Erhedorji the big-man leader of the West Banner in the 1930s–1940s (see p 227), came forward with a donation of a whole ox for the sacrifice to Jirgal Bagatur's battle standard. No one at Mergen thinks this reiterative act, as if the whole revolutionary era had never happened, was in the least surprising. The lamas seized the chance, had the ox diverted straight to Baotou, killed, and the meat given bit by bit to the officials. “No way would Chorji have been installed otherwise,” said Sengge triumphantly.

Mönghebatu accepted the PCC post and returned to the monastery without ceremony in 1990. His reasons, as he explained them to us, were as follows: “I'd spent two years at university studying that culture stuff (soyul-moyul). We had been taught about history and such, and (p.302) I thought that doing something about religion was part of work for the nation. Religion is part of Mongol culture, isn't it? I took the job because the party's religious policy had improved and because it was a kind of cultural work.”

With his new post approved by Ulagan Gegen, Mönghebatu moved into the role of Chorji Lama. It was not easy for him, however, to be the master of Mergen. Already in place were the senior lamas, some revered for their quiet knowledge, others vying to demonstrate brilliance at chanting. In particular, there loomed Sengge Lama, old enough to be his father, who had been a leading cadre in the very state apparatus that had brought about Mönghebatu's own disgrace and exile. Faced with them, Mönghebatu did not take the religious lama path, and he signaled this by not shaving his head14 and rarely donning monks' clothing.

Instead, Mönghebatu/Chorji chose to become heir to the managerial-political legacy of his great-uncle the 8th Mergen Gegen. He was appointed to administer the whole monastery, as the lamas evidently desired at the time, though according to earlier notions he would have had charge only of the Chorji sang. This distinction was later to have repercussions (see next chapter). Receiving an annual sum for upkeep of the monastery and grants for particular projects,15 he had the Maidar statue rebuilt and thus began the series of public celebrations we have described in this book. So here was a paradox: a man formed agonistically within the communist dispositif, with little knowledge of Buddhism, a would-be party member and official, who transformed his colors into those of a reincarnation. Chorji did not study under a lama teacher, nor did he take another higher vow when he re-entered the lama's state. “I would have had to give up my wife,” he said with a laugh. But he says that he had intimations that this was his destiny. Significant dreams are taken seriously in Mongolia as revealing a truth, and he said, “There was a dream … a long time ago, just after I came back as Chorji … I saw a monastery, there was a holy book, and I was doing something … If I hadn't had that experience in a past life, how could I have had this dream?” This dream, it seems, marked a turning point. Mönghebatu felt he had inherited a thread of Chorji identity, even if it was not the only identity he had.

(p.303) The “Cumulative Person” Duty, and Individuality

One way a person may be created discursively as an individual is by attributing to him or her ever more distinctive actions, signs, and effects: the more added on, the more different the person becomes from anyone else. Chorji is someone who exemplifies this way of being a person, by talking in this way about his life. He is in some ways a very modest man, deprecating about his abilities, referring often to his lack of knowledge of Buddhism, and he does not claim to be a man of faith (süjügtei). However, he does talk about his actions as üile, a Mongol word that in such a context means more than just an act but rather a task or duty. Chorji often used to list all the things he had done, like a demonstration that needed no further explanation in the face of all those who had previously rejected him. We suggest that the distinction between act and task was given in his case by his teleological identity as heir to the mastership of the monastery. He was not only right but bound to act in this capacity, he implied. The things he set himself to do were his duties. We do not think he was trying to be individualistic,16 but the more extravagant, varied, and remarkable were these duties, the more completely in effect he would become the person he felt he ought to be.

What these duties were, Chorji understood in his own way. He was too honest to play the role of the reincarnation by making himself the object of worship, prostrations (mörgül), and offerings, as we described in the Introduction for Ulagan Gegen. A corollary was that he very rarely gave out blessings or empowered amulets, the usual response by a Gegen to veneration and offerings. If the worshipped Gegen is in principle an attractant, drawing people to his monastery, the abdication of this activity by the chief lama at Mergen was more than just a lack; it became a centrifugal effect, as people turned elsewhere for these things (Chapter 11). Chorji did not study the texts, or meditate, (p.304) nor could he give empowerments (wang or abishig). He did not conduct household rituals for the laity. He did not act as a guru teacher to young lamas (‘How could I when I do not know the texts myself?’). He did sit in temple services, but chanting little, and often with an abstracted or bemused expression. The only religious ceremony he really enjoyed and insisted on continuing was the annual sacrifice to Yellow Peak, the energetic and inspiring ritual we described in Chapter 5.

Forgoing the aloof authority of the reincarnation and guru roles, Chorji gained in freedom for practical activity. His performance of the ejen's managerial tasks was determined. He inherited a rambling realm of decrepit buildings, rubble, and barracks built by the army. The trees of Mergen were mostly stumps, the lake had been filled in, and the only water came from a spring channeled through a leaking tap. Chorji made repairs his first priority. Obtaining the funding and permissions involved complex and constant negotiations with local officials—neither the money nor the permits came for free. Even after the army finally left in 1996, he had to keep the military sweet, for they did not allow him to forget that they were owners of the campus. To his annoyance, officers would occasionally swoop down and order the monastery to provide them with a banquet. Furthermore, he had no alternative but to keep up good relations with the various organizations that subsequently rented the Officers' Mess building. Meanwhile, Chorji took a series of official posts: vice chairman of the PCC of Jiuyuan district of Baotou, president of the Buddhist Association of Baotou, and vice director of the Taiwan and Expatriate Association of Baotou. After it was reopened, Mergen, like all monasteries in Inner Mongolia, was put under a Management Committee to regulate all administrative, economic, and ideological activities. The members are approved by the district Religious Affairs Bureau and include certain lay representatives of the locality. Chorji became its chairman. Providing support to Chorji in all this was his lay patron, a high official in Baotou.17

Chorji's close familial relations fell into the background. Maintaining a distance from his stepmother, Nabchin, and her sons, who lived in Qianqi, he set up home in Baotou with his wife and two daughters, thus effectively ending any pretensions to the family-heir position in the West [Front] Banner (that identity was taken up by his younger half-brothers, as we describe in the next chapter). Chorji lived in a spacious (p.305) apartment in a pleasant quarter of the city. Replete with expensive furniture and modern appliances, this was the comfortable life of the Chinese middle class. His home was a world away from the monastery and contained few if any signs that he was a Buddhist lama. Not only does Chorji have no interest in relics; with no prominent güng-garba shrine his apartment also did not provide the usual honorable place for photographs of ancestors and family members.18 This invisibility did not mean, however, that the legacy-injunction of his father had evaporated—far from it.

Worldly Struggles

For all his bursts of managerial energy, Chorji ran into opposition among the monks. One episode concerned his support for “Mergen Gegen Studies.” This academic enterprise chimed well with Chorji's modern vision of religion as part of Mongolian history and culture and he became vice chair of the studies association. Not only that, but he used money allocated to the monastery to support the republication of Mergen Gegen's Collected Works, the five-volume facsimile and tape recordings in handsome golden boxes that appeared in 1998. But the older lamas complained this did not “make religion”: the texts, printed small and without performance instructions, could not be used by them for chanting efficacious prayers. A rift appeared between different views of the primordial religious act of chanting, which we discuss in Chapter 10.

At the end of the 1990s certain lamas joined together and wrote a letter of complaint against Chorji: he did not act like a reincarnated lama, he did not live in the monastery, and he had repaired only his own sang, neglecting others, requiring elderly monks to live in quarters with leaking roofs, etc. All this, along with the quarrel with Sengge, was taken by local people as infringements of the right order of things, and therefore certain to result in misfortune, along the lines of the unspoken sense of justice mentioned earlier. Subsequent deaths and illnesses were interpreted as the consequences to be expected. We discuss in the next chapter how the laity attempted to rectify this situation.

Chorji's great endeavor of this period, indeed a vindication and continuation of Sechingge's zeal, was his lawsuit taken out against the army to recover ownership of the entire Mergen campus. This was (p.306) a most daring act for a mere lama and only Chorji's several political posts made it feasible. Nevertheless, he was convinced he would lose. He told us in 2002 that he risked everything, including being dismissed from his posts if he failed. In that case, if he was left with nothing, he planned to go to Lhasa to learn about true philosophical Buddhism, unlike the “thoughtless chanting” that went on at Mergen. He might even be punished and imprisoned. The PCC was angry with him. The other members of the committee, all of whom were Chinese, were saying, “You are a committee member, why are you causing problems for the government?” Imagining the worst, Chorji said, “If I am thrown in jail, no Mongols would come to see me.”

One thing that lay behind this despairing statement was Chorji's dispute with the lay herders living around the monastery. They told us they had donated money and livestock for rituals but those gifts had been diverted to other purposes such as giving banquets for officials. A more severe confrontation then occurred. While the law case was being pursued, in the expectation of losing, Chorji gave all the housing in the monastery to the herders. He wanted to have Mongols on site to prevent the army, should it win, acquiring empty dwellings that they would then fill with their own enterprises. However, to his annoyance the herders “did not trust me”; they did not move into the houses, but simply put locks on the doors and left them empty. To everyone's surprise, Chorji then won the case—meaning that the lawsuit moved from lower to higher courts, and finally in Beijing came to be resolved in Chorji's favor (as a consequence of the central government policy to redress the wrongs of the Cultural Revolution). Rejoicing at his success, Chorji had a polished marble stone inscribed and set up in front of the main temple. But he also abruptly terminated the herders' rights and began to rent the buildings to various outsiders. “What could I do?” he commented, “I cannot let the houses fall into disrepair and the monastery has to have some income from somewhere.” Most of the laity turned against him for this sequence of events. In 2002 they boycotted the monastery. And gradually, it turned out that although Chorji had “won” the lawsuit, the decision of the higher court was left in limbo; the officials at the municipality level did not ratify it and ownership of the land was left still unclear.

Chorji had now quarreled with virtually everyone. The Western Great Incarnation was offended because Chorji had left his house in disrepair, and he retreated to his village home. Bayanbilig was lying low, but he was on Sengge's side. Minggan also kept well out of sight. In (p.307) summer 2002 Chorji also turned on us, furious that we had the incorrect documentation on our research permits, which on this occasion did not mention his name nor that of the monastery. He was deeply insulted by the disrespectful demeanor of a person from Höhhot who had arrived with us, did not greet him, and “did not treat me as a person” (hümün-iyer üjegsen ügei). These were violations of his honor as master of the monastery. Finally, flailing in an incoherent series of alcohol-fueled farewell rites, he lashed out at one and all. He had the gates locked so that no one could leave and insisted on repeated groveling apologies. A couple of frightened lamas obeyed his every demand. Finally, we had to abandon Chorji, sitting alone in his palace, staring down at the vista of empty buildings.

It seemed to us that with almost all the lamas gone the monastery might have to close down. But over the two next years, Chorji made efforts to retrieve the situation. Young lamas were urgently needed, as well as someone to take the lead in chanting and training them. Sengge Lama agreed to take the post of Da Lama, but then thought better of it, accusing Chorji of “telling him off like a child.” Still, Chorji went ahead and made repeated efforts to recruit a second group of young monks, a story we tell in later chapters. Meanwhile, relations with us were repaired and we invited him on a visit to England.

A Visit to Britain and Religious Innovations

In 1998 and 2000 Sengge and Chorji had raised the question of the “lost texts” of Mergen Gegen, which they maintained were those held in the British Library that had not been copied and republished in Inner Mongolia in 1997.19 We mention this visit to England as it reveals (p.308) something of Chorji's religious, but not specifically Buddhist, sensibility: we began to see that religion for him was not just a matter of “Mongol culture” despite what he himself had said.

Chorji duly visited the British Library, for which occasion he dressed in his lama's clothes and prostrated to the Bum Jarlig, the collected works of Mergen Gegen. He was sincere in his homage, but we had the impression that his religious feelings were also aroused in other ways. Chorji was taken along the Thames from the Tower to Parliament, then to Buckingham Palace, all the way being told about the places and buildings, what happened in them, what the symbols meant and who had lived in there. He kept saying, “The city is unnecessary, the countryside is good.” Then, sitting in St. James' Park with a picnic lunch, he was transformed. He was particularly taken with a beautiful tree and he took many photographs of it.20 The next year at Mergen we discovered how serious a photographer Chorji had become. He had set up an exhibition of large prints in his palace, and all of the subjects he had chosen were rocks, trees, and springs in the Muna Mountains. These were sacred sites, and he had lovingly—religiously—captured their originality and beauty.

Returning to the monastery Chorji started innovating in the style of the 8th Mergen Gegen's reforms: earlier he had proposed setting up a dairy farm, though this plan was rejected by local officials on the grounds that religious institutions should not run businesses. Now he pulled down an army wall and made a new entrance so that worshippers would not have to enter via the Officers' Mess. Next he proposed reviving the monastery's medical faculty and medicine dispensary, to be located on the site of the old Emchi (“doctor”) sang. And in an impressive achievement he installed a glittering series of eight large bodhisattva statues in the main Chogchin temple and eight fierce gods in the Janghan Temple. This was new—the temples had not contained these deities earlier, at least not in this prominent form. Their appearance completely altered the layout of the inner sanctum in Janghan temple—the brilliantly painted statues filled the space. No room was left for Jirgal Bagatur's battle standard, clothing, and armor, which to Sengge's dismay, were taken out and propped up in a dusty corner of the outer room. Gone was the secrecy and sanctity that had surrounded these objects in previous years. Furthermore, Chorji came up with a (p.309) different story about them, one that eradicated the Jirgaltu Monastery connection and fitted well with wider Chinese versions of history. No longer the attributes of a specifically Urad ancestor, the relics belonged to “a Mongol hero” who defeated the Hotong Muslim aggressors—these being terrible people who had invaded nearby regions in the nineteenth century and strung up three-year-old children as a warning of their ferocity.

Chorji and the Chinese Presence

During our early visits to Mergen the only intimations that there were Chinese Buddhists in the vicinity was the awed stories people told about a barefoot monk who had meditated in the “Daoist cave” (daoren wopu) in the mountains and his disciple who had returned from emigration in America to find and bury his bones (see also Chapter 9).21 The nearby Chinese villages and small towns had no Buddhist temple—in fact they had few temples of any kind.22 In 1998–2005 a few Chinese villagers occasionally attended Mergen ceremonies as worshippers, but more came as bystanders or traders of souvenirs and drinks. A misconceived Chinese tourist camp in front of the Officers' Mess had gone bankrupt and was deserted, to the lamas' relief (see Evans and Humphrey 2002, 189–210). Otherwise, life at Mergen continued almost as though the place was not located at the edge of dense Chinese settlement.

Chorji, however, no doubt following the new Party policy that designated religion as a harmonizing factor in interethnic relations, initiated certain joint rituals with Chinese Buddhists from Baotou. This was regarded by the other lamas as a great and unwelcome innovation, though they could understand that Chorji was following party policy. The fact was that most of the local Mongols—including Chorji himself—continued to regard the influx of Chinese in the region as a threat facing their way of life. “Goats are good in the cliffs, Chinese are good at the table,” people said, implying that while the Mongols had been pushed back into the mountains, the Chinese were gorging themselves (p.310) on rich food. A sharp symbolic boundary had been erected against the Chinese. They were said to be dirty and committed sins like killing and eating snakes. They could not possibly be employed as cooks for the lamas. Certain habits, foods, utensils, and even ways of walking were avoided for the reason that they were “Chinese” In the past the monks did not even use blankets or matches because the Chinese used them (when one rich educated man slept under a blanket people said, “He is using a Chinese blanket, soon his luck will finish” and indeed the man died poor). Marriage with Chinese had been disapproved; most people did not speak the Chinese language. Now however people say there is no way out, we have to speak Chinese and there are mixed marriages. Nevertheless, the Han farmers and migrant workers continued to be described as acquisitive and blind to others' interests: they dig deep wells and take all the water; they scour the mountains for anything of value (gold, medicinal herbs, fruit, “hair grass”23); they behave provocatively at the oboo ceremony.24 They used to cut the beautiful trees of Muna Mountains for firewood, and now they blast the hillsides for building stone. Particularly objectionable was the cutting of fine stone for sale from a rock outcrop near the stupas containing the relics of the reincarnations of Jirgaltu Monastery. Indeed, during our visits from 2005 onward the days and far into the night resounded to heavy booms like thunder or warfare—this came from the quarrying in the Valley of the Caves and the way up to Debeseg Monastery. People said the dynamiting of the mountains was the cause of the droughts of recent years—the absence of rain was the retribution for damaging the land. Stories of the punishments heaped on the heads of the Chinese were uncountable: they were said to suffer misfortune after misfortune for killing snakes, for polluting springs, for stealing monastery property. Yet nothing kept them at bay.

Nevertheless, for all the vitriol attached to “the Chinese” as a category, day-to-day relations were amicable, if distant. Thus the monks were polite when Chorji twice invited Chinese Buddhists from Baotou to the inauguration rituals for the new statues. Significantly, however, the Mergen monks held the ritual by themselves first, while the Chinese attended only a joint second performance. On one such occasion the two groups of monks lined up separately outside the temple and each in turn chanted prayers. Facing the small group of Mongol lamas (p.311)

The Chorji Lama: Inheriting from the Past in a New World

5 Chorji Reincarnation, surrounded by lamas chanting on occasion of visit by Chinese Buddhists, 2005. (Hürelbaatar Ujeed)

was a large mass of Chinese Buddhists (heshang) from Baotou city, the monks dressed in gray robes, along with around fifty men and women lay devotees neatly clothed in identical brown robes, singing fervently and expertly playing gourd and percussion instruments.

More aggravating to the few remaining monks than this dutiful performance of inter-ethnic harmony was that Chorji rented out the main house of the Güüshi sang to Chinese Buddhists. True, they rarely made (p.312) use of it, but an alien shrine was established there and this was felt to be an intrusive outpost within the very heart of Mergen Monastery.

In 2005 the massive motorway linking Beijing to Baotou and Lanzhou was being constructed in the plains just south of the monastery, and a new tourist camp with a Chinese manager had been built in the upper valley of the Mergen River. Unlike the earlier failed camp with its crude concrete imitations of Mongol tents, this complex was a well-built multi-story structure with three restaurants and several European-style chalets. It stands on the way to the Bird Gulley, where the elusive silver coveted by Mergen Gegen (pp 153–54) was held to be located, and local people said that the presence of careless Chinese tourists had finally eliminated any sanctity that place had. They minded about that and were also conscious of the geography—the location of this camp above Mergen, with the motorway taking up former pasture below, meant that the monastery was surrounded. “Our Mongols have now lost the upper land,” one man burst out. “Sooner or later this precious three hundred mu of land will just be Chinese food”—a thought that reflected the fact that the more commercialized China was becoming, the more the monastery became valuable as property ripe for development.

Chorji tried to maintain friendly relations with the tourist-camp manager, but he did not encourage the tourism that was so prevalent elsewhere in Inner Mongolia. His attitude was made clear by the road he made for tourists going to the camp, which took a detour round the monastery on three sides, rather than proceeding through it. Visitor's tickets were no longer sold at the entry to the precinct, as they briefly had been, and a notice forbade trade without special permission. Tourists could pause and enter Mergen, but there was little to encourage them. The first thing they saw inside the precinct was a notice in Mongolian pointing left to a path that seemingly led nowhere, saying “Praying this way.” Chorji, thus unwelcoming, was well aware that by taking this stance he was forgoing a substantial income like that reaped by other monasteries such as Badgar. “Our monastery is different. If the tourist road came straight through here, the religious things would be destroyed. Things would get worse, that is really true,” said Chorji.

Meanwhile it was impossible not be aware of simultaneous disjunctive activities at this one place. Was this absurd, inimical, or merely the way things had to be in the increasingly dense inhabitation of the land? It was evident above all aurally. Over the crump of blasting from distant quarries, other sounds rang out clearly in the morning air: from the Chogchin Temple the wail of the conch shell and the clashing of cymbals, and from the most recent occupants of the Officers' Mess, a (p.313) military training camp for a Baotou middle school, shouts “One! Two! Three! Four! Quick march!” and the stamp of hundreds of trainers. These two groups of people, the lamas and the schoolchildren, had nothing to do with one another. At night, the lamas joked and told stories in one former barrack. The military teachers stayed in a barrack next door, focused with fierce cries on their games of mahjong. Chorji, living in his sang courtyard, sat with neither group.

Conducting without a Score

Chorji's broken education (a few years of Maoist dogma, a couple of years of Mongolian literary studies) cut him off from two prime sources of authority in the monastery: serene performance of the reincarnation role and command of the liturgy. Through his own efforts he had been able to clamber some way up the ladder of external political positions, and thus armored he could be the ejen with some resolution. Chorji in fact achieved many things. But one of the common words in his conversations was arga-ügei: “There's nothing to be done, no way out”—a wretched contrast with the mastery of arga (skillful means) attributed to the 3rd Mergen Gegen (Chapter 2). Chorji saw plots and hindrances at every turn and he was easily angered with anyone, including his own lamas:

What are you doing? Today, two mistakes happened. The things people offered should be announced in the prayer hall. Why didn't you do that? How will those people come to the next service? You want to divide it up yourselves! If you want to do things, do them in the right way, or just go! How can you act in this way? And the consecrated things should be distributed to the congregation—but what happened? If you don't know how to do it, you can look how others do it! …

The lamas would mumble some reply, for it was in Chorji's power to destroy their livelihoods and disrupt what they held dear. They could dislike his rough tone, so jarring to monkish dispassionateness, and still understand that he was acting as master. We are reminded here of what Latour wrote about the orchestral conductor, an idea that stands for any coordinator of a “society,” who, although he distributes the roles to the players, has no means whereby he could “possess” the whole performance. Indeed, he cannot perform any single part beautifully. His property is to pay attention to the passages, the transitions, to be neither fully in, nor fully out. In fact his role is to break the routines (p.314) of all the others and to compel each to pay attention to the playing of all the others (Latour 2010, 16). If Chorji saw his task as managing the transitions and the activities between the efficacious chants, he was hindered at every point by the fact that the lamas, and he himself, had no score. The 3rd Mergen Gegen's statutes lay unread, and in any case would not have provided a model for coordination. In other words, there was a crisis of non-agreement about what to pay attention to in others' actions. The conditions for not disintegrating, let alone achieving harmony, were more exacting than those of Latour's “conductor in despair.” As Chorji said to us:

You can't blame the children [i.e., the boy lamas], they only arrived the other day. What can they know? It was only because I was sitting there … otherwise the senior lamas would have scared them off. Because I was there, they couldn't run away. If you give them [the senior lamas] just a little gap, they'll do their own thing, they'll ruin you.

Chorji was to make attempt after attempt to re-launch Mongolian Buddhism at Mergen. We have suggested that it would be incorrect to attribute this directly to his patrimony, for an inheritance is always something that must be acted upon anew—if not, it would be as if Chorji were affected by it like a physical cause. Was not his idea of adopting the boy lama as his heir (Chapter 1) evidence of his awareness that inheritance must be projected into the future in new ways? Unlike his great-uncle, the 8th Mergen Gegen, who was a monk who went out into the political world, Chorji brought that world into the monastery. He thus found himself at that point of tension between the limits negotiated within a tradition and “the forces that push the tradition onto new terrain, where part or all of the tradition ceases to make sense and so needs a new beginning” (Asad 2006, 289). We shall discuss this new terrain further in Chapter 10, but we would like to end here on a different note—the winding inner intimations that nevertheless persist within a tradition. For beyond Chorji's immediate triple legacies there was also the earlier, fervent specter of the 3rd Mergen Gegen's fabulation of a people yet to come (Chapter 2).

Writing of specters, Derrida observes that the young people of the Left in 1960s France had rejected Stalinism, Soviet bureaucracy, etc., but they still had to ask themselves the question that had been asked earlier, “Whither Marxism?” A “since Marx” continues to designate the place of assignation from which we are pledged. But if there is a pledge or assignation, injunction, or promise, the “since” marks a place and (p.315) a time that doubtless precedes us, but so as to be as much in front of us and before us. […] If “since Marx” names a future time-to-come as much as a past, the past of a proper name, it is because the proper of a proper name will always remain to come” (Derrida 2006, 19, emphasis in original).

Perhaps it is appropriate then to not to ignore naming. We point out therefore that the batu (strength, firmness) central to Mergen Gegen's grand schema is the same word as the name chosen by Sechingge for his son, Mönghe (“eternal”) Batu.


(1) . For a subtle extended analysis of the noble heir in relation to ethical technologies of the self, see Faubion 2011, 122–202.

(2) . “The Buddha, in his numerous discourses, never failed to underline the varied moveable voices of the past. At one given moment in time, the past is one thing; at the next moment, it is another. In that space between any two moments, things have been added to and deleted from the past” (Shrimali 1998, 29).

(3) . Ulagan horuhai “red worm,” a type of bloodsucking insect; used as an insult during the Cultural Revolution to refer to Buddhist lamas, alluding both to their living off the work of others and the red color of their garments.

(4) . In Mongolian öb jalgamijlagchi is the successor or inheritor, a slightly formal word that applies to both material and immaterial assets. In kinship contexts people talk of a legacy or share of household property as öb, a will or testament as geriyesü, and the inheritor of a domestic household as gal golumta-yin ejen (fire hearth master, usually the youngest son). The successor to inherited political office, however, was the eldest son, a principle only by-passed if this son was incapable. In that case the succession could pass to a younger brother or to a second son (Jagchid and Hyer 1979, 253–54).

(5) . The Marriage Law of 1950 forbade polygamy and concubinage, and the Marriage Registration Regulations of 1955 stipulated that couples must register their marriages legally. Buyan told us that Urad Mongols accepted the change in law with enthusiasm. There was a “fashion” for divorce and remarriage in the 1950s. During the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution the family was attacked as an institution inappropriate to socialist society. However, this project was rapidly abandoned and a series of laws in the 1980s and 1990s have regulated marriage, inheritance, adoption, divorce, women's rights, the single-child policy, etc. (see Palmer 1995, 110–34).

(6) . The United Front Policy was aimed at integrating preexisting political and religious elites, allowing some expression of national minority interests while co-opting representatives selected for their loyalty. For discussion of this policy as it affected the Tibetan female reincarnation Dorje Phagmo, whose experiences in many ways paralleled those of Chorji, see Diemberger (2008, 154–62).

(7) . Ishichoimpel, the 5th Chorji, took part in the summer retreat meditations in the mountains (Mönghe 1996, 60). He was also good at divination. An elderly Chinese man, Fu, told us that the 5th Chorji used to worship an elm tree near the Öhin Tngri hill and sat there for days chanting. One day, looking from afar, Fu saw a large flock of sheep surrounding the lama. Thinking these might be his own sheep, he hastened over—but when he arrived there were no sheep at all. Fu regarded this as a holy miracle.

(8) . In Chinese wang ba dan (turtle's egg) an insult similar to “bastard.”

(9) . Some teachers at the school were also sentenced to “transformation by labor,” but none of the other pupils. The “six articles of public security” (C. gongan liu tiao) condemned a wide variety of people as “bad members of society,” “feudal aristocracy,” “landlords,” “anti-revolutionaries,” “rightists,” and “careless speakers,” etc. Chorji told us that he scarcely thought about being a lama at this time, as he would have been condemned under one or another heading anyway.

(10) . Sechingge was struggled as a “power holder” in the same group as Sengge Lama, who remembers: “All of us were taken into a meeting, our heads were forced down, the mass of people were sitting, we were in front, and they made us bow. The person who was most hard and determined (jorig) was Sechingge. He and I, we two did not bend. We had acted as cadres under Communist Party leadership, we didn't do the wrong things of past society. So why do you struggle us? Those young people carrying the red badge came and pressed our heads down with their hands. As soon as they took off their hands, we stood up again. We straightened up even more. For that we were beaten quite a lot. After 1968 for a full four years we ‘wore hats.’”

(11) . This was the best possible gift in those days, “when a human life was worth no more than that of a tree,” as Buyan says.

(12) . The word noyon, earlier used for “feudal lords” like the Dukes of Urad, was seamlessly transferred to high communist officials. Darga (leader, literally “one who presses”) and ejen (master) are other ancient words that Mongols have moved from one social formation to another.

(13) . The United Front representing non-Communists from many backgrounds also exists at all levels from the state to the district. It is a more advisory body than the PCC and includes members living internationally.

(14) . Mongolian monks have their heads shaved every month or so. Chorji adopted a compromise hairstyle that could just be imagined as a tonsure that had grown out.

(15) . Chorji compared these grants unfavorably to those received by Badgar Monastery as a “centrally protected unit.”

(16) . Yunxiang Yan has argued, against the assumption that socialism invariably increased collectivism, that in China its effect was to increase individualism. This happened because a prime act of the communists had been to destroy the familial and local systems that had imposed Confucian and other conformity on individuals. Subsequently, the state privatized the family by detaching it from communal structures and bringing it into a capitalist environment. The resulting retreat of the state from everyday life led to the development of ultra-utilitarian individualism (Yan 2003, 229–35). Some parts of this argument certainly apply in the case of the Mongols of China, but we suggested (see Chapter 1) that the Mongols, perhaps more than the Chinese, had other ways of asserting individuality and constructing others as individuals even in “traditional society.”

(17) . We were not surprised to discover that this person—continuing a well-worn tradition—was related to Erhimmanglai, and hence was a kinsman of the 8th Mergen Gegen and of Chorji himself.

(18) . Maybe Chorji thought of the whole monastery as his shrine.

(19) . Despite the local intellectuals' opinion that Mergen Gegen's works had been stolen as booty by British imperialists during the attacks on Beijing in the late nineteenth century (Mönghe 2004, 23), both lamas separately said to us that they were glad the Bum Jarlig had been acquired by the British; otherwise it would have been destroyed—no other copy had survived in China. In fact the Bum Jarlig and other texts by Mergen Gegen were purchased in the early nineteenth century in Beijing by Edward Stallybrass, a missionary, and subsequently given to the British Museum (later British Library). On the English missionaries studies of Mongolian Buddhist texts, see Bawden (1985, 157,199, 268, 279–80). The three unpublished texts are numbers nine, ten, and eleven from the second volume of the Bum Jarlig printed in 1770–1773. It was only when we examined the collected works in London that we realized that the texts most missed by Sengge Lama (parts of the “four root” sutras, see p 263) were not the same as the three unpublished texts. The Mergen lamas did not seem to know that Professor Naranbatu had a facsimile of the whole Bum Jarlig—hence their appeals to us to retrieve them.

(20) . Later, Chorji visited a farm in Devon. He said he had never expected that English people led “real lives,” he admired the “advanced” farming and the orderliness; he went into the village church and bowed before the altar. In his lama's robes he also respectfully attended a service in King's College Chapel, Cambridge.

(21) . People said that this greatly admired monk lived in extreme asceticism, drinking water collected drop by drop as it dripped off a rock. He was rumored to have killed himself after being forced out and beaten during the Cultural Revolution (see also Crane 2001).

(22) . Before the Cultural Revolution there had been a Dragon King (Long Wang Miao) temple in a village close to Mergen; there were also several small “land shrines” in the neighborhood mostly dedicated to prayers for rain.

(23) . “Hair grass” (fa cai) is said to be highly nutritious and is used by the Chinese as a vegetable for special dinner parties.

(24) . In 2005 a Chinese dance troupe with “naked women” performed near the Banner oboo festivities, arousing much criticism from elders.