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An Introduction to Repgong by Gray Tuttle and Gray Tuttle (May 16, 2011)
Repgong (reb gong), in the Golden Valley of the Gu River, is located in Qinghai province, Malho (rma lho, Huangnan) prefecture, and is also known by its Chinese name Tongren. The valley is at about 7500' above sea-level, extends from the north to south, and is surrounded by 9000' peaks. The region is similar in appearance to parts of the state of New Mexico in the US, with sparsely vegetated red-colored hills, though the river plain supports lush farming. Forests are rare and mostly in higher elevations, or near monasteries, which provide some protection from over-harvesting.
In terms of political history, the region came under central leadership during the Mongol imperial period (thirteenth to fourteenth centuries), when the Sakya (sa skya) politico-religious influence on the region led to the establishment of a local ruler. Specifically, Pakpa ('phags pa) sent his disciple Lhajé Draknawa (lha rje brag sna ba) to rule over the twelve local rulers and the twelve divisions of Repgong under them. Lhajé's son was given the title of “Nangso” (nang so) on his visit to the Yuan court, a position that endured until 1957. Later rulers received titles from both Lhasa (lha sa) and Beijing. Repgong's influence and power extended at times to Dobi (rdo sbis) in Xunhua (Yadzi, ya rdzi) county and Tsö (mtsho, Hezou) in Kenlho (kan lho, Gannan) prefecture, Gansu.
The religious institution supported by the early rulers included a monastery that jointly practiced the Sakya and Kadam (bka' gdams) traditions, though after 1630 Rongwo Monastery (rong bo dgon, established 1342) followed the Geluk (dge lugs) tradition. With the rise of the Geluk tradition, from the seventeenth century Repgong was ruled under a system of joint religious and political rule by the Shar (shar) incarnation lineage of Rongwo Monastery and the Nangso institution. Nyingma (rnying ma) lay practice is strong in the region, focused on village Mani (or Ngak) Khang. The Bön (bon) tradition is also represented in Repgong. Folk traditions related to the sacred mountains in the area (whose tutelary spirits are related in familial manner) are marked by annual rituals such as Luröl (klu rol or glu rol), in which male spirit mediums communicate with the mountain spirits to seek protection for crops and livestock in the coming year. Similarly, the Monguor people of Nyentok (gnyan thog) village practice a winter exorcism ritual. The ethnic, linguistic and ritual diversity of this region is very rich. The Monguor communities in this area have links to both Mongol language and culture.
The literary tradition is very strong in Repgong, home to the great poet Shar Kelden Gyatso (shar skal ldan rgya mtsho), the yogi Zhapkar Tsokdruk Rangdröl (zhabs dkar tshogs drug rang grol, called a second Milarepa) whose poetry and autobiography are justifiably famous, the founder of modern Tibetan literature Gendün Chöpel (dge 'dun chos 'phel), and the contemporary writer and literary critic Pema Bum (pad ma 'bum), among others. The artistic heritage in Repgong is among the strongest on the Tibetan plateau. Tanka (thang ka) painting and the crafting of images (mostly from clay) are practiced by a number of Monguor villages in the region. These communities have repainted and re-created statuary for most of the monasteries in northern Amdo (a mdo) and have reached out to religious and commercial opportunities in Han China as well.