Tibetan and Himalayan Library - THL

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An Overview of Lingtsang by Jann Ronis and Jann Ronis (July 13, 2011)

The polity of Ling or Lingtsang (gling tshang) was based in a region of Kham (khams) with a long history. During the Imperial Period the key population and cultural center of Kham, which at that time was called Kham Longtang (khams klong thang), was Denkok (’dan khog or ldan khog). The very old Longtang Tārā Temple (sgrol ma lha khang) in Denkhok is said to have been built by Songtsen Gampo (srong btsan sgam po) in the seventh century as one of the numerous edifices constructed to pin down the Supine Demoness of Tibetan geomancy.

Lingtsang was a very important polity during the Sakya-Mongol period. The Yuan Dynasty bureau charged with Tibetan affairs established three major districts (chol kha; 宣慰司 xuanwei si) in Tibet and Chögyel Pakpa (chos rgyal ’phags pa) appointed the head of the Lingtsang family – who was a monk – as the great chief (dpon chen; 宣慰使都元帅 xuanwei shi duyuanshuai) of the Domé, or Amdo, district (mdo smad chol kha).

After the fall of the Sakya hegemon in 1350, Lingtsang became an independent kingdom. The biographies of the fourth and fifth Karmapas make several mentions of dealings with the chief of Lingtsang. The relations between Lingtsang and Ming China were formed during the reign of Yongle (r. 1402-1424); Ming emperors needed the cooperation of local leaders in Kham to secure safe access to Tibet for Ming diplomatic and trade caravans. In 1407 the Ming court invested the leader of Lingtsang (this position was still held by monks and lamas), with two titles: State Master of Consecration (灌顶国师 guanding guoshi) and Religious King of Promoting Goodness (赞善教王 zanshan jiaowang). During the Qing dynasty the patriarchs of Lingtsang were given the title of indigenous headmen (土司 tusi). In Tibetan historical documents the leaders of Ling are usually called Ling Guzi Gyelpo (gling ’gu zi rgyal po) or Lingtsang Gyelpo (gling tshang rgyal po). In 1909 the Sichuan provincial government made Lingtsang a part of a Chinese administered Degé (sde dge), thus bringing to an end over 600 years of an independent or autonomous polity.

The precise geographical extent of Lingtsang is not documented but it is known that the future capital of Degé and regions further south were under the control of Ling through the middle of the seventeenth century. The rise of the Degé kingdom in the 1630s and 40s came at the cost of Lingtsang and by the end of the century Lingtsang was reduced to a small noble house on Degé’s northern border. Nevertheless, conflict between Lingtsang and Degé persisted through the beginning of the twentieth century.



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