Placing "Qinghai Studies" in the Field of China and Inner Asia

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In this scholarly note, Chia Ning argues for the creation of a field of Qinghai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] studies to recognize the unique historical and cultural contributions of present-day Qinghai Province, China, a multiethnic region in the Chinese hinterlands that has been influenced by Tibetan, Mongol, Han Chinese, and Muslim populations over the centuries.

The Importance of Qinghai in the History of China & Inner Asia

From my examination of the formation of present-day Qinghai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] during the transition between the Ming [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1368-1644) and Qing M (1636/44-1912) dynasties, a visible and valid new field emerges in the broad study of China and Inner Asia: Qinghai studies. Connecting the heartland of Tibet (Xizang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) in the south and southwest, China Proper in the east, Mongolia (through present-day Gansu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) in the north and northeast, and Chinese Central Asia (present-day Xinjiang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) in the northwest (see fig. 1), Qinghai became a distinct administrative unit beginning with the reign of the Yongzheng [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] Emperor (r. 1723-35). Manchuria was also involved in this connecting land area, in the sense that the Manchu court of the Qing moved into Qinghai as the dynastic authority. Today, the history of this connecting land has remained unspecified in the study of China and Inner Asia.

"Tibetan studies" and "Mongol studies," each with enough active scholars worldwide, have long been recognized as established academic fields. In the United States, the historical study of Chinese Central Asia (Xinjiang) has also developed within the past two decades; today, a body of scholarship worthy of being called "Xinjiang studies" exists. Since the late 1980s, several important articles and books have been published on the Manchu people and their history; thus, "Manchu studies" has likewise emerged. When approaching Chinese history, therefore, the four major components of the historical Inner Asian "frontiers"--Manchuria, Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet--have become regionally specified studies. Together with the long-existing Chinese studies that focus on historical China Proper, all of the major regions of China and Inner Asia seem to be covered.


Omitting Qinghai from these studies, however, seems unwise. Many decisive events in the history of China and Inner Asia would lose their origin if the Qinghai influence were ignored. Eleven such occurrences are described below.

* If Tsong Khapa (1357-1419), a native of Huangzhong in Qinghai, had not developed the Dge lugs pa (Yellow Hat) School of Tibetan Buddhism, the later institution of the Dalai Lama would not have had such a rich religious foundation. In addition, the Tar Temple, built in Huangzhong in 1577, would not function as one of the six most influential Dge lugs pa centers in the Tibetan Buddhist world.

* If the third Dalai Lama (1543-88) had not traveled through Qinghai on his way to meet the Tumed Altan Khan (1508-82), who titled him "Dalai" in 1577, the third Dalai would not have been able to leave a great religious legacy to the Qinghai region. Moreover, the title of "Dalai Lama" in the whole of the Tibetan Buddhist world would hardly exist, unless it had arisen from another event at another time.

* If the Chahar Ligdan Khan (1592-1634) had not taken with him "the Eight White Yurts, or shrine of Chinggis Khan, to Kokenuur" (the Mongolian name for Qinghai), he possibly would have made himself less--rather than more--"unpopular" with other Mongol groups (Atwood 2004, 335).

* If Ligdan Khan, accordingly, had not failed in his battles against the rising Manchus-and had not died in 1634, he possibly would have been able to enhance his ruling capacity over the Mongols and establish a competent power in Qinghai to confront the Manchus. …