From Personal Network to Institution Building: The Lifanyuan, Gift Exchange and the Formalization of Manchu-Mongol Relations



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From Personal Network to Institution Building:

The Lifanyuan, Gift Exchange and the Formalization of Manchu-Mongol Relations

Dorothea Heuschert-Laage


Introduction

The Qing emperors (1636-1911) during the 17th and 18th century centuries expanded the boundaries of China into Inner Asia to an unprecedented degree. Substantial parts of Mongol and Tibetan territories, as well as today’s Xinjiang were brought under the rule of the dynasty. As a result, the Qing government faced the challenge of integrating the administration of newly acquired territories and peoples into the structures of their state. The question of how the Qing managed to affiliate various Inner Asian peoples with an administrative system, which was largely inherited from the previous Chinese Ming dynasty (1368-1644) has been at the center of scholarly discussions for many years. This paper will focus on the Lifanyuan,1 an office created by the Qing in order to maintain and monitor their relations with the Mongol nobility. With the expansion of the empire the duties of the Lifanyuan were extended to some other Inner Asian domains, and it came to promote and control the territorial integration of frontier peoples within in the Qing empire.

The Lifanyuan represented an important interface, interlinking the coordination of Inner Asian, namely Mongol, issues, with other central government authorities. However, the multiple administrative arrangements reached in the frontier regions of the Qing empire did not constitute a steady condition. Johan Elverskog (2006: 7) reminded us that Qing rule was an ongoing process, which implied that the relationship between the imperial center and local authorities had to be constantly redefined.2 Policies of domination caused reactions and counterstrategies among their Inner Asian subjects and political partners. The modalities of their integration and the status specific communities had within the Qing state reflected the conditions under which they, at different times, had acknowledged Qing overlordship. Likewise, after formal recognition of Qing overlordship, elites in their interaction with the throne participated in shaping the nature of their relationship with the court.

When looking at the fields of responsibility of the Lifanyuan, many had their roots in early 17th century Manchu-Mongol diplomatic relations. The recently published routine memorials of the Lifanyuan reveal that this office – besides legal issues – was largely concerned with personnel matters, such as staging the Inner Asian nobility’s regular visits to the court,3 bestowal of ranks and titles, rewards and obituaries.4 For this reason, the interaction of the Qing court with Mongol authorities can be interpreted within the framework of the political culture of patronage. However, the fact that practices, which during the period of state formation had been of a flexible and accommodative nature, were formalized and their observance supervised by a central government agency according to clearly defined rules brought about significant changes. Based on Manchu and Mongol recently published primary sources, this paper argues that the Qing reinterpreted their relationship with Inner Asian leaders fundamentally and gift exchange acquired new meanings. The emphasis shifted from recording what was “received” to recording what was “given”, thereby focusing on the generosity of the emperor. This adds another facet to the observation of Pamely Crossley that the Qing emperors, by re-evaluating the past, cultivated the image of morally absolute, “internally satisfied and externally omnicompetent” rule (1999: 224). Moreover, looking at the way how Mongol leaders reacted to the changes in Manchu self-conception will contribute to our understanding of the contested nature of Qing rule in the outer regions.

As has been stressed by a number of scholars, Qing administration in the frontier regions was marked by a high degree of flexibility. By adapting to local conditions, the Qing allowed a variety of administrative systems to coexist in Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet. According to Peter Perdue “Flexible, negotiated local administration, a feature of imperial rule everywhere, revealed itself more openly on the frontier than elsewhere” (2005: 558). Mark Elliott underlines “the diversity of this system, the lack of consistency across regions, and the fact that it differed so utterly from the administrative system used in the interior provinces” (2011: 406). The different ways of integrating Mongol confederations into the Qing state in the 17th and 18th centuries provide a vivid example for the fact that the dynasty had no overall master plan for the integration of Inner Asian peoples into their realm, but had a wide range of models at its command when meeting with the specific demands and expectations of native leaders.

The Mongols settling south of the Gobi in a territory corresponding roughly with today’s Inner Mongolia, had been in close political contact with the Manchus long before the founding of the Qing dynasty. After formally acknowledging Hong Taiji (reigned 1627–1643) as the first emperor of the Qing dynasty in 1636, they experienced the fundamental change of Manchu-Mongol relationship from – more or less – equal partnership to outright subordination (Di Cosmo 2012). Over the course of the 17th century they were reorganized in territorial-administrative units, banners, under the rulership (in Mongol jasaγ) of a hereditary prince.

When the Qalqa Mongols, formally under Qing rule since 1691, entered their political sphere of influence, the Manchus were already emperors of China. Under heavy pressure from the Oirat Mongols, who had their pasture grounds in the northern parts of today’s Xinjiang, the Qalqa nobility opted for allying with the Qing. As regards territorial integration of the Qalqa nobility, the Qing built on practices which had been successfully implemented among the Southern Mongols: Established political formations were left intact, and their leaders, if they were considered to be loyal and trustworthy, were granted ranks and titles and were acknowledged as “ruling” (jasaγ).5 Their position was backed up by certain material benefits and securities, but, of course, in the long run this secure status came at the price of their political autonomy. After 1911, the Qalqa Mongols regained independence and their territory makes up today’s Republic of Mongolia. Early 20th century debates over Mongol independence focused on the character of the Manchu-Mongol relationship, which, in the eyes of Qalqa Mongol representatives, was founded on alliance rather than conquest (Bulag 2012).

The Oirats, who after a series of vigorous campaigns were integrated between 1691 and 1771, were treated differently.6 After paying a heavy price in blood, only few of them were resettled along the lines of the pattern tested among Eastern Mongol confederations. Most were intermingled and reorganized in newly created administrative units and were resettled in the Khovd and Amur regions, others were integrated into the Eight Banner system (Elliott 2001) or, as prisoners of war, degraded to the status of slaves (Oyunjargal 2011: 5-20; Perdue 2009b: 31/32).



The Concept of Patronage and Trends towards Formalization of Language and Behaviour

This paper argues that political patronage and its potential to make individuals part of groups and hierarchies is a useful concept for explaining the successful politics of the Qing in Inner Asia and especially their strategies of integrating Eastern Mongol confederations in the 17th century. This is an important aspect, because for the Qing emperor the role of a patron granting protection and support was in accordance with the image of a patron of Tibetan Buddhism and sponsorship of Buddhist art, translations and printings. Likewise, the logic of patronage with its emphasis on gifts and donations blended together well with representations of the emperor as Cakravartin, as “wheel-turning king”, who was incumbent on establishing both religious and secular rule. Many scholars have stressed the importance of Buddhism as a cornerstone of Qing political strategy in Inner Asia, and most recently Johan Elverskog investigated the role of Buddhism in redefining Mongol identity in relation to the Qing and in shaping Mongol discourses of self-representation and communal boundaries. He showed that “Mongol Buddhist identity” was not static, but developed in a process of establishing Mongol history in the context of universal Buddhist history (Elverskog 2006: 109-116; Kollmar-Paulenz 2005: 210-216). The technique of patronage was developed and employed in the interaction with Mongol authorities in the early 17th century, at a time, when Buddhist notions of rulership were not a decisive factor in Manchu-Mongol political relations (Di Cosmo 2006: 262). However, by qualifying the Manchu ruler as protecting, beneficent, kind and forgiving, it provided an interpretative framework for future representations of the position of the emperor vis-à-vis his Mongol subjects. The fact that worship of the emperor was not only rooted in Buddhism has also been noticed by Atwood, who concludes: “To speak then of religion in Mongolia, and the sacredness of the emperor, is not necessarily to speak only of Buddhism and the emperor as an incarnation of Mañjušrī. Thus his hold upon the loyalties of his Mongolian subjects, while not of course absolute, was to a large degree independent of any other competing political or religious system of legitimation” (2000: 129/130).


It should be made very clear that this does not mean that the Qing emperors governed their Inner Asian dependencies solely by means of patronage. On top of the local network formed by secular and religious authorities, the Qing over the course of the 18th century overlaid a further system of imperial representatives, who exercised control more directly and were backed up by military garrisons (Millward 2004: 101). The conventions and formalized mechanisms of political patronage, however, were retained and mirrored in the organisation of the Lifanyuan and its routine procedures: This office was responsible for staging the elaborate ceremonies, which were designed to demonstrate the bond between Inner Asian political leaders and the emperor. Its duties included supervision of practices like the Imperial Hunt, scheduled visits to the court and tribute missions. All these performances were outward signs of the loyalty of Inner Asian followers of the Qing, and, at the same time, demonstrated that the emperor was going to take his part as the one who offered status and support (Rowe 2009: 39). Another important task field of the Lifanyuan was the administration of justice over Mongols (Heuschert: 1998). However, as has been argued by Heuschert-Laage, dispensation of justice was another means for the Manchu ruler to display his ability to protect people and property (2012: 5/6), and thus contributed to his image as a patron. It is true that the Lifanyuan also assumed responsibilities, which went beyond the concept of patronage, as, for example, it collected the maps each banner had to hand in in regular intervals. These, however, were tasks it took over in the later part of the dynasty, as banner boundaries were not strictly defined before the 19th century (Bawden 1968: 90; Kamimura 2005: 14).
The concept of patronage as a model for understanding Qing rule in Inner Asia so far has been mainly applied to the Qing emperor’s efforts vis-à-vis religious authorities (Farquhar 1978; Köhle 2008). In this paper I will discuss the patronage relationship the Qing emperors had developed with worldly authorities, and will point out that this concept – or rather the façade of it - had repercussions on Qing institution building. This is in accordance with the findings of Nicola Di Cosmo, who pointed out that “the later development of the Qing frontier organization was based on principles and practices that pre-dated 1644, even though they were not initially designed specifically as frontier policies” (2012: 177).

Let me briefly outline what I mean by the concept of patronage. Patronage as a means for supporting territorial integration is not only known in the context of Asian history, but the obligatory reciprocity of this kind of relationship was a constitutive element of political culture in early modern Europe too. According to Sharon Kettering, who conducted research on the role of patronage relationships in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century France, patronage “meant, historically, a system of personal ties and networks that was pervasive politically and socially in early modern Europe. Used in that sense here, the English word ‘patronage’ denotes an individual relationship, multiple relationships organized into networks, and an overall system based on these ties and networks” (1992: 839). Kettering’s research was the basis for a range of studies in this field, focussing on diverse topics such as the implications of gift exchange and the specific language of patronage with its verbal formulas emphasizing loyalty, gratitude and respect (Emich et al.: 2005). Expressions of courtesy were essential for maintaining patronage relationships and their absence usually indicated the termination of the relationship (Kettering 2002: vii). This was by no means a unilateral process as clients benefitted from this relationship and tried to manipulate their patrons (Newbury 2003: 16).

The patronage relationship between the Manchu ruler and members of the Mongol nobility owes its origin to the historical circumstances of the early 17th century.7 The shift in power, which characterizes the relationship between Manchus and Mongol confederations from the 1630s onwards appears to be puzzling: What prompted the Mongol nobles, who in the late 1620s had concluded treaties with the Manchus on eye-level, to integrate into the evolving Manchu state? They surely had to recognize Manchu military superiority, but the Manchus were engaged in a war with Ming China and had to pool their forces to this effort (Di Cosmo 2012: 181).

In order to understand the political rationalities behind Mongol politics at that time, it is important to keep in mind that “the Mongols” were not a homogeneous group and did not follow a coherent policy. Nicola Di Cosmo uses the term “tutelage” in order to denote the specific role of Mongols within the Qing empire, who were granted protection and guidance, and, in return, had to accept a loss of a certain degree of independence and autonomy (2012: 189-191). I prefer the term “patronage”, because it refers to a relationship, which is not concluded with a “political entity” or “country or people” (190), but between individuals. The Manchus held up political contacts with numerous members of the Mongol elite, and Mongols did not form a political entity. In the early 17th century, Mongol confederations had been wedged between two Inner Asian centres of gravity, which were the Mongol Čaqar and the rising political power of the Manchus. After 1632, when the Čaqar khanate disintegrated, many Čaqar defected to the side of the Manchus (Weiers 1975: 448-450, 1989/91: 256).8 These refugees often had to leave all their herds and belongings behind and empty handedly entered pasture grounds claimed by other Mongol confederations, who had allied themselves with the Manchus long before. In the social and economic conflicts, deriving from these population movements, the Manchu leader was appealed to as a superordinate authority. He was regarded as a power providing protection for displaced populations, and the sources provide plenty of evidence that the integration of refugees was an urgent issue of concern for the Manchu state in the early 1630s (Weiers 1998). Even though Hong Taiji at that point in time was cautious not to interfere too much with intra-Mongol affairs, his willingness and ability to respond satisfactorily to the concerns of individuals or groups requiring his help consolidated his position among the Mongols settling south of the Gobi (Di Cosmo 2006: 255; Heuschert-Laage 2012: 5-6).


From the early 1630s onwards Manchu correspondence with Mongol leaders remarkably often refers to the ability of the Manchu ruler to grant protection. Nicola Di Cosmo has drawn our attention to the fact that it was at that time the Manchu ruler adopted a “terminology that refers to caring, protecting, nurturing and cherishing” and pointed out that the Mongol term ömögle- (to protect) was frequently used in Manchu-Mongol correspondence (2012: 191).9 In addition, Mongol words like örösiye- (to be gracious to, to show mercy) and qayirala- (to love, to take care of) became increasingly common when referring to the nature of the relationship of the Manchu ruler to individual Mongol nobleman (Arban doloduγar jaγun-u 1997: vol. 1, 29 (9), vol. 2, 9 (14+27), vol. 2, 10 (9+19); Weiers 1983: 420/421). This choice of words suggests that Hong Taiji made use of the language of patronage, which according to Sharon Kettering is characterized by “verbal formulas emphasizing loyalty, affection, gratitude, respect, honor, and trust” (Kettering 2002: vii).

The political rhetoric was further developed and became a means to stress the hierarchical structuring of the evolving Manchu state. In 1636, the requirements for Manchu-Mongol correspondence were redefined and Mongols communicating with the throne were provided with a set of terminological rules which they had to follow.10 We may assume that formalized language and behaviour helped to forge a corporate identity of loyal adherents of the Manchu ruler, who, by complying with a special code of conduct, distinguished themselves from both commoners and rival Mongol leaders. As will be shown below, with the Lifanyuan taking up its business the trend towards formalization was reinforced.



Formalizing Gift Exchange and Visits to the Court

Chia Ning has drawn our attention to the importance of rituals in the interaction of the Qing with Inner Asia and has done research on the different tasks of the Lifanyuan, which was responsible for their correct performance. Concentrating on three different aspects, that is visits to the court, the Imperial Hunt and Tribute, Chia Ning argues that these practices were part of Manchu Mongol political interaction as early as the 1630s (1993: 64-70). In order to better understand the transformation these symbolic actions underwent over the course of time – and especially with the imperial court moving to Beijing in 1644 -, it is instructive to take a closer look at archival material. To appear at the court at New Year and express one’s good wishes by bowing down and presenting gifts to the ruler was common practice long before the establishment of the Qing dynasty and is frequently mentioned in the Jiu Manzhou Dang, the Old Manchu Archives, the earliest extant source on the historical events, which led to the founding of the Qing dynasty. From the 8th day of the first lunar month of the fifth year of Sure Khan (February 8th, 1631), for example, the Jiu Manzhou Dang report:11


On the 8th day Šamba Tabunang12 and Sirantu of the Qaračin came in order to make kowtow in front of the Khan. What they brought [as presents]: Šamba hold ready one horse and meat of five sheep, Sirantu one horse, one falcon and one tiger skin. [The Khan] took the sheepmeat and the falcon. He did not take anything else [but] returned it.
Five days later, the Qaračin delegation left and the Jiu Manzhou Dang record the following:13
On that same day Šamba Tabunang, Sirantu and Wang Lama of the Qaračin left. What was given to them on the occasion of their departure: We handed over one sword and ten bushels of grain to Šamba Tabunang, one quiver and ten bushels of grain to Sirantu and one scale armor, one harness and one helmet to Wang Lama.
From the Jiu Manzhou Dang we learn that, when a Mongol delegation came to the Manchu court, its members would bring presents, usually horses, but also camels, furs, saddles, bridle parts, armament and other goods. It needs to be stressed that these gifts were recorded in detail by stating who had presented what, giving the personal names and titles of the donors and stating the political entity (in Mongol ulus) they belonged to or the name of the personality they were affiliated with.14 Interestingly, usually not all gifts were accepted, but some were immediately returned (Weiers 1979: 138, 1987: 110/111; Arban doloduγar jaγun-u 1997: vol. 2, 350/351; Di Cosmo/Bao 2003: 173). When a Mongol delegation left the Manchu court, its members were likewise presented with gifts (Jiu Manzhou Dang 1969: fol. 3373-3469; Gruber 2006: 39-105). These gifts were often handed over on the occasion of a banquet, which was given by the Manchu ruler for the departing guests (Gruber 2006: 112-117; Weiers 1979: 138, 1983: 414/415).

The exchange of gifts was a way to express one’s appreciation and respect. The facts that the sources meticulously record who had given what may indicate the economic value of the presents. At the same time, it shows that it was the origin of the object and the identity of the donor, which were important: The purpose of record keeping was not to summarize the amount of “profit” (cattle, food and drink, furs or precious stones) made upon the visit of a Mongol delegation, but it was important to state in writing the name and identity of every person, who had presented something to the court. We may thus conclude that, by offering gifts to him, members of the Mongol elite established a personal bond to the Manchu ruler.


We may assume that for the persons concerned this gift exchange was by no means arbitrary and they were well aware of certain rules for this kind of interaction. Visits to the court, mutual presents and festive meals were part of a social and cultural practice. A first attempt to formalize the modalities of gift exchange dates from 1637, when upon the request of the emperor, the Lifanyuan established guidelines for the number and value of presents offered by members of the Mongol elite on occasions such as the emperor’s birthday, the New Year celebration and imperial weddings.15
Order of the Holy Qaγan, who brings peace and is the one, who shows great mercy. We specified the amount of presents to be delivered on occasions such as the birthday of the long-living Holy Qaγan, the New Year celebration and in cases of great happiness and [the following] has been established by the Lifanyuan. The number of presents to be delivered by Wang, Noyan and Taiji16 of the polities on the outside on the occasion of the birthday of the long-living Holy Qaγan for each banner [amounts to] four horses to the Holy Qaγan, two horses to the empress and – as food – one cow and eight sheep; on the occasion of great happiness the Wang, Noyan and Taiji of the polities on the outside each will deliver two horses to the Holy Qaγan and one horse to the empress as presents and – as food – one cow and eight sheep; on the occasion of the New Year celebration four horses to the Holy Qaγan, two horses to the empress and – as food – one cow and eight sheep. On the 30th day of the first winter month of the second year of Degedü Erdemtü (December 15, 1637).

Archival material shows that this trend towards standardization was reinforced during the Shunzhi period (1644-1661), when the Lifanyuan issued regulations regarding the frequency of visits to the court. Moreover, at that time strict guidelines were given what sort of gifts individual Mongol noblemen would receive on these occasions (Qing chao qianqi Lifanyuan 2010: vol. 1, nos. 50, 80, 92 and 105; Song forthcoming). In parallel with standardizing the modalities of the visits their political significance was also re-evaluated. From that time on, return presents given to Mongols were denoted as “rewards”. I will take this shift of emphasis as a reason to take a closer look at the character of these transactions and their political implications.


The concept of patronage is closely related to the obligatory nature of gift exchange. Sharon Kettering, when developing her model of political patronage acknowledges that she is indebted to Marcel Mauss and Claude Lévi-Strauss (Kettering 1992: 844). Marcel Mauss analyzed the obligatory reciprocity of gifts, that is to say the obligation to give, to receive and to reciprocate (Mauss 2002: 16/17; Fournier 2006: 40). Even though Mauss’s work was published ninety years ago, his insights into the important role of gift exchange in establishing and sustaining bonds between individuals and groups are still central in anthropological debates to the present day (Sykes 2005) and have also been a source of inspiration for other disciplines (Komter 1996). Gift giving has been seen as a way of expressing social solidarity (Komter 2005), and, because it implies obligations which are not necessarily reciprocated immediately, it is a way of creating long term network relationships based on mutual trust (Caillé 2010: 183). According to Mauss, the obligation to give and receive cannot only be explained by utilitarian concerns and is not a purely economic relationship (Sykes 2005: 2/3). As it stands in stark contrast with market modes of transaction, it may not be surprising that in historical research the importance of gift giving in human interaction has been particularly emphasized for earlier periods, while there are few studies for the modern period (Krausman Ben-Amos 2008: 7/8). In the political environment of the pre-modern period, gift exchange was a way to create a personal bond between two persons and “to refuse to give or receive a gift is to refuse a personal relationship, which may be interpreted as a hostile act” (Kettering 1988: 131/132). Moreover, the obligation to reciprocate was not openly expressed but rather masked by a language of courtesy (1988: 133/134). According to Sharon Kettering, “polite references to the gracious, voluntary bestowal of patronage by a benevolent superior upon a worthy inferior for his valuable service were more complimentary and a more flattering portrayal of the giver and a greater honor for the recipient than the reality of an obligatory relationship” (1992: 844). As Krausman Ben-Amos has shown, relations based on gift giving could become enmeshed in the administrative structures of the state apparatus (2008: 9). This process can also be observed in the case of the Manchus and was related to a re-interpretation of the character of gift exchange.
It is notable that the emphasis of the Manchu side shifted from recording what was received to recording what was given. As stated above, during the time of Hong Taiji it was meticulously written down, which Mongol leader had presented what. The agency responsible for this kind of record-keeping was the Lifanyuan, which - at least from 1639 onwards - also sealed these records (Arban doloduγar jaγun-u 1997: vol. 2). In 1646, however, the practice of recording details of these transactions changed. The gifts of the Mongol side were still recorded, but, additionally, a list of return presents was added indicating which member of a Mongol delegation had received what (Arban doloduγar jaγun-u 1997: vol. 2, nos. 41, 43, 44, 45, 46, 49). Moreover, while the neutral Mongol term beleg, “present”, was used for gifts of Mongols given to the Manchu ruler on the occasion of their ennoblement, other gifts, given for example on the occasion of the New Year festival, were designated by the Lifanyuan as alba, “duties” (Arban doloduγar jaγun-u 1997: vol. 2, nos. 41, 43, 44, 45, 46, 49). It is difficult to assess under which political circumstances the gifts/duties were exchanged, because, in most cases, only names, titles and the amount of gifts is documented. The return presents given by the Manchu side, however, were called öglige, “donations, alms”, which denotes a present for a superior to an inferior (Doerfer 1963b: 140).17

While in 1646 presents and return-presents (labeled as “donations”) had been recorded equally, Lifanyuan memorials drafted a decade later reveal that the gift exchange with Mongol leaders had been further re-interpreted. The Lifanyuan in 1654, 1655, 1656 presented the emperor with five memorials discussing gifts for members of the Mongol nobility who had come to the court (Qing chao qianqi Lifanyuan 2010: vol. 1, nos. 50, 80, 84, 92, 105). Significantly, it did not make any mention of presents the emperor may have received or expected from the guests. Apparently, the issue, which called for a debate and new regulations, was the quality and amount of gifts given by the court. This is an important point because, as James Hevia has shown, for the Qing court the rituals performed in connection with gift exchange were a means for constructing power relations. Being closely connected to the “lesser lord’s” act of offering, according to Hevia “the importance of bestowal lies in the fact that by flowing down, it completes the hierarchical relationship of superior and inferior” (1995: 129) and thus allowed the inclusion of the “lesser lord’s” powers into the universal rule of the emperor (123). There is widespread agreement that gift-exchange and tribute should not be seen as formalized “systems”, but rather as flexible practices able to embrace a variety of meanings and connotations (Perdue 2009a: 86/87). Even though the formal language of gift-exchange was accepted by all sides, the parties concerned could place different value on certain aspects of this interaction.



Concurrently with the re-evaluation of gifts given, the terminology used at the court also changed. The Manchu expression used for imperial gifts was no longer neutral (būhengge - “that what is given”) (Jiu Manzhou Dang 1969: fol. 3378), but was now šangnara, which means “reward”.18 This term over the Qing period was commonly used in the official correspondence of the Lifanyuan giving the impression that the issue was not a mutual gift-exchange. The presents were no longer a means to express mutual respect, but were given in return for an open acknowledgment of Qing superiority and acceptance of a new hierarchical order. This is in accordance with the analysis of Chia Ning, who points out: “These gifts were granted in return for the pilgrims’ ritual performance to the emperor, rather than their gifts’ presented to the emperor, as in the Tribute” (1993: 66). The fact that the emperor likewise had received gifts, and, in this sense, was under the obligation to reciprocate was downplayed. In the Jiu Manzhou Dang, the records made before the conquest of China, the Manchu term šangnambi “to reward” was also used but it seems to have been reserved for objects given to envoys commuting between the Manchu court and Mongol rulers. For gifts bestowed on representatives from Mongol confederations, who had come to the court in person, the more neutral term bumbi “to give, to hand over” was used.19
From this we may conclude that in the Shunzhi period, that is the years after the Qing emperors had taken residence in Beijing, the emperor aimed at setting out his position as the one who gives, not as the one who receives. To be clear, this was a matter of self-conception and does not mean that gift transactions had indeed become unidirectional. It would be a mistake to assume that there were no regulations or conventions regarding the gifts Mongols were expected to bring to the capital when they came for the New Year’s ceremony or, even less, that Mongols came to the court empty-handedly. Moreover, in addition to the gift exchange performed on the occasion of Mongol noble’s visit to the court, there were also other transactions, which are usually classified as tribute (Bao 2006). Tribute could be presented at the court by envoys, but it did also have a frontier dimension, which was less subjected to clear rules (Di Cosmo 2003: 355). The “Internal Copy of the Lifanyuan Zeli”, for example, includes some quotas for horses and azurite the Tümed of Hohhot were supposed to supply dating from 1645 and 1657. Another regulation concerning tribute to be paid from the Qorčin and other Mongol banners dates from 1674 (Qianlong chao neifu chaoben 2006: 70) - and also shows that in the decades after the conquest of Beijing provisions were made for tribute relations, which did have commercial significance. According to the findings of Chia Ning, however, there is plenty of evidence that the Kangxi- (1662–1722) and Qianlong- (1736-1795) emperors did not try to increase but rather tried to limit the amount of tribute goods presented by Mongols (Chia 1993: 73-75).
When looking at the way how the Qing court tried to present itself we notice that the emphasis was on stating the generosity of the emperor. This becomes even more apparent when we look at the Huang Qing Kaiguo Fanglüe, a compilation commissioned in 1786 to glorify the history of the Manchu royal house before 1644. Its authors on many occasions elaborate on the lavish gifts granted by the Manchu ruler to his Mongol political partners. Gifts presented by Mongols, however, are usually only mentioned in passing and their value is made to appear insignificant. To draw an example, according to the Huang Qing Kaiguo Fanglüe, members of the Sönid Mongols, among them the influential leader Tenggis,20 in January 1640 came to the court in order to pay respect to Hong Taiji and brought “horses and camels” as presents. In return, the Manchu ruler gave them valuable presents such as suits of armour, helmets, bows, arrows, clothes embroidered with sable fur, clothes embroidered with dragons, caps, boots, belts, furs and silver (Hauer 1926: 495/496). The 18th century source is very brief on the presents received by the court, but, instead, elaborates on the return presents.

A document from January 20th, 1640, however, relates a somewhat different story of the same event. At the time, all presents received from Sönid Mongol leaders in January 1640 were listed in detail. We learn that most of them came with one or two horses or camels. Tenggis, however, presented forty horses, which at the time was a valuable gift (Arban doloduγar jaγun-u 1997: vol. 2, 260-262). Even though no list of return presents has been recorded, it is hard to imagine that the Manchu ruler had seen off the Sönid delegation empty handedly. Nevertheless, one may wonder from where the compilers of the Huang Qing Kaiguo Fanglüe in the late 18th century had the information on their exact quality and amount of the return gifts. Irrespective of what was actually given and received by both sides, it is noteworthy that in 1640 it was important to acknowledge the amount of gifts received while, from the viewpoint of 18th century Qing historiographers, what had to be stressed and needed to be recorded for posterity was the generosity of the Manchu ruler. As Oyunbilig (1999) and Weiers (1987) have shown, Qing court historians interpreted historical events of the 17th century in the light of the 18th century political situation. This trend was also confirmed by Pamela Crossley, who observed that “the Qianlong court obscured much of what it inherited from the ideologies of the Qing courts that preceded it” (1999: 20). Relations with Mongol political partners were redefined putting emphasis on imperial generosity and superiority.


When analysing the changing roles in Manchu-Mongol gift exchange we may come back to the obligation, which, according to Marcel Mauss, is inherent in every exchange of objects. As Mauss argued, gifts are never “free”, but the act of giving creates a bond between the one who gives and the one who receives (2002: 3). In the late 18th century, the fact that the Manchu emperor had received valuable gifts presented by the Mongol side was downplayed, and, by all appearances, he was not under the obligation to reciprocate. The Mongol nobles, however, who received favours from the Manchu ruler had to show themselves worthy and strive to requite imperial grace (Atwood: 2000). This shift of emphasis is important because it has implications for the notion of reciprocity. While the emperor acknowledged the position of Mongols by graciously conferring gifts to them, public recognition of imperial superiority was achieved by the Mongol side accepting the gifts. In the representation of the court, the active participation of Mongols in gift exchange and, associated therewith, their political agency was downplayed.

When we look at the objects, which were given to Mongol authorities on the occasion of their visit to the court, the quality of the goods changed. In the late Shunzhi period the court presented Mongols with gifts, which no longer emphasized martial arts or promoted their strength for defending as it had been usual during the conquest period. Objects symbolizing wealth, luxury and refinement like articles of clothing, jewellery etc. had been given to Mongols under the father of the Shunzhi emperor too (Gruber 2006: 116) – but usually in combination with armament. In the 1650s, however, Mongol leaders, who had come to the court, were presented with luxury goods, like satin, tea, silver bowls etc. (Qing chao qianqi Lifanyuan 2010: vol. 1, nos. 50, 80, 92, 105; Song forthcoming). According to Mauss’s model of gift exchange, gifts bear a general cultural meaning, but are also associated with the specific personal relationship in which they are transacted (Carrier 1991: 132/133). For Mongols, the objects bearing the meaning of their personal bond with the emperor were luxury items. They were given as external signs of wealth, and for their Mongol recipients visualized the prosperity, elegance and grandeur of the Qing dynasty. Even though we do not know whether the gifts were regarded as inalienable,21 these objects were certainly regarded as been directly linked to the person of the emperor and his generosity.




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