An Introduction to Pari

The Tibetan cultural and linguistic region of Pari ([dpa' ris] pronounced Huaré locally) occupies the northeastern-most extent of cultural Tibet, in a wide arc stretching to the north and east of Xining (zi ling, Ziling). The area is best defined by the distinctive dialect of Amdo (a mdo) spoken in the region. But it could also be characterized as the most ethnically mixed of all Tibetan areas, since the people practicing Tibetan Buddhism in this region include not only Tibetans and Mongols, but also Chinese, Monguors (Tuzu) and Uighur peoples. Long contact with non-Tibetans has led these people to be open to different ideas, from eating rice as a staple of their diet to considering the validity of Kepler’s astronomy (via Chinese translations of Jesuit work in the18thcentury).

Pari is geographically centered on the Julak ('ju lag, Datong) River basin to the south of the Qilian or Nanshan mountain range, but also extends north of the Qilian range in the region north of Kokonor and south of the Tsong (tsong, Huangshui) River to Zhongtang/Kamalok(zhong thang, bka' ma log, Minhe) county in Qinghai, which is called Lower Pari (dpa’ ri smad). The region is very mountainous and supports herds of white yaks, but farming is also widely practiced. Tibetan culture spread into this area in the imperial period (7th century) and a distinct Tibetan polity survived here until the rise of the Minyak (Xixia) kingdom in the 11th century. The tens of thousands of Chinese who still practice Tibetan Buddhism in Kamalok (Minhe) county of Pari/Huarésay their families converted under Trisong Detsen (khri srong lde btsan) in the Tibetan imperial period. The presence of Tibetan religious culture here was almost certainly a key factor in connecting Tibetan lamas with the Mongol princely family that came to dominate Pari after the fall of the Minyak Kingdom in 1227. Prince Köden (grandson of Gengghis Khan) hosted Sakya Pandita (sa skya paṇḍita)and his nephew Pakpa ('phags pa) in this region in the 1250s, which led to the development of a network of Sakya (sa skya)monasteries in the area. Later visits by Kagyü (bka' brgyud)masters led to the development of Drigung Kagyü ('bri gung bka' brgyud) monasteries led by lamas whose political authority was recognized by the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

Eventually the Geluk (dge lugs)influence on this region led to the creation of several massive monasteries that had tight links with Central Tibet’s leading teaching monasteries (especially Sera [se ra] andDrepung ['bras spungs]). For instance, Drepung's Samlo (bsam blo) regional house had almost half, ten, of Drepung’s affiliated houses (mi tshan) and of these six were located in Pari (Tangring [thang ring], Bajo, Lenhaté [len hA the], Gönlung[dgon lung], Tsenpo [btsan po], and Drotsang [gro tshang]). Tangring Monastery, founded with assistance from the 4th Panchen Lama (pan chen bla ma], housed almost 1,000 monks at its peak, had both philosophical and tantric colleges, which used Drepung’s textbooks in preparation for sending monk students to Lhasa (lha sa), and had 24 branch monasteries. Bajo Monastery had four colleges (grwa tshang) with some 500 monks and seven branch monasteries. Lenhaté (Lianhua tai) Monastery, established by the ruling Turkic tusi(native leader) Li family, also had four colleges (for philosophy [mtshan nyid], tantra [rgyud pa], Kalacakra [dus 'khor], and medicine [sman pa]), a printing house and fourteen branch monasteries. Likewise, the Monguor Lü family of tusi sponsored a large monastery at their familial seat of power in Liancheng (Yongdeng county, Gansu) boasting both philosophical and tantric colleges. And these monasteries were all smaller than the other three in Pari, Gönlung, Tsenpo and Drotsang, that were also linked to Drepung monastery.

Although Tianzhucounty in Gansu is often translated as Pari in Tibetan, this is a misnomer in terms of describing the geographic extent of Pari. The current PRC administrative units that contain the core of the Pari cultural region are, from the northeast to the southeast: Sunan(a Uighur autonomous county, though Uighurs only outnumber Tibetans by about 500 people), Pari (Tianzhu) and western Yongdeng counties in Gansu and Semnyi/Mönyön (sems nyid, Menyuan), Serkhok (gser khog, Datong), Gönlung (Huzhu), Drotsang (Ledu), and Zhongtang/Kamalok (Minhe) counties in northeastern Qinghai. For a map with main counties highlighted, see the following link:,1127,1162,1158,1153,1155;bounds:11070528,4250510,11686916,4586833;language:roman.popular