The Chentsa (gcan tsha) region has a long history dating back to the imperial Tibetan period, when this area was first incorporated into the Tibetan empire. The pre-Communist historical geography of Chentsa is not reflected in the current administrative county divisions, as Chentsa county only includes about half of the traditional Chentsa cultural region. This is especially significant because the other half of the cultural region is now included in a county that has a Muslim (Hui) rather than a Tibetan majority: Bayen (ba yan), also known as Hualong county. In Tibetan oral and documented histories, the territory of Chentsa starts at the Sumba Gorge (Tib. gsum pa, Ch. Songba Xia) and ends at the Shabo Gorge (Ch. Gongbao Xia). These are gorges along the course of the Yellow River (the former in the north at the border between Jianzha and Guide and the latter in the south end of the county on the border between Jianzha and Xunhua). Chentsa was divided by the Yellow River into two parts commonly known as Chentsa Nyisip (gcan tsha nyin srib), meaning the shady side and sunny side of Chentsa. Most of the sunny side is now under the administration of Hualong Country, also known as Bayen by the Tibetans. It stretches from Mount Tsongkha Kyeri (tsong kha skyes ri) to Gyutsa (gyu tsha) Valley, covering Upper Valley (Tölung, or stod lung), Middle Valley (Barlung, or bar lung) and Lower Valley (Melung, smad lung). There are important monasteries and towns in these valleys. Ditsa (d+hi tsha) Monastery (Ch. Zhizha Si) is located in Upper Valley, Jakhyung (bya khyung) Monastery and Chentsa Mani (gcan tsha ma Ni) in Middle Valley, and Chökhor (chos 'khor) (Ch. Qunke) in Lower Valley. Today the majority of the people living in these valleys are Hui Muslims (some Tibetans were converted by Ma Bufang in the early 20th century). A portion of the population still speaks Tibetan, and they look ethnically Tibetan, but they are officially recognized as Hui simply because of their religious beliefs. Moreover, they see themselves as Hui.
The shady side of Chentsa is traditionally made up of Nangra Draonggyé (snang ra grong brgyad, the eight communities of Nangra), Hormo Khaksum (hor mo khag gsum, the three divisions of Hormo), and Kapuk Tsosum (rka pug tsho gsum, the three groups of Kapuk). It makes up the present-day Jianzha County. This area is famous for being the place where, after the fall of the Tibetan empire in the 9th century, key Tibetan historical figures such as the Khewa Misum (mkhas be mi gsum, the Three Scholars) and Lhalung Pelgyi Dorjé (lha lung dpal gyi rdo rje) revitalized Tibetan Buddhism, which is described as the second diffusion of Buddhism in Tibet. The Three Scholars, namely Rapsel (rab gsal), Gejung (dge 'byung), and Mar Shakyamuni (dmar shAkya mu ni), first arrived in Lo Dorjedrak (lo rdo rje brag) in Chentsa and in 844 they moved to Namdzong (rnam rdzong) and meditated in the caves there for about 20 years while spreading the Buddhist teachings. After assassinating Tibetan Emperor Langdarma (glang dar ma), Lhalung Pelgyi Dorjé fled to the area. He also meditated in a cave in Namdzong. However, no evidence shows that they met each other. Now these caves have become holy sites to which Tibetans make pilgrimage.
According to the Jianzha Gazetteer (Ch. Jianzha Zhi) published by Jianzha County Government in 2003, Jianzha County was established in 1953 and is one of the four counties in Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province. Prior to the establishment of the county, Jianzha was under the administration of Guide Ting. An administrative system called Qianhu (a thousand households, Tib. khri dpon) and Baihu (a hundred households, Tib. rgya dpon) was used to exercise the administrative power over the area. This system was originally established by the Mongol khans and later adopted and used by the Ming and Qing dynasties to claim and exercise their control over the region. It remained effective until the Communist takeover of Amdo (a mdo) in the early 1950s. After a long period of time, the system prevailed in Amdo, and it became so pervasive that almost every village and community fell under the rule of either a Qianhu or Baihu, depending on the size. It is important to know that Qianhu and Baihu were essentially political titles given by the rulers (such as the Qing emperor) to powerful local Tibetans to rule the area. For example, Nangra Pönpo (snang ra dpon po) from Chentsa received his Qianhu title from the Yongzheng Emperor in 1734.
Moreover, all the Qianhu and Baihu title-holders were secular people, in contrast to the religious leaders who are well-known for being the dominant feature of the social and political landscape of Tibet. Before Communist rule, in Chentsa there were four such local leaders: one Qianhu, the Nangra Pönpo, and three Baihu, including the Kyareng Pönpo, the Kyaga (skya rgya) Pönpo, and the Kapuk (rka pug) Pönpo. The two divisions of Chentsa ("Chentsa Nyisip") on either side of the river could join forces for important matters. For instance, the sixteen Tibetan clans of Bayen/ Hualong county joined with the "Tibetan chieftain from Chentsa" (this must have included the Nangra Pönpo, who controlled portions of more than five counties) in resisting Chinese Communists from 1949 "until May 1952, when an expedition of 10,000 PLA troops was mounted against them." (See Tibet outside the TAR, p. 2178 [citing June Teufel Dreyer: "Ch'inghai" p. 7] & pp. 1700-1 [citing Qinghai lishi jiyao (Outline of Qinghai History), p. 633; and Jiefang Qinghai (Liberating Qinghai), p. 503]; see also Mark Stevens unpublished article about the Nangra resistance, given at a Harvard conference on Amdo.
As for religious leaders, the Zhapdrung Karpo (zhabs drung dkar po), Lamo Sertri (lwa mo gser khri, "the Golden Throne-holder of Lamo Monastery"), and the Kou Batsang (ko'u ba tshang) were the important lamas with political titles in the area. In Chentsa, the Zhapdrung Karpo is no doubt the highest lama. In 1558, Altan Khan’s son and the royal family members extended an invitation to the 3rd Dalai Lama, who sent the first Zhapdrung Karpo as his emissary to the Kokonor region. The first Zhapdrung Karpo was born in an area called Lamo (lwa mo) in Ü-Tsang (dbus gtsang) and was a highly accomplished lama. The Mongol leaders held great respect for him and treated him like the Dalai Lama himself. He was offered Ngaser Jangchupling (rnga sger byang chub gling), a monastery in Nangra (snang ra), in Chentsa. The Ming emperor Wanli granted him the title “tsha gan no min han.”
The second Zhapdrung Karpo founded Gur (mgur) Monastery in Chentsa in 1683. He also received the title “tsha gan no min han” for settling the land disputes between Bayen and Khagang (kha sgang) (Khagang is in Hualong County, but it is very close to Jianzha county seat and belongs to Chentsa Nyi). Dechen (bde chen) Monastery was founded by the third Zhapdrung Karpo, and it is one of the lama’s three main monasteries. The Kangxi Emperor named the monastery Getsokling (dge tshogs gling). In addition to the Zhapdrung Karpo, the Lamo Sertri is the other important lama at Dechen Monastery. He was one of the eight Qutughtu (Ch. Hutuketu) based in Beijing during the Qing Dynasty. The 5th Sertri was invited to the Qing court in Beijing and served as the Qianlong Emperor’s lama. He was involved in building Yong he gong Temple, which is now popularly known as the Lama Temple in Beijing. The 1st Lamo Sertri was a reincarnation of Trichen Lodrö Gyatso (khri chen blo gros rgya mtsho), who had his own series of reincarnation. It is interesting to note here that he was born to the brother of the 3rd Zhapdrung Karpo and studied at Dechen Monastery. He was later named Lamo Sertri, who then began a new reincarnation series.
Before the Communist Party came to rule, the Zhapdrung Karpo in principle exercised administrative power over a large territory covering the present-day counties of Jianzha, Hualong, Guide, Tongde, and Guinan. There are 25 monasteries under him and many of his monasteries are located in these places. However, it is important to point out that there were local leaders such as the Qianhu and Baihu, who ruled their own places. It is true that the Zhapdrung Karpo received titles from Mongol Khans and Qing Emperors and played a key political role, but how he negotiated power with the local secular leaders is an interesting question to probe. In the historical sources regarding the Zhapdrung Karpo, there is no mention of conflicts between him and the local leaders. Usually, his political role was limited to settling land disputes between the local leaders, who highly respected him as a lama. It is thus tempting to argue that he was able to deal with the issues successfully largely because of his religious influence, rather than the political power entitled to him. In fact one can argue that it was his religious influence that provided him political capital, which the Mongol Khans and Qing Emperors probably saw in him and used for their political ambitions in the region. Even today important lamas are still involved in settling the grassland disputes with which the government finds difficult to deal.
Actually the relationship between the Zhapdrung Karpo and the Nangra Pönpo is an obscure one, despite the fact that in principle the lama had administrative power over a large territory, including the place that the pönpo ruled. It is worth noting here that the Nangra Pönpo received his title “qianhu” from the Qing emperor. In fact, no evidence indicates that the Nangra Pönpo submitted to the Zhapdrung Karpo and took orders from him. According to the Jianzha Gazetteer, the Nangra Pönpo was directly under the Xining Amban. Nevertheless, in one case the Nangra Pönpo helped the lama settle a land dispute between his monastery, Gur, and the neighboring community, Kyareng (skya reng), which had its own Baihu leader. Still, this place was considered part of the Nangra Pönpo's area. That being said, the Nangra Pönpo highly regarded the Zhapdrung Karpo as a religious leader. Every time the Zhapdrung Karpo passed through he would be warmly received.
The Nangra Pönpo was the only Qianhu in this area. Hortsang Jikmé (hor gtsang 'jigs med) (mdo smad lo rgyus chen mo 2009) points out that the Nangra Pönpo was a direct descendant of the Chentsa pönpo. Zuktor Kyap (gzug tor skyabs), who was a great-grandson of the Chentsa pönpo Bumyak Gyel ('bum yag rgyal, dates unclear), married into Nangra Drampanang (snang ra gram pa nang, a village in Nangra) and begot eight sons. Amongst them were Tongkor Sönam Gyatso (stong skor bsod nams rgya mtsho), Nawang Namgyel (ngag dbang rnam rgyal), and Pönpo Yummé (dpon po yum me). During the Yongzheng Emperor’s reign, the third son, Nawang Namgyel, was given the title “Baihu,” which is equivalent to the head of 100 households. In 1734, Yummé, the fourth son, received the title “Qianhu,” the head of 1000 households, and he was considered the 1st Qianhu who assumed power over Nangra Dronggyé (snang ra grong brgyad, the eight communities of Nangra), including Chentsa Tang (gcan tsha thang), Lé Sum (klas gsum), Nangkhok (nang khog), Tsopzhi (tsho bzhi), Tengso (steng so), Lekang (glas rkang), and Nangra. Each of the eight drong (grong) has several villages within it. It is important to note that Dechen Monastery and the four surrounding villages are not included in Nangra Dronggyé, even though the monastery and these villages lie within the Qianhu’s territory.
Surprisingly, Rongwu Nangso (rong bu nang so), the leader of Repgong (reb gong), was also related to the Chentsa Pönpo. According to the Mdo smad lo rgyus chen mo (2009:210), in the early thirteenth century a physician named Lhajé Draknawa Kunga Döndrup (lha rje brag sna ba kun dga’ don grub) came to Amdo (a mdo) and married a woman from Chentsa and started his family there. He treated many sick children and received a lot of respect from the Chentsa Pönpo. At the time, there was no pönpo in Repgong. In his book, Hortsang Jikmé mentions that the physician was offered some land above Gurung (dgu rung), which is on the border between Chentsa and Repgong. Since Physician Lhajé Draknawa was related to the Sakya (sa skya), who at the time ruled Tibet, and because he was a highly capable physician, he was regarded as the leader of Repgong. The physician’s son, Rongchen Dodebum (rong chen mdo sde ‘bum), married the daughter of the Chentsa Pönpo, Lhayak Drölma (lha yag sgrol ma), and begot nine sons and one daughter. Rongchen Dodebum became acquainted with a Mongol Khan and was offered an ivory seal as a token of friendship. Because of this he was commonly referred to as "Rongwo Nangso" (rong bo nang so). The second Jamyang Zhepa ('jam dbyangs bzhad pa) Könchok Jikmé Wangpo (dkon mchog 'jigs med dbang po, 1728-1791), who played a key role in building up Labrang (bla brang) Monastery as well as founding Amchok Demotang Ganden Chökhorling (a mchog bde mo thang dga' ldan chos 'khor gling) in southern Gansu, was also from Chentsa's Nangra Serkhang (snang ra gser khang), the temple associated with the Nangra family (see TBRC Person RID: P169).
The title “Qianhu” was passed down through male heirs. In 1876, the 6th Nangra Pönpo, Lhagöntar (lha mgon thar), was born; he was known to be a pious person. He built Nangra stupa and added walls around the temple of Nangra Serkhang (snang ra gser khang). He promoted religious practice and ritual in the villages under his rule. Even today these religious rituals are still practiced in these places. He died in 1943. The 7th Qianhu, Wangchen Döndrup (dbang chen don grub), was born in 1904 and came to power in 1929, at the age of 25. He was famous for his resistance against the Communist rule in the early 1950s. Interestingly though, he served as the first leader (Ch. Xianzhang) of Jianzha County after he succumbed to the Chinese Communist Party.
Today, the Nangra Dronggyé still functions as one coherent community, despite the fact that it is divided into four or five different townships. The traditional idea of the Nangra Dronggyé remains strong and people voice solidarity with it. One recent incident demonstrates this point. Approximately seven years ago, a fight broke out between some Tibetans and Muslims in Jianzha town, and eventually it turned into a violent conflict between the two ethnic groups and had to be settled with the involvement of the PLA soldiers from Lanzhou. After the incident took place all the communities that are traditionally associated with Nangra Dronggyé came together and prepared to fight as one whole against their longtime enemy, the Muslims across the river. Nangra people still claim that the land that the Muslims occupy now was once their territory and so feel strong animosity towards them. Therefore, in Chentsa, there are frequent conflicts between the Tibetans and Muslims. (It would be interesting to study the relationship between the Nangra Pönpo and the Ma Family, who ruled Qinghai for 40 years and converted many Tibetans into Muslims. However, I have not found any material on it yet).
In addition to the Nangra Dronggyé, there are other polities that are centered around major monasteries in Chentsa. In the past, from time to time these polities clashed over land because they are adjacent to each other. One such polity was the Hormo Khaksum (hor mo khag sum, the "three divisions of Hormo"), who had their own leader. It is said that they had had a thousand households in the past, even though their leader, Kyareng Pönpo (skya reng dpon po), was only a Baihu. Before the Communist rule, the religious and political leader of Hormo Khak was Kou Batsang (ko’u ba tshang), who was the head lama of Kou Ba (ko'u ba) Monastery. The monastery was founded in 1340, and it has received patronage from the areas known as Hormo Khaksum, Chö Tsangma (chos gtsang ma) and Tsodruk (tsho drug). One of the early reincarnations of Kou Ba received the title “tsha gan no min han.” This is the only monastery in Chentsa that is not associated with or subordinate to Dechen Monastery.
In Chentsa (including both the shady side and sunny side), there are 28 monasteries, tantric temples (nakkhang, sngags khang), and holy sites, among which are famous monasteries such as Lamo Dechen Chökhorling (lwa mo bde chen chos ‘khor gling), Deutsa Tashi Chöding (lde’u tsha bkra shis chos sding), Kou Bashedrup Dargyeling (ko’u ba bshad sgrub dar rgyas gling), and Jakhyung Thekchen Yönten Dargyeling (bya khyung theg chen yon tan dar rgyas gling).
Like any other place name, the name "Chentsa" contains meaning. There are several different interpretations of the name deriving from the two Tibetan words in the name. "Chen" (gcan) means "beasts," and "tsa" (tsha) means "hot" or "dangerous." Following this, the most popular interpretation of "Chentsa" is a dangerous place infested with beasts that were unique to hot regions. The other interpretation is based on kinship. It is said that people of this area belonged to the Tsarik (tsha rigs), one of the 18 great Dongtsa Chen (ldong tsha chen) clans. Therefore, once it was called Tsayül (tsha yul). There is also another less-known interpretation. Hortsang Jikmé says that in the 9th century a minister of Emperor Tri Relwa (khri ral ba) came to Amdo to collect taxes and became the ruler of the area while serving as lachenpa (la gcan pa, "tax collector"). He also notes that Changkya Rolpai Dorjé (lcang skya rol ba’i rdo rje), a famous monk-scholar of the 18th century, spelled the name "Tsendza" (btsan rdza). Today the area is officially called Jianzha in Chinese. Apparently, the official name is the transliteration of the Tibetan and it does not have any particular meaning.
Bsod nams tshe ring, Gcan tsha’i gnas yig, Gansu Nationalities Publishing House; Lanzhou. 2008.
Debu Chenlie aosai, Xiarong Gabu Zhuan [Biography of the Zhabs drung dkar po], Gansu Nationalities Publishing House. Lanzhou 1996.
Hor gtsang ‘jigs med, Mdo smad lo rgyud chen mo, Library of Tibetan Works & Archives; Dharamsala, India 2009.
Jianzha Xian Difangzhi Bianzuan Weiyuanhui, Jianzha Xian Zhi, Gansu People’s Publishing House; Lanzhou 2003.
Skal klu rgyal, Lamo tshagan no mon han ho thog thu tshang gi rnam par thar ba bzhugs so (Unpublished).
Chen Binyuan, Ma Bufang Jiazu Tongzhi Qinghai Sishinian, Qinghai People’s Publishing House, Xining 1986.
Feature Type Cultural Region