Labrang Monastery

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This article is about the Buddhist monastery in Gansu province, China. For the monastery in Sikkim, India, see Labrang Monastery (Sikkim). For the general legal principal, see Tulku. For the Panchen Lama's administration, see Panchen Lama.
Labrang Monastery
Tibetan transcription(s)
Tibetan བླ་བྲང་བཀྲ་ཤིས་འཁྱིལ་
Wylie transliteration bla-brang bkra-shis-'khyil
Official transcription (PRC) Lazhang Zhaxichi
Chinese transcription(s)
Traditional 拉卜楞寺
Pinyin lābǔlèng sì
Labrang Monastery is located in China
Labrang Monastery
Labrang Monastery
Location within China
Coordinates: 35°11′44″N 102°30′29″E / 35.19556°N 102.50806°E / 35.19556; 102.50806
Monastery information
Location Xiahe County, Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Gansu, China
Founded by Ngawang Tsondru
Founded 1709
Type Tibetan Buddhist
Sect Gelug
Lineage Jamyang Zhaypa
Festivals January 4–17
June 26 – July 15

Labrang Monastery (Tibetan: བླ་བྲང་བཀྲ་ཤིས་འཁྱིལ་Wylie: bla-brang bkra-shis-'khyil, ZYPY: Lazhang Zhaxichi; Chinese: 拉卜楞寺, pinyin: Lābǔlèng sì) is one of the six great monasteries of the Geluk (Yellow Hat) school of Tibetan Buddhism. Its formal name is: Gêndän Xäzhub Dargyä Zhaxi Gyäsu Chibä Ling (དགེ་ལྡན་བཤད་སྒྲུབ་དར་རྒྱས་བཀྲ་ཤིས་གྱས་སུ་འཁྱིལ་བའི་གླིང༌།).[1]

Labrang is located in Xiahe County in Gansu province, in the traditional Tibetan area of Amdo. Labrang Monastery is home to the largest number of monks outside of Tibet Autonomous Region. Xiahe is located about 4 hours from the city of Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu.

In the early part of the 20th century, Labrang was by far the largest and most influential monastery in Amdo. It is located on the Sangchu or Xiahe River a tributary of the Huang He or Yellow River.[2]

Labrang Monastery is located in the town of Xiahe, which belongs to the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture.

La brang is Amdo Tibetan, and in standard Tibetan it's pronounced Lazhang (pronouncing respelling: lah jahng)


The monastery was founded in 1709 by the first Jamyang Zhaypa, Ngawang Tsondru.[3][4] It is Tibetan Buddhism's most important monastery town outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

Labrang Monastery is situated at the strategic intersection of four major Asian cultures—Tibetan, Mongolian, Han Chinese, and Chinese Muslim—was one of the largest Buddhist monastic universities. In the early 20th century, it housed several thousand monks. Labrang was also a gathering point for numerous annual religious festivals, supported an active regional marketplace where Han Chinese artisans rubbed shoulders with Hui merchants and nomadic Tibetan highlanders, and was the seat of a Tibetan power base that strove to maintain regional autonomy through the shifting alliances and bloody conflicts that took place between 1700 and 1950.[5][6]

In April 1985 the Assembly Hall burned down. It was replaced and the new building was consecrated in 1990.[7]


The monastery complex dominates the northern part of the village. The white walls and golden roofs feature a blend of Tibetan and Han architectural styles. The monastery contains 18 halls, six institutes of learning, a golden stupa, a sutra debate area, and houses nearly 60,000 sutras.

At its height the monastery housed 4,000 monks. Like so many religious institutions, it suffered during the Cultural Revolution; and the monks were sent to their villages to work. After it was reopened in 1980, many of the monks returned; but the government restricted enrolment to around 1,500.[8]

It has a Buddhist museum with a large collection of Buddha statues, sutras and murals. In addition, a large amount of Tibetan language books, including books on history is available for purchase, together with medicines, calendars, music and art objects.

There used to be a great golden statue of the Buddha, more than 50 feet high, which was surrounded by rows of surrounding Buddhas in niches.[9]

The monastery today is an important place for Buddhist ceremonies and activities. From January 4 to 17 and June 26, to July 15, (these dates may change according to the lunar calendar), the great Buddhist ceremony will be held with Buddha-unfolding, sutra enchanting, praying, sutra debates, etc.

Muslim Ma clique attacks[edit]

Young monk and prayer wheels
Circling a stupa

The Chinese Muslim Ma Clique under Generals Ma Qi and Ma Bufang launched several attacks against Labrang as part of a general anti Ngolok Tibetan campaign.

Ma Qi occupied Labrang monastery in 1917, the first time non-Tibetans had seized it.[10] Ma Qi defeated the Tibetan forces with his Hui Chinese troops.[11] His forces were praised by foreigners who traveled through Qinghai for their fighting abilities.[12]

After ethnic rioting between Hui and Tibetans emerged in 1918, Ma Qi defeated the Tibetans. He heavily taxed the town for 8 years. In 1921, Ma Qi and his Muslim army decisively crushed the Tibetan monks of Labrang monastery when they tried to oppose him.[13] In 1925, a Tibetan rebellion broke out, with thousands of Tibetans driving out the Hui. Ma Qi responded with 3,000 Hui Chinese troops, who retook Labrang and machine gunned thousands of Tibetan monks as they tried to flee.[14] During a 1919 attack by Muslim forces, monks were executed by burning. Bodies were left strewn around Labrang by the Hui troops.[15]

Ma Qi besieged Labrang numerous times, the Tibetans fought against his Hui forces for control of Labrang, until Ma Qi gave it up in 1927.[16] However, that was not the last Labrang saw of General Ma. Ma Qi launched a genocidal war against the Tibetan Ngoloks, in 1928, inflicting a defeat upon them and seizing the Labrang Buddhist monastery.[citation needed] The Hui forces looted and ravaged the monastery again.[16]

The Austrian American explorer Joseph Rock encountered the aftermath of one of the Ma clique's campaigns against Labrang. The Ma Muslim army left Tibetan skeletons scattered over a wide area, and the Labrang monastery was decorated with decapitated Tibetan heads.[17] After the 1929 battle of Xiahe near Labrang, decapitated Tibetan heads were used as ornaments by Chinese Muslim troops in their camp, 154 in total. Rock described "young girls and children"'s heads staked around the military encampment. Ten to fifteen heads were fastened to the saddle of every Muslim cavalryman.[18] The heads were "strung about the walls of the Moslem garrison like a garland of flowers."[19]

Recent events[edit]

In March 2008 there were protests by monks from Labrang Monastery as well as by other ethnic Tibetans linked to previous protests and rioting that broke out in Lhasa.[20]


  1. ^ Nietupski (1999), p. 21.
  2. ^ Nietupski (1999), p. 16.
  3. ^ Berzin, Alexander (2003). "A Brief History of Labrang Monastery. Original version published in "Gelug Monasteries." Chö-Yang, Year of Tibet Edition (Dharamsala, India), (1991)". The Berzin Archives. Retrieved 2013-10-08. 
  4. ^ Chhosphel, Samten (January 2011). "The First Jamyang Zhepa, Jamyang Zhepai Dorje". The Treasury of Lives: Biographies of Himalayan Religious Masters. Retrieved 2013-10-08. 
  5. ^ LABRANG: A Tibetan Buddhist Monastery at the Crossroads of Four Civilizations
  6. ^ LABRANG: A Tibetan Buddhist Monastery at the Crossroads of Four Civilizations (Book Preview Available)
  7. ^ Dorje (2009), p. 800.
  8. ^ Hill, Julie, (2006), The Silk Road Revisited: Markets, Merchants and Minarets AuthorHouse, Kindle Edition. Kindle Locations 661-662
  9. ^ Cabot (2003), p. 153, with photo taken in 1923.
  10. ^ Charlene E. Makley (2007). The violence of liberation: gender and Tibetan Buddhist revival in post-Mao China. University of California Press. p. 73. ISBN 0-520-25059-1. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  11. ^ University of Cambridge. Mongolia & Inner Asia Studies Unit (2002). Inner Asia, Volume 4, Issues 1–2. The White Horse Press for the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit at the University of Cambridge. p. 204. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  12. ^ Frederick Roelker Wulsin, Mary Ellen Alonso, Joseph Fletcher, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, National Geographic Society (U.S.), Peabody Museum of Salem, Pacific Asia Museum (1979). China's inner Asian frontier: photographs of the Wulsin expedition to northwest China in 1923 : from the archives of the Peabody Museum, Harvard University, and the National Geographic Society. The Museum : distributed by Harvard University Press. p. 43. ISBN 0-674-11968-1. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  13. ^ Wulsin, Frederick Roelker; Fletcher, Joseph; Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, National Geographic Society (U.S.), Peabody Museum of Salem (1979). Alonso, Mary Ellen, ed. China's inner Asian frontier: photographs of the Wulsin expedition to northwest China in 1923 : from the archives of the Peabody Museum, Harvard University, and the National Geographic Society. Contributor Pacific Asia Museum (illustrated ed.). The Museum : distributed by Harvard University Press. p. 43. ISBN 0674119681. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  14. ^ James Tyson, Ann Tyson (1995). Chinese awakenings: life stories from the unofficial China. Westview Press. p. 123. ISBN 0-8133-2473-4. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  15. ^ Paul Hattaway (2004). Peoples of the Buddhist world: a Christian prayer diary. William Carey Library. p. 4. ISBN 0-87808-361-8. Retrieved 2011-05-29. [1]
  16. ^ a b Paul Kocot Nietupski (1999). Labrang: a Tibetan Buddhist monastery at the crossroads of four civilizations. Snow Lion Publications. p. 90. ISBN 1-55939-090-5. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  17. ^ Dean King (2010). Unbound: A True Story of War, Love, and Survival (illustrated ed.). Hachette Digital, Inc. ISBN 0-316-16708-8. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  18. ^ Paul Hattaway (2004). Peoples of the Buddhist world: a Christian prayer diary. William Carey Library. p. 4. ISBN 0-87808-361-8. Retrieved 2011-05-29. 
  19. ^ Gary Geddes (2008). Kingdom of Ten Thousand Things: An Impossible Journey from Kabul to Chiapas (illustrated ed.). Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. p. 175. ISBN 1-4027-5344-6. Retrieved 2011-05-29. 
  20. ^ "Open revolt defies China's iron fist". The Sydney Morning Herald. March 17, 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-29. 


  • Cabot, Mabel H. (2003). Vanished Kingdoms: A Woman Explorer in Tibet, China & Mongolia, 1921–1925, pp. 148–157. Aperture Publishers in association with the Peabody Museum, Harvard. ISBN 978-1-931788-18-2.
  • Dorje, Gyurme (2009). Footprint Tibet Handbook. Footprint Publications, Bath, England. ISBN 978-1-906098-32-2.
  • Nietupski, Paul Kocot (1999), Labrang: A Tibetan Monastery at the Crossroads of Four Civilizations. Snow Lion Publications, Ithica, New York. ISBN 1-55939-090-5.

Further reading[edit]

  • Makley, Charlene E. (1999). "Gendered Practices and the Inner Sanctum: The Reconstruction of Tibetan Sacred Space in "China's Tibet"." In: Sacred Spaces and Powerful Places in Tibetan Culture: A Collection of Essays, pp. 343–366. Edited by Toni Huber. Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Dharamsala, H.P., India. ISBN 81-86470-22-0.
  • Tamm, Eric Enno. (2010) "The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds: A Tale of Espionage, the Silk Road and the Rise of Modern China," chapter 13. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre. ISBN 978-1-55365-269-4.
  • Thubron, Colin (2007) Shadow of the Silk Road 58–67 (New York: HarperCollins).

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°11′44″N 102°30′29″E / 35.19556°N 102.50806°E / 35.19556; 102.50806