Patron and priest relationship

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Statues of the Fifth Dalai Lama and (apparently) Güshi Khan seen by Johann Grueber in the lobby of the Dalai Lama's palace in 1661

The priest and patron relationship, also simply written as priest-patron or cho-yon (Tibetan: མཆོད་ཡོན་, Wylie: mchod yon; Chinese: 檀越关系; pinyin: Tányuè Guānxì) is the relationship between a spiritual leader or religious figure and a lay patron, as was the historic relationship between Tibet and the Qing Empire. (Chöyön is an abbreviation of two Tibetan words: chöney, "that which is worthy of being given gifts and alms" (for example, a lama or a deity), and yöndag, "he who gives gifts to that which is worthy" (a patron)).[1]

This description was used by the 13th Dalai Lama and is still used by historians to also describe the relationship between Tibet, the Dalai Lama and the Mongol Khans, as well as between Tibet, the Dalai Lamas and Manchu Emperors of the Qing dynasty. According to this mutually beneficial relationship, spiritual masters provide guidance and religious instruction, and might perform rites, divinations and analyse astrology. In addition, Güshi Khan, for example, was also bestowed a title by the 5th Dalai Lama. A patron and his successors, in turn, protected and advanced the interests of the priest-as did Gushi Khan for Tibet and the Dalai Lama. Also in the case of Tibet and Qing China, the Dalai Lama and the Manchu Emperor stood respectively as spiritual teacher and lay patron rather than subject and lord.

According to Elliot Sperling, the description of a "priest-patron" religious relationship governing Sino-Tibetan relations to the exclusion of concrete political subordination is itself a rather recent construction. He writes that the priest and patron relationship coexisted with Tibet's political subordination to the Yuan and Qing dynasties.[2][verification needed] During the 1913 Simla Conference, the 13th Dalai Lama's negotiators cited the priest and patron relationship to explain the lack of any clearly demarcated boundary between Tibet and the rest of China (ie. as a religious benefactor, the Qing did not need to be hedged against).[3]

During the priest and patron relationship between the Dalai Lama and Gushi Khan, Khan remained a patron while the Dalai Lama held both the spiritual and political authority of Tibet.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Goldstein, Melvyn C. (1991). A History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951: The Demise of the Lamaist State. University of California Press. p. 44. ISBN 9780520911765. Retrieved 2 April 2015.
  2. ^ Sperling, Elliot (2004), The Tibet-China Conflict: History and Polemics, East-West Center Washington, p. 30, ISBN 978-1-932728-12-5
  3. ^ Chang, Simon T. (2011). "A 'realist' hypocrisy? Scripting sovereignty in Sino–Tibetan relations and the changing posture of Britain and the United States". Asian Ethnicity. 12 (3): 323–335. doi:10.1080/14631369.2011.605545. ISSN 1463-1369. S2CID 145298893.