My Tibetan Childhood

When Ice Shattered Stone

My Tibetan Childhood

Book Pages: 344 Illustrations: 30 illustrations Published: November 2014

Asian Studies > South Asia, General Interest > Biography, Letters, Memoirs, Religious Studies

In My Tibetan Chldhood, Naktsang Nulo recalls his life in Tibet's Amdo region during the 1950s. From the perspective of himself at age ten, he describes his upbringing as a nomad on Tibet's eastern plateau. He depicts pilgrimages to monasteries, including a 1500-mile horseback expedition his family made to and from Lhasa. A year or so later, they attempted that same journey as they fled from advancing Chinese troops. Naktsang's father joined and was killed in the little-known 1958 Amdo rebellion against the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, the armed branch of the Chinese Communist Party. During the next year, the author and his brother were imprisoned in a camp where, after the onset of famine, very few children survived.

The real significance of this episodic narrative is the way it shows, through the eyes of a child, the suppressed histories of China's invasion of Tibet. The author's matter-of-fact accounts cast the atrocities that he relays in stark relief. Remarkably, Naktsang lived to tell his tale. His book was published in 2007 in China, where it was a bestseller before the Chinese government banned it in 2010. It is the most reprinted modern Tibetan literary work. This translation makes a fascinating if painful period of modern Tibetan history accessible in English.


"Some books lure us into new lives and unexpected worlds. Here, the person is the author himself, Naktsang Nulo. . . . There is no other such an apolitical book, known to me, by a Tibetan living and working in Tibet. . . .Neither the Chinese nor the Tibetan diaspora will be able to claim that Naktsang’s memoir accords with their conflicting views of the nature of Tibet and its people – although official Chinese will dislike it more because it makes plain the cruelty of their soldiers during the later Fifties." — Jonathan Mirsky, High Peaks Pure Earth

“This unconventional memoir is a literary as well as historical treasure.” — Andrew J. Nathan, Foreign Affairs

“In this contested territory a voice such as that of Naktsang Nulo, author of My Tibetan Childhood, is extremely rare. . . . Naktsang’s is a shattering story, the only published account of the experience of ordinary families during the Chinese assertion of control in Amdo, or of the nomads’ doomed resistance against an overwhelming force of PLA regulars.” — Isabel Hilton, London Review of Books

“I can’t tell you how refreshing this book is.  Religious life writing certainly has its own beauty, but it is really nice to read an autobiography that depicts the actions and concerns of people who are not elite religious practitioners. … So who should read this book?  I’d say pretty much everyone interested in Tibet.  It is obviously valuable for those interested in the history of twentieth century Sino-Tibetan conflict, but also gives important insight into pre-communist nomadic life.” — Geoff Barstow, Lost Yak

"The book carries the reader along on a huge tidal wave of emotion. The beauty of the landscape, the compassion and love between individuals, and the cruelty and violence of daily life, combined with the high adventure of travel and escape, make this at times a real page-turner as well as a significant breakthrough in our understanding of the history of Amdo."  — Wendy Palace, Asian Affairs

"With the publication of My Tibetan Childhood, this little known history is now available to a far wider audience. Anyone interested in modern Tibetan or Chinese history—scholars, students, and the general public alike—should be grateful." — Benno Ryan Weiner, Pacific Affairs

"This is an extraordinary book for the history it tells, made even more so by the fact that it was published originally in China. Naktsang Nulo . . . traces the first dozen years of his life, full of both joy and horror, in a riveting, matter-of-fact style without recriminations or judgments, making this autobiography all the more powerful."
  — A. Tom Grunfeld, The China Journal

"With little comment or condemnation, [My Tibetan Childhood] records the price paid in lives and lifestyles by the author's family and community for their incorporation into modern China. . . . In many senses, it is a naive story, the chronicle of a world seen through a child's eyes. But to readers within Tibet, it was a revelation. It told of epochal events that had rarely if ever been described before in print." — Robert Barnett, from the introduction

"As Naktsang tells it, the 1950s were a time of tremendous change: violence, war, exile, survival, and life and death defined so much of the everyday in Amdo and indeed across much of the Tibetan plateau. Told from the perspective of a child, his tale takes us into the complex and at times violent world of Tibetan clans and chiefs. We travel with him and experience the dangers faced on the road: bandits, soldiers, ferocious storms and cold fronts, and hungry wolves. . . . [And we] learn much of the violence that accompanied the 'peaceful liberation' of Amdo and the subsequent 'reforms' in the late 1950s." — Ralph A. Litzinger, from the foreword

"Equipped with a superbly comprehensive introduction, this absorbing memoir of nomadic life in the 1950s takes us deep into a Tibetan world neglected by both official Chinese histories and narratives by Tibetans in exile. Few books on Tibet have been as revelatory as this one."
— Pankaj Mishra, author of From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Naktsang Nulo (born in 1949) worked as an official in the Chinese government, serving as a primary school teacher, police officer, judge, prison governor, and county leader in Qinghai province, China, before retiring in 1993.

Angus Cargill was formerly a Lecturer in the Department of Tibetan Language and Literature at Minzu University of China, Beijing.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword / 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso ix

Foreword / Ralph Litzinger xi

Introduction. A Note on Context and Significance / Robert Barnett xv

Translator's Note liii

Author's Preface 1

Prelude. The Charnel Ground 9

1. Born on the Wide Tibetan Grasslands 13

2. A Childhood with Herdsman, Bandits, and Monks 49

3. By Yak Caravan to the Holy City of Lhasa 71

4. Witness to Massacre on Our Tragic Journey through Desolate Places 131

5. Torture and Imprisonment, Starvation and Survival 183

Appendix. Guide to the Abridgment and Chapter Changes from Original 269

Glossary 271

Index 283
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5726-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5712-4
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