Ralph Litzinger
In the summer of 2011, I spent a month traveling through the Amdo region,
making my way through the present- day provinces of Gansu and Qinghai in
the northwest of China. This was about the time that Naktsang Nulo’s book,
which records in vivid and striking detail memories of his childhood in the
1950s, appeared in Chinese translation in Taiwan. I knew nothing then of
this remarkable tale, nor did I know that Tibetans by the thousands had been
reading the book, first written and published in a local Amdo dialect in 2007.
The purpose of my journey was to visit the families of Tibetan friends in the
south of Gansu. We traveled as well to the Labrang Monastery in Xiahe and
then made our way overland to the Repkong valley in Qinghai Province. With
my twelve- year-old son by my side, and always in the company of Tibetan
friends, we traveled by bus and car across some of the very terrain recorded
in Naktsang Nulo’s book.
The 1950s were not much on my mind. I was making this trip to get a sense
of what life was like in Amdo since March 14, 2008, when violent attacks on
Han and Muslim shops and antigovernment protests ripped through the Aba
region of Sichuan and the Amdo regions of Qinghai and Gansu. For so many
in China outside of these regions, the protests and riots of 2008 are slowly
being erased from memory. I recall meeting one young man from Beijing,
making his way from Lanzhou in Gansu to Lhasa by bicycle, who told me:
“I have never understood why the Tibetans were so angry and violent that
March. In any case, it doesn’t matter. Everything is back to normal. And be-
sides, what we all remember now is the massive earthquake [in May 2008]
that leveled towns and schools in Sichuan, and the many thousands who per-
ished. We remember how all of the country wanted to help. It was a terribly
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