A Note on Context and Significance
Robert Barnett
Naktsang Nulo’s My Tibetan Childhood is both a project of recovery and an act
of record keeping. It reinserts long- erased memories into the knowledge bank
of younger generations in his community, who until now have had severely
limited access to information about their past. And it gives an account, in all
senses, of the costs of China’s initial state- building project in Tibetan areas a
half century ago: with little comment or condemnation, it records the price
paid in lives and lifestyles by the author’s family and community for their
incorporation into modern China. It also serves for outsiders as a vivid re-
minder that events, even those involving widespread atrocities and occurring
at pivotal moments in a nation’s history, can be removed from the record in
the aftermath of nation- building, lost in the waves of deliberate erasure, ideo-
logical preference, and state- driven selectivity that take place at such times.
The author was not a likely candidate for such a project. Born in 1949, he
served most of his life as an official in the Chinese government, with successive
positions as a schoolteacher, a police officer, a judge, a prison official, and a
county leader in relatively remote counties in the eastern Tibetan grasslands
until his retirement in 1993. His first and so far only work of literature is an
autobiographical account that appears at first glance to be a simple recita-
tion of his experience as a child (Nags tshang 2007). It has so much preci-
sion in its details that one scholarly publication categorized it as a “semi-
autobiographical novel,” on the grounds that no writer could remember his
or her youth with such specificity (Latse Library 2008); Naktsang states in his
preface and reasserted later that his recollection of these events was clear and
that nothing extra had been added to the text.
The work begins with a description of the author’s upbringing in a nomad
community in the early 1950s and then recounts a six- month, 1,500- mile pil-
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