Born in a small village named Madey Chukama in Golok, Amdo region, Naktsang Nulo’s autobiography mainly records the story of his childhood. A cutting line in his life was PLA’s occupation. He witnessed Tibetan monks being forced to smash their monasteries and lamas being beaten to death by the locals. His father tried to have them escape but he died in a battle against the PLA. The rest of them were captured and put in prison. They saw all kinds of violence in the prison; people were put in holes and many were abused to death. Later, he and his brother were taken to live in a school. But there he had to go through famine and the death of a large number of children and the old. Fortunately, Naktsang and his brother survived the crisis because they grew up in the countryside and were very familiar with survival skills. For the rest of his life, he only mentions that he was hoping to return to his homeland to see his family. In the introduction, he says that the purpose of writing his autobiography is to make people remember the past through what he experienced. There are many differences between the Chinese and English translations of his autobiography.
Naktsang’s autobiography begins with the place where he was born, and he divides the book into five chapters, chronologically. In chapter 1, he begins by recounting the past of his mother and the Naktsang family history. His mother was from another family, and the Naktsang family moved to the neighborhood where his parents met. After she married Naktsang’s father, his mother showed great performance in maintaining the family business. The family quickly became very wealthy. However, after her death, the family became very vulnerable. It began to suffer losses one after another and then continued to go into decline. First, their horses were stolen, then his uncle died, and his grandfather was wounded and finally died of an illness. Naktsang then began to work and live in a monastery. He and his father began to live a rootless life, and his father would leave him in his uncle’s place.
In chapter 2, Naktsang leaves the monastery for his uncle Norta’s place. There he began to make many friends to play with. During this time, he writes about his friends and experiences with lots of animals like birds, dogs, and horses. He recounts that they once encountered and subdued a crazy dog on a mountain. He also started to herd animals. The ends with the story of thieves who stole his father’s horse. So, they walked to nearby places, where the Mongols lived, looking for the horse. In chapter 3, after his father retrieved the horse, he and his father went on a pilgrimage to Lhasa. He writes about the things he saw and heard on the way. They encountered robbers on the way and also fought with the Chinese army for the first time. During their stay in Lhasa, they met the Dalai Lama at Norbulingka, and then returned to Amdo. When Naktsang’s father was found to have broken the rules by the head of discipline, he was given the punishment of thousand five hundred lashes. Despite the anger of his uncles, they did not threaten Wasang until he beat Naktsang. After his father recovered, they met the Panchen Lama at Labrang Monastery. At Labrang, they met the PLA, but at that time Naktsang’s impression of the PLA was not bad. After returning from Labrang, a critical moment in Naktsang’s autobiography or “the turning of the tide” emerged. Rumors spread in Madey Chukama, and then the monastery started to organize militias for resistance. But soon the monastery surrendered, and the Chinese army took over the whole area. The result was, as the title of the chapter, “witness to the massacre on our tragic journey through desolate places.” Naktsang witnessed monks being forced to destroy their own monasteries. He even tried to protect a small statue of Buddha but was not successful. He saw lamas being rounded up and beaten to death by the people. Naktsang’s father took them and intended to flee to Lhasa. On the way, they heard from people that the adjacent areas were already occupied. Meanwhile, they kept fighting with the Chinese army. Naktsang’s father was wounded and eventually died.
In chapter 5, the rest of them were captured and imprisoned. The adults were brutally tortured. Naktsang witnessed a great number of deaths on the way. Prisoners were locked in holes. But Naktsang got some food with the help of others in the prison; later he and his brother were sent to a school. However, there came a great famine. A large number of children began to die, and only fifty-three children and ten adults survived out of a thousand children and six hundred adults (page 262). Fortunately, he and his brother survived because they grew up in a rural area and were very familiar with the ways of getting food. They could even help others in the great famine. Then, as the famine began to end, he attended the Chumarleb County School.
As the translator notes, the English translation of the work is an abridged version. There are many differences between the Chinese and English translations. The subsections of the two versions do not correspond. The Chinese translation has 88 sections while the English version has only 74 sections. From the preface onwards, the two versions differ. The Chinese version has more details in almost every section. In the English version, there are scenes of battle with the Chinese army, while in the Chinese version, there are lyrical descriptions of suffering and encounters. In the later chapters of the book, the Chinese version is also based on lyricism, describing things in detail through specific events. For example, the description of the concept of “homeland” at the beginning is omitted in the English version. It starts directly with the introduction of Madey Chukama, without much lyrical writing. Another example is that in the third section of the Chinese version before Naktsang asks the aunt about his birth, there is a statement which goes: “human is an intermediate and higher life form;” and there are two paragraphs that lyrically describe the statement. In the English version, the second section begins directly with his question to his aunt. This adaptation allows for a greater variation in his style in both versions. The English version is closer to the “world seen from a child’s point of view” as Robert Barnett claims in the introduction. For, there is no such thing as his own view, but rather a child’s own experience through his listening and seeing others’ actions.
There are also other parts that were abridged. The chapter on the death of Naktsang’s grandfather in the Chinese version states the family hired a maid after the grandfather was injured. This maid was very mean and did not give them food or drinks, so his brother would bring food from other places. Finally, after the father returned, the maid was driven away. Before leaving for Lhasa, Naktsang was hit by a piece of frozen cow dung in the eye and became partially blind, according to the Chinese version. This does not appear in the English translation. The main differences between the two versions appear in the first three parts, that is, before the PLA’s attack. There are not many differences between the stories of being captured and imprisoned by the PLA and the narrative of entering the shelter, the “Joyful Home.”
Nulo, Naktsang. My Tibetan Childhood: When Ice Shattered Stone. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.
那年, 世時翻轉: 一個西藏人的童年回憶. 台湾: 雪域出版社, 2011.
 It refers to the title of the Chinese translation, 世時翻轉.