Ama Adhe: The Voice that Remembers is about Adhe’s life story. The book consisted of four major parts–Adhe’s childhood in Kham, conflicts between local Tibetans and the Chinese, twenty-seven years of imprisonment in Chinese labor camps and her new life in Nepal and India since 1987 to the 1990s when the book was written. The book was written by Joy Blakeslee based on her interviews with Adhe. The story of Adhe was compelling with vivid recollections and descriptions of her pleasant childhood in Kham, her immense suffering in various prisons and her effort to make her experiences known to the world by speaking at hearings in different countries since she moved to Nepal in 1987.
Adhe was born in 1932 to a family named Tapontsang in Kham. When she was born, chieftainship still existed in the region. Her family lived in Nyagto that was ruled by the family of Gyaritsang, one of the oldest local clans. Her father, Dorje Rapten, worked for the Gyaritsang family and was the most trusted lieutenant of the chieftain. He played an important role in mediating local disputes. Such duties were especially important when conflicts and fights occurred between chieftains or between a chieftain and the members of the community. When Adhe was still small, her family moved to Karze and settled in a village named Lhobasha, of which she had beautiful memories. Being the youngest child in the family, she gained great attention from the family members and had a pleasant childhood living a semi-nomadic life. The family was in the village doing farming most of the year and during the fall they herded animals in the mountains.
According to Adhe’s description, the local Tibetans were living a self-sufficient and content life when she was young. It also indicated that her family was wealthy among the community members for often she had valuable jewelry and fine clothes to wear. And her family had servants and owned several modern machine guns and pistols that were usually unavailable for the majority of the people. Later, when the communists came to the region, her father and brothers were members of the local committee that the Communists formed to cooperate with them. All the members of the committee were from the wealthy or politically important families. Therefore, Adhe lived a privileged life in Kham during the early stage of her life.
Adhe emphasized the significance of religion in her life from the very beginning of her narratives. She described how her father taught her about Buddhism and its indispensable role in Tibetan culture at a young age. She was exposed to Buddhist prayers and was taken on pilgrimages as a child. She depicted the chapel of her family and its constituents with details and described it as a place where she found peace. Adhe’s narratives showed that the religious teachings from the elder generation and her involvement in religious rituals shaped her identity as a pious Tibetan and her view of the world. Her strong belief in religion was further portrayed later when it became one of the major factors that helped her survive the severe suffering during her twenty-seven years of imprisonment. After realizing the important role of religion in Tibetan society, according to Adhe, communists adopted the strategy of using religion as a means to communicate with the Tibetans and win their trust and support when they first arrived in Kham in the 1950s.
Adhe described the conflicts and fights between Khampas and Chinese. During the 1920s and 1930s the Tibetans in Kham fell under the military control of the warlord Liu Wenhui, and the authority of local chieftains was seriously weakened. In addition, Liu Wenhui’s cruelty and corruption created hatred and mistrust from the Tibetans. Therefore, there were frequent fights between Tibetans and Liu’s military. Liu’s authority was weakened during the late 1930s not only because of his frequent wars with the Tibetans and other warlords such as his nephew Liu Xiang, but also his isolation from the central government. Adhe mentioned the time period from the 1940s and 1950s as a time when there was not much of Chinese authority in Kham.
The 1950s was a turning-point for Adhe. During this time, the Communists gained complete political power in China and a large number of its soldiers arrived in Kham to implement social reforms that aimed for a classless society. Adhe’s narratives indicated Tibetans’ suspicion and fear of what might happen in the future. The Tibetans were watching and analyzing the Chinese propaganda and activities. When the local Tibetans learned from different sources that the communists were anti-religion and the properties of rich families would be taken away, some of them became extremely alert and prepared strategies to escape. Some tried to flee to places such as Lhasa while the others tried to hide their properties. Meanwhile, a group of Tibetan men determined to fight against the Communists. Adhe’s husband and brother-in-law were among this group. They hid in the forest and attacked the Chinese soldiers when possible. Adhe, at the same time, secretly formed a group of Tibetan women who supported the Tibetan fighters by providing information on Chinese activities and offering necessary supplies. When Adhe and her husband were ready to leave for Lhasa for security reasons, her husband died mysteriously and the conditions at the time did not allow her to leave.
Soon after that, the Chinese found out Adhe’s involvement in the local rebellion and arrested her. Adhe’s experience in prison took up the largest portion of her autobiography. At the beginning of her imprisonment she was physically tortured to confess her crimes and to provide the names of the members of the underground women group. She refused to do so despite all the physical and mental tortures she underwent. They treated her as a stubborn political prisoner who needed to be reeducated. Consequently, she was sentenced to eighteen years of imprisonment for re-education in the Chinese labor camps. During the period of time in prison Adhe refused to cooperate with the prison staff. She had a strong personality and stood up for the injustices that her friends in the prison experienced. Such personality and bold actions brought her severe negative consequences such as physical punishment and extended stay in prison. She ended up spending twenty-seven years in prison instead of the eighteen year sentence. Adhe’s description of her time in prison also included a lot of information on the terrible conditions under which the prisoners worked and lived. Working while starving was one of the major issues that she kept mentioning throughout the entire book.
In 1987 Adhe was released from the prison and returned to her home in Kham. She was startled by the changes that had happened in her home area. She observed that there were numerous outsiders in the region and a lot of Tibetans were no longer wearing traditional robes. Furthermore, many of her family members and friends died from starvation during the Cultural Revolution. Meanwhile, she found it difficult to adjust to the new life after being in prison for so long. In 1987, Adhe left for Nepal to meet her elder brother who left Tibet in 1959. She took the chance to fulfill her dream of meeting the Daila Lama and sharing her life experiences with him. Upon doing this, she decided not to return to Kham. She has been, since then, actively involved in making her experiences known to the outside world through participating in hearings in various counties.
Adhe’s autobiography is a good source for learning individual experiences before and after the arrival of the Communists in the Tibetan regions. As the review above shows, the autobiography provided immense information on Adhe’s personal experiences during the social conflicts in the 1950s and her time in prison. However, it is important to point out that, to those who are unfamiliar with the 20th century Tibetan history, it seems necessary to read supplementary materials on the general sociopolitical contexts of China and Tibet during the time in order to fully comprehend Adhe’s personal accounts. Another point to be raised is that the autobiography was written by an American. What the readers miss from reading the book is the process of the interviews that the author conducted with Adhe in order to write the book. Did the author speak Tibetan? If she did, what was her proficiency in Tibetan language? If not, who was the translator? Such issues appear significant because they actually influence the result of the project at hand. At the end, I also would like to mention that Adhe has been politically active since 1987 and such role might have affected her selection of what experiences to be shared and how they were told to others including the author of the book.
Blakeslee, J. (1997). Ama Adhe: the voice that remembers. Boston: Wisdom Publications.