The Joys and Sorrows of a Naktsang Kid

Chapters 51-52

By Naktsang Nulo

Translated by Matthew Akester

The Joys and Sorrows of a Naktsang Kid is an autobiographical account of the experiences of a Tibetan child in Amdo (the north-eastern part of the Tibetan plateau), describing nomadic life before the arrival of the Chinese troops in the 1950s, and the impact of Chinese communist reforms in 1958, followed by the ineffective attempts of the child’s family to flee from military attacks, imprisonment and starvation.

It was written by Naktsang Nulo in the Amdo dialect of Tibetan in 2005 and 2006, and published a year later by the author at his own expense in Xining, the capital of Qinghai, with a legal publication number indicating that it had official approval. It was limited to internal distribution only, meaning that it was only to allowed to be circulated among officials. This was probably the major reason why it was allowed to appear without redaction. The first print run consisted of 3,000 copies, but at least 10,000 copies are said to have been produced and sold, most of them pirated – about five times the normal print run for a book in Tibet, let alone one in a local dialect. This made it a unique phenomenon in modern Tibetan publishing, and some say that the actual number of pirated copies produced and sold was twice this number.

This translation was made from the Kha ba dkar po (Kawakarpo) edition, published in Lhasa dialect in Dharamsala, 2008, pp. 232-42. The translation was originally published on the site Destruction of Tibetan Buddhism Tibetan sources“, May 1, 2013.


Chapter 51: The misery of surrender, the onset of calamity

It rained last night, and this morning the earth is soft and the hills shimmering, the sun very warm. As the mist rises on the Tashi Choeling meadow in front of the monastery, masses of autumn flowers, yellow, white, red and green, reach towards the sun, and their fragrance pervades the air. The different voices birds and insects can be heard, and we get on with the ups and downs of our life. As before, I boil tea, and call, “Wake up, father, and have tea.”

Father replies “O-ya. Has Ané Karto brought some butter and cheese?”

“Yesterday. Now she has brought some milk too. I made milk tea today”, I reply.

At that point, Abu Japé came in the front door all agitated, saying “Father! Father, the Red Chinese are at the river bank. There is no assembly today, they are saying we have to put on a ceremonial procession to welcome the Chinese.”

Father got up. “That’s right”, he said. “The monastery is surrendering, and it’s sure to end in disaster.”

“Father”, I asked, “Does surrender mean they will be killed?”

“Not killed, but it means the monastery will be destroyed.”

Abu Japé said “Jangjuk the disciplinarian says if we surrender the monastery will not be destroyed, but if we don’t, people will be killed, property looted and the monastery destroyed.”

“Have pity!”, father replied, “Our Tibet is so naive! If they didn’t want to destroy the monastery, what would they come here for? They say Labrang monastery has already been destroyed. They are not going to leave our little hen coop of a monastery standing.”

Abu Japé told me “Drink up! Then let’s go look at the Chinese soldiers.”

“Abu Japé”, I asked him, “Are these soldiers the ones from Labrang, or are they the Liberation Army that came to our monastery last year?”

“No. Those were the soldiers of Chairman Mao, the king of the Liberation Army. Those who have come today are the demon army of the cursed Red Chinese.”

“Won’t they arrest us?”, I asked.

“They won’t do anything to children”, said father, “But don’t get too close.”

Then Abu Japé and I went out. At Gyazor Tögo of lower Chölung, many people stood watching the bank of the Ma-chu river. In the monastery and all the surroundings, people were milling around to no purpose. When we reached Tögo, the soldiers all dressed in yellow were lined up on the far bank preparing to cross the river.

Someone said “They are going to swim across”, and another, “Boatman Lochö didn’t offer his services to the Red Chinese today.”

An old man said “Friends, it is not good to stand here. The Chinese might think we are defending the hilltop and fire at us”, so most people went down to the foot of the hill. Abu and I stayed watching on top. Then a few shots were fired on the far side, and all the soldiers linked arms and jumped into the river. Not long after, they started to climb out one by one on to the near bank.

By that time, the monks were all waiting in ceremonial procession on the road leading up to the monastery. A messenger came from the river bank to say “Most of the Chinese soldiers have got across the river. Boatman Lochö has been arrested. Five or six of them drowned, and their bodies were carried away by the current.”

We were a little scared, and not wanting to go up close, stood watching from where we were. The ordinary monks and the Lamas and disciplinarians stood waiting with greeting scarves in their hands. Then someone called from afar “They are coming”, and the commotion of the crowd died down. A line of about 100 soldiers appeared from the forested edge of the Ma-chu, singing as they marched. Approaching us, with rifles on their shoulders and marching in step, they were quite a sight. Most of their clothes were still wet.

“You see, Abu,” I said, “They are Liberation Army soldiers.”

“Yes,” he affirmed, “They are the soldiers of King Chairman Mao. There is no need to be scared.”

Previously, we had been aware of the Liberation Army coming and going inside the monastery many times, and they had given us beans and candy. Today, the whole troop had come, looking at us with beaming smiles on their faces, and we felt not the slightest fear. As they approached the monastery, the Lamas offered them greeting scarves which they accepted, and with folded hands, offered scarves of their own to the Lamas. Those in the rear were still coming up from the river bank, and people said “There must be 300 of them.”

Then, all smiles, the Lamas led the soldiers up to the monastery. We stayed watching the later ones arrive. Once they reached the monastery, the soldiers took over the protector chapel, the residential apartments of Alak Drakgompa, and even some of the monk dormitories, settled in there, and set up lots of iron poles on the roofs. That evening, they held a meeting in the yard where winter teaching sessions were held, attended by the monks and laypeople from the nearby households. Soldiers bearing guns surrounded the yard. Abu Japé and I went to the meeting. A Chinese officer made a speech, relayed by an interpreter: “The welcome given by your monastery today was most kind. There is no need for anyone to fear. We Chinese and Tibetans are one family. We shall be off again in five or six days”, he said, among many other things.

When the meeting was about to end, he said again through the interpreter “From tonight onwards, the monks of the monastery and people of the village may not move around after dark. Our soldiers will be patrolling by night. If you move around too much by night and get killed, it will be your own responsibility. Tomorrow morning there will be a meeting in the summer teaching yard. No-one from the monastery or the village can stay away. Anyone found not attending will be punished or imprisoned”, and many other unwelcome announcements. Hearing them, a fear which I had not felt before grew in my mind. Fear of what, I myself could not tell, but I felt that their earlier fine words had been to deceive us.

From the next daybreak, the monastery was surrounded on all sides by armed Chinese soldiers, and they stared at anyone coming or going with hostility, not with the smiles they wore yesterday when presented with greeting scarves. The monk Khyagé announced in a loud voice “Hey! The soldiers say that all the monks must come to the assembly hall now! To the assembly hall now!”

“Aro!”, asked Aku Ngöntsé, “Are they saying anything we can understand?”

“Not much”, he replied, and then in a low voice “It’s not looking good. Last night, disciplinarian Jangjuk and the seniors were arrested. They say more will be arrested today. Now go to the assembly hall and find out.”

“Maybe better not to go?”, Aku wondered.

“Now, by heaven, it has come to this!”, he replied as he walked away.

I wondered if a time of crisis had come. Yesterday’s talk of kindness and of being one family seemed to have been false. Today the Lamas were under arrest. Perhaps this was not the Liberation Army. Perhaps they really were the Red Chinese demon army? Many thoughts went through my mind, but nothing I could do would provide the answer. I too followed after the monks, and came to the doorway of the assembly hall. I was stopped by a soldier on duty. A moment later the interpreter came, and said children were not permitted inside the hall. I stood watching from the doorway. Inside, the monks sat grouped by dormitory, all silent. After a short while, a Chinese officer started speaking through the interpreter: “Now you all cannot remain silent. You must say whether you want this monastery or not. To remain silent is to disapprove. To disapprove is to  consider going against us. If you are not against us, you must speak.”

At that moment, two officers led disciplinarian Jangjuk in handcuffs into the chapel. He was wearing nothing but an underskirt.

“That’s it”, said Aku Tséchö, “This is how they repay yesterday’s welcome. Now even if we speak, the monastery will be destroyed, and even if we don’t, with the monastery destroyed, we will have no integrity.”

Aku Tengyam said “Now they will do whatever they please. If they want to destroy, they will destroy. There will be no option not to destroy.”

Then the interpreter came and told them “Don’t talk like that. Today you are being asked whether you want the monastery or not.”

“Of course we want it”, Tséchö replied, “As a Tibetan, you must know that. Can’t you see that today there is no way for us to say so?”

“This Chinese is talking such lunacy”, said Aku Sherab. “How can you ask monks if they want their monastery? They want to destroy the monastery and are looking for an excuse.” This left the interpreter speechless. I heard everything from the doorway. I thought to myself “Pity! Call it a time of crisis, but calamity has befallen the monastery like the sky falling to earth! Now whatever anyone says, it’s a disaster.”


Chapter 52: Made to destroy our own monastery

Like before, they assembled the monks in the main hall and had them discuss whether or not they wanted a monastery. After a short while, the Chinese officer came and said through the interpreter “The other dormitory groups are saying they don’t need the monastery. What do you think? Decide, yes or no.”

At that, Aku Ngöntsé angrily retorted “That’s enough of your talk! Who says they don’t need the monastery? Who agrees with you?” The interpreter did not know what to tell the officer. Then the officer gave a signal with his hand, saying angrily “If you don’t want to stay, you can get out”, and two soldiers came and led Aku Ngöntsé away. Aku turned back, saying “Enemies of religion! Now do your worst! You enemies of religion, who cannot let others live!”, as the soldiers dragged him out through the door.

The officer spoke again through the interpreter “Anyone else want to leave? Otherwise speak up!”

A few monks said “Now you do as you wish. There is no way for us to disagree.”

“Now both the people and the monastery cannot go together”, said Aku Khargé, “So if we say the monastery is not needed, and the people do not die, there is hope that the monastery may flourish again one day.”

The officer demanded through the interpreter “Now have you all realised that the monastery is not needed?

A few monks replied “Yes, yes”. The majority replied “Do as you wish.”

After a short while, all the monks were assembled. The officer spoke with a beaming smile through the interpreter “Today’s meeting was excellent. Now most of the monks say, following the wishes of the masses, that the monastery is not wanted. We too have understood your wishes.” He said many other things, and then “All monks present here today should help to pile up the statues, religious books and other objects on one side. In two or three days time they must be taken to Ma-chu county town.”

Before he had finished speaking, a wave of unrest rose among the majority of the monks. Some shouted “If you want to destroy, you can do it yourselves. We will not do it!”, and “They are tricking us into destroying the monastery!”, “You can destroy, we are leaving!”, in uproar. At that point, Chinese soldiers came as if from nowhere and surrounded the hall inside and out, loading their guns. From the roof skylight, two or three soldiers set up Ci kon guns, pointing down at the monks. Two shots rang out. I looked up, and saw that the officer had fired his pistol in the air.

Through the interpreter, he said “Everyone sit down on the ground. You are the ones who said the monastery is not needed. Now it must be destroyed whether you like it or not. Whoever does not want to obey, stand up.”

Intimidated by the gunfire and the show of force, the monks bowed their heads and remained sitting down. Then soldiers came and led some of the monks (who had spoken) earlier up to the shrine tables in the hall, and made them throw the statues and scriptures on to the floor. Many among the monks in the hall and the laypeople looking on from the doorway wept and gasped. Some elders prostrated from the doorway. Then a group of soldiers came and drove most of the onlookers away from the door. Some of the old people did not move, and they forced them to sit down on the ground. I also stayed by the door, watching.

With the older monks confined on one side of  the hall, the others carried on throwing statues, sacred objects and offering receptacles on to a pile. When the larger statues were thrown down from the top of the shrine, they hit the floor with a resounding crash, and the entire hall was filled with swirling dust. One monk called Khachak brought a long rope, tied it around the neck of the Chögyal (Yama, lord of death) statue in the protector chapel and pulled. The frame holding the statue and its retinue snapped, and they fell to the ground. There was a great feeling of terror, and many people prayed “Lama Konchok Khyen!” (Oh Lord!). I thought “What a brave monk! Daring to tie a rope around the neck of Shinjé Chögyal and drag him down, with no fear of getting hurt. He must be a demon in human form.”

Then Khachak and some other monks dragged the clay statue of Chögyal into the assembly hall full of swirling dust and threw it on the pile of statues.

I thought how strange it was that today Shinjé Chögyal, whose name was normally spoken only in hushed voices, had been dragged through the dust, and nothing had happened. Today, all the gods and spirits had departed. Yes, this really was a time of sudden change. If the gods cannot prevent this, neither do the spirits have the power to harm. On the other hand, I must be doomed. When these statues of the deities were established, I was not here to see it. I had never paid close attention to religion and the statues of the gods. But on the day of their destruction, here I was. I had witnessed them being torn from the shrine one by one and thrown on the floor, the scriptures pulled off the shelves and cast away, monks in terror and confusion, destroying without thinking of the consequences.

Khyogé put a section of the Kangyur (canon of scripture) down on the ground, wailing “Ahawo! How could such a calamity fall on my head? Cursed Chinese, immune to the laws of Karma!”, and was dragged out of the door like a dead dog by two Chinese soldiers.

At that moment, the monks standing by the shrine started rushing here and there in terror, as a lot of soldiers charged into the hall shouting. Looking up, I saw a soldier with blood flowing from his head being escorted out by two others. The soldiers by the shrine grabbed four monks, chained them and led them out. Later we found out why. Apparently, a monk had pulled a statue down from the top of the shrine, and it had fallen on the soldier’s head, knocking him over. Not knowing who had done it, the soldiers grabbed those four monks.

In the centre of the assembly hall was a big pile of destroyed statues and scriptures. The monks were destroying while the soldiers looked on from a distance. The violence that occurs at a time of sudden change is unlike any other. We had come to the point of destroying our own religion ourselves, involuntarily, in the face of extreme force.

Like the saying “When (even) the meek get angry, what can be done?”, now that it was hit or be hit, there was no choice but to destroy. Earlier, in order to protect the monasteries, the head Lamas had ordered that no monk was to oppose the Chinese. Yesterday, after arranging a ceremonial welcome, offering greeting scarves and surrendering, they had been rewarded with nothing more than an empty “Thank you” and the demand to tear down their own monastery.

With these thoughts churning around my head, I went over to the pile of statues, and felt a lump underfoot. Looking down, I saw it was a Buddha image the size of a thumb. I looked around. There were just a few Chinese soldiers guarding the stuff, and they did not seem to notice me. I picked up the image, put it in my pocket, and wandered towards the door as if nothing had happened. As I reached the doorway, the soldier on guard showed me a big smile and said something. I didn’t understand, but I wondered if he knew what I had done. But then I thought it could not be, because if he knew, he would not be smiling at me. Then another soldier appeared, said nothing, gave me a stinging slap, took the image out of the fold of my robe, and hit me on the head with it. Then the other soldier stopped him. I was upset and started to cry. An older soldier came over and rubbed my head as he led me out the door. As I crossed the courtyard, I was thinking that these were definitely not the noble and disciplined Liberation Army soldiers we had seen earlier, they must be the demon army that Abu Japé spoke of. Looking back, I realised that pictures of Chairman Mao and Prime minister Zhou had been pasted on the entrance portico of the monastery. I thought “They ARE the Liberation Army. But they are not like the earlier ones. Why are they so bad, so full of hate? Someone like me would not be able to understand…”