Many people deserve thanks for contributing to the completion of this book. I mention their names here solely to express my gratitude and acknowledge their part. None of the mistakes, omissions, or other shortcomings can be attributed to anybody other than myself.
My initial interest in Chinese and Tibetan religion was sparked by the inspiring teachings of Charles Willemen at Gent University in Belgium. While students of classical Chinese language usually dwell on the Confucian Classics, in Gent we learned Chinese largely by reading Buddhist sutras. While this might have chased away some of my fellow students, it had the opposite effect on me! Later, at the University of Oslo, I was able to draw on the extensive knowledge of Tibetan language and culture of Per Kværne, not only as the supervisor of my PhD research but also as an enthusiastic language teacher.
The University of Oslo—through its Faculty of Humanities—was also generous in awarding me a three-year scholarship and, later on, providing an inspiring research environment at its Norwegian Centre for Human Rights. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and NORAD, the Norwegian development agency, funded part of the research for this book through the China Programme and the China Autonomy Programme at the center. The ministry and the center also provided additional grants to support the publication of this book.
I would like to thank first of all, in China, Yin Haitao for spending innumerable hours teaching me the Premi language and for his willingness to share his expert knowledge on Premi culture. Some of the other Premi people that I have known over many years and whom I would like to thank for all the information and support they gave me are Hu Jingming, Waija Dordje Tsering, and “Matthew.” Like Yin Haitao, they showed an enthusiastic scholarly interest in Premi culture that was an important inspiration for my project. But most inspiring, and surely the person to whom I owe the most in regard to my understanding of Premi culture, is Nima Anji (for reasons I explain later in this book, I have chosen not to use his real name). I was very fortunate to meet in him a person who combined extensive knowledge with great pedagogical skills, friendliness, and enthusiasm. Being with him made ethnographic fieldwork both an exciting and an enjoyable experience. Like Nima Anji, all the other people in Yousuo and Chicken Foot Village (both names are pseudonyms) who kindly answered my numerous questions have to remain anonymous, and I feel greatly indebted to them. I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to Luobu Heji, my sorely tried and much appreciated companion on most of my fieldwork trips. Although he once had to share a narrow wooden board that served as our bed for weeks and spent months without electricity and contact with his family, this did not deter him from accompanying me on still another field trip to Yousuo. Other people from my host organization, the Yi Research Institute in Xichang, whom I would like to mention with gratitude are Luocong and my other field trip companion Vugo (Qiu Wuge). I am also grateful for the help of Wang Yangzhong at the county government office in Muli.
The manuscript for this book started off as a PhD thesis. In the protracted rewriting process, I received invaluable help through the many comments of different experts. First of all, Signe Howell, Toni Huber, and Chas McKhann went beyond what can be expected of a PhD committee in providing very extensive and detailed comments as well as inspiring challenges to my arguments. A special thanks goes to Stevan Harrell for his long-standing support for my research endeavors and his very constructive advice on the initial manuscript. As one of the few Western anthropologists who has done research and published on Premi society, he has offered much-appreciated suggestions. Antonio Terrone did a terrific job of helping me check the quality of the Chinese translations of Tibetan originals. Other highly expert comments that greatly contributed to the quality of this book were made by the two anonymous readers for the University of Washington Press.
Throughout the years it has taken me to write this book, many people have contributed in several ways, either by commenting and discussing presentations of partial or preliminary results of my research or by contributing their knowledge and expertise when solicited. In addition to those mentioned earlier, I would like to thank the following people: Heidi Fjeld, Christoph Harbsmeier, Maria Lundberg, Zhou Yong, Rune Svarverud, Mark Teeuwen, Halvor Eifring, Samten Karmay, Yan Ruxian, Elisabeth Hsu, Caroline Weckerle, Ho Ts’ui-p’ing, Egil Lothe, Hanna Havnevik, David Gellner, Franz-Karl Ehrhard, Alexander McDonnald, Tashi Nima, and Katia Buffetrille. Laurel Mittenthal and Richard Armitage greatly improved the quality of my English.
At the University of Washington Press, Lorri Hagman and Marilyn Trueblood made the process from manuscript to book both highly effective and pleasant. I am grateful to Laura Iwasaki for the fantastic job she did as copyeditor and to Pam Canell for the great design.
Finally, I would like to thank my wife, Mette Halskov Hansen. Without her very competent and challenging criticisms combined with an unconditional support of my endeavor, this book would never have materialized. I am profoundly grateful that both she and my three daughters, Sine, Nele, and Hedda, put up with all the strains on family life that my work with this book has caused, especially the all too long and all too frequent absences during fieldwork.