The Bard and the Bureaucrat

Keeping an epic alive on the Tibetan Plateau – Timothy Thurston

When he was 13, on the 15th day of the first of the summer months, one early morning as the cattle were spread out foraging on the side of Dzakyab Champa Taktse Mountain, in that holy place the birds and the bees were chirping and buzzing. Resting and listening lazily to a bubbling stream, he fell asleep. In his dream, he saw a white man with conch armor, a white horse with a turquoise mane. A loving smile appeared on his lips, and he said “Boy, I have an empowering jewel for you.” Then he seemed to open his chest with both hands placed light-filled volumes of books in his chest and closed it. He touched him three times with a vajra, and with a sharp voice, he said, “You, boy connected by karma, I’ve placed this highly auspicious jewel in your hands. May it bring benefit to all beings.” Having said this, he disappeared… From then on, he was able to tell the epic of King Gesar of Ling without difficulty.


Stand-up for Tibetan

A seriously laughing matter – Timothy Thurston

If I say “China” and “Tibet” in one breath, “comedy” is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. You may think of Buddhist monks, towering, snow-covered mountains and verdant grasslands – or you may conjure “cultural genocide.” If you are from China, meanwhile, you might think about Tibet as a feudal, pre-modern hell-on-earth liberated and modernized by the Chinese Communist Party, or a pristine, sparsely inhabited landscape contrasting noticeably with the urban metropolises of Beijing and Shanghai. These discourses, however, overlook the complexity of Tibetan cultural life in contemporary China. Tibetans in China do face mass surveillance, incarceration for political crimes, and cultural pressure, making it easy to overlook the dynamic cultural work being done in the region, from literature, to film, to hip-hop and, yes, comedy. Sometimes this work is done hand-in-hand with the Party, and sometimes counter to it, but much of it defies easy labels like “collaboration” and “resistance.”