When Worshipping at the Snow Mountain Shrine': Encounters and Social Critique in a Tibetan Comedy from NW China

A research seminar about Tibetan comedy in China, how it reaches state sponsored stages and airwaves, and how it uses humour to discuss politically and culturally sensitive issues in China's Tibet.


A Tibetan Nomad, a Martial Artist, a Korean and an Australian meet on the Tibetan Plateau. It sounds like the opening to a somewhat belabored beginning to a joke. In fact, if you substitute the Plateau with a bar, you have the opening of a highly recognizable joking sub-genre. Jokes are often seen as trivial, but we also say that a lot of truth is said in jest. This talk examines, 'When worshipping at the Snow Mountain Shrine,' a Tibetan language gar chung 'sketch comedy' performed on the 2015 Qinghai Tibetan television station's New Year's variety show. It actually does show the encounter between a Korean, an Australian, a Nomad, and a martial artist on the Tibetan grasslands to entertaining effect. Juxtaposing Tibetan nomads with characters of Korean and Australian origin, such staged encounters create a productive friction that provides a space for public meditation on politically and culturally sensitive issues central to the negotiation of Tibetan-ness in the 21st century, including cultural preservation and ecological conservation. Treated as a staged, scripted vernacular ethnography of a transnational encounter, meanwhile, this comedy provides insight both into the state of Tibetan society in the 21st century, and the politics of minority cultural production in contemporary China.

About the speaker

Tim Thurston is lecturer of Chinese studies at the University of Leeds. Prior to coming to Leeds, he earned his Ph.D. at the Ohio State University and completed two years of post-doctoral research at the Smithsonian Institution, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Tim researches language, folklore, and society in Northwest China with a particular emphasis on Tibetans. He has researched and published on oratory in the Northeastern Tibetan region of Amdo, as well as the connection between folklore and contemporary Sinophone Tibetan literature. In 2015, Tim completed his Ph.D. thesis on language, modernity, and Tibetan comedy in Amdo and he is currently writing a manuscript entitled Ludic Modernism: Comedy and the Making of Modern Tibetan(s). To date, articles have appeared in CHINOPERL, Asian Ethnology, and Asian Ethnicity with work forthcoming in Journal of Folklore Research and Journal of Asian Studies. Until 2016, Tim also edited Asian Highlands Perspectives, an open access, peer-reviewed journal dedicated to publishing ethnographic, literary, and historical studies about the Asian Highlands region. Tim now also co-hosts the New Books Network's New Books in Folklore and New Books in East Asian Studies podcasts.