Dr Tim Thurston

Dr Tim Thurston


I joined the University of Leeds in 2017 after completing both MA and PhD in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at The Ohio State University and two years as a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution's Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. I am a current holder of a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship.

I speak Chinese and two dialects of Tibetan and have spent many years conducting ethnographic research in Tibetan-inhabited areas of Western China. In addition to teaching and research, I co-host the New Books in Folklore and New Books in East Asian Studies podcasts.

Research interests

I am particularly interested oral cultures from Western China (broadly including everything from traditional wedding speeches, tricksters to sketch comedy and hip-hop) with a focus on Tibetan verbal arts. I am currently working on a book monograph entitled Satirical Tibet: Voice, Media, and Ideology in a Modernizing Amdo Comedy and the Making of Modern Tibetan(s). This monograph examines the role of sarcasm and satire in Tibetan cultural production from oral tradition, to modern stage comedies. and a single, wildly popular form of scripted stage comedies that combined traditional verbal art, a form of Han Chinese comic dialogue, and modernist ideas to articulate a distinctly Tibetan idea of modernity. These ideas have not been static across the post-Mao reform era, but have changed in response to new government policies, local popular trends, and transnational information flows.

Additionally, I am now working on a new project that continues this focus on language, oral traditions, and modernity with an examination of intangible cultural heritage in Western China. As PI of the Sustainable Heritage Initiative, I lead a team of scholars examining how digital technologies and community based research can provide new perspectives for assessing endangerment of different traditions, and co-create new methodologies for ensuring the sustainable futures of minoritized and indigenous traditions both in China and around the world.  

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • Ph.D., Chinese studies, The Ohio State University
  • MA, Chinese studies, The Ohio State University
  • BA, Chinese, Carleton College

Professional memberships

  • American Folklore Society
  • Association for Asian Studies
  • International Society of Folk Narrative Research
  • British Association for Chinese Studies

Student education

I am not currently involved in significant student education work as a result of duties relating to my fellowship.

Research groups and institutes

  • East Asian Studies
  • Chinese
  • East Asian Studies
  • Asia Pacific Studies
  • Digital Cultures
  • Digital cultures
  • Centre for Endangered Languages, Cultures and Ecosystems
  • Centre for New Chinese Writing
  • Centre for World Literatures

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>