Dr Tim Thurston

Dr Tim Thurston


Originally from the United States, 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 speak Chinese and two dialects of Tibetan and have spent over five years 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.


  • Programme Mananger, East Asian Studies Taught Postgraduate

Research interests

My research focuses on Tibetan language and society in the transition into modernity. In particular, I examine Tibetan oral traditions and emergent practices in the context of modern China. My first book, Ludic Modernism: Comedy and the Making of Modern Tibetan(s), is under review with Indiana University Press. This monograph examines 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.

I am now working on a new project that continues this focus on language, oral traditions, and modernity with an examination of intnagible cultural heritage in Western China. Tentatively entitled Cultural Sustainability on China's Margins, I will use case studies ranging from the Gesar epic to lesser-known oral genres to better understand how China's heritage regime, as well as the various government bodies, public intellectuals, and local stakeholders engaged with it, continue to influence the discourses and actual practices of intangible cultural heritage safeguarding in twenty-first century China.

<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
  • M.A., Chinese studies, The Ohio State University
  • B.A., Chinese, Carleton College

Research groups and institutes

  • East Asian Studies
  • Chinese
  • East Asian Studies
  • Asia Pacific Studies
  • Digital Cultures
  • Digital cultures

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>