Borderlands

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.”