Artists and Society in Modern Tibetan Literature

  • Riika J. Virtanen Department of World Cultures University of Helsinki
Keywords: Modern Tibetan literature


It is usually thought that modern forms of Tibetan culture started to emerge largely in the latter half
of the twentieth century, although there existed some signs and developments of modernization
already in the first half. Since then, modern and traditional arts have existed side by side, often
influencing each other and even appearing in hybrid forms. This situation is reflected in stories
about artists in contemporary Tibetan fiction: these literary works include stories about artists
which reflect both traditional Tibetan arts and folk culture and modern arts. This essay focuses on
prose works by three writers: Dhondup Gyal (1953–1985), Tashi Palden (b. 1962), and Tsering
Dhondup (b. 1961). In the works discussed, the main characters are representatives of different
art forms. The stories contain descriptions of the lives of artists and themes related to becoming,
practising, and living as an artist. After the occupation of Tibet by the People’s Liberation Army of
the People’s Republic of China in the 1950s, Tibetan society underwent a considerable transformation.
The changes in society and its norms and values are also reflected in the descriptions of the
artists’ lives. The relationship between artists and the surrounding society cannot be characterized
unidimensionally. The stories describe highly differing attitudes and values towards culture and
art, which range from appreciating and being supportive to limiting and being negative. The relationship
between the artist and society may also undergo changes within a single story, reflecting
the influence of different attitudes and cultural policies in the society towards the practice of an
artistic vocation. Examining the descriptions of artists and the theme of living as an artist, this
essay contributes to the discussion of the genre of artist stories in Tibetan culture.

Aug 7, 2020
How to Cite
Virtanen, R. J. (2020). Artists and Society in Modern Tibetan Literature. Studia Orientalia Electronica, 8(1), 85-119.