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Pema Tseden and the Tibetan Road Movie: Space and Identity beyond the ‘Minority Nationality Film’

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-105
JournalJournal of Chinese Cinemas
Early online date8 Apr 2016
Accepted/In press6 Mar 2016
E-pub ahead of print8 Apr 2016


King's Authors


This essay analyses the films of Pema Tseden (པད་མ་ཚེ་བརྟན།), known in Mandarin as Wanma Caidan (万玛才旦), as road movies. The essay considers the use of the road movie genre as a response to the eclipse of the old ‘minority nationalities’ shaoshu minzu (少数民族) category of filmmaking in China, and the rise of the market economy under Chinese neoliberalism. Pema’s films feature male protagonists on repeated journeys to and from certain points, or circular journeys, within the Amdo (ཨ༌མདོ) region of the larger Tibetan cultural territory where Pema grew up. The ‘classic’ 1960s American road movie was considered to be a statement of alienation from American society. While remaining true to the genre’s focus on interrogation of the relationship between society and self and et entirely within Tibetan cultural territory and with almost no sign of Han Chinese people, Pema’s films can be understood as asking how Tibetans should respond to the cultural crises brought about by modernisation. Furthermore, as they circulate not only in Tibet but across China and through the international film circuit, because they do not offer ready answers, Pema’s films also open up to different understandings of Tibet and being Tibetan.

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