Navigation – Plan du site

“The Body Hair that Grows on the Head”

Menla-kyap’s “Views on Hair and Hairstyles” (2009)
« Ces poils qui poussent sur la tête » : « Perspectives sur le cheveu et ses coupes » de Menla-kyap
Donyol Dondrup et Charlene Makley

Résumés

Dans cet article nous présentons le comédien, poète et artiste de scène Menla-kyap [sMan bla skyabs], tibétain originaire de l'Amdo, à travers une traduction de son récit autobiographique « Perspectives sur le cheveu et ses coupes » (2009). L'introduction situe la vie de Menla-kyap et son temps dans un contexte plus large et fournit un guide de lecture pour ce texte énigmatique. La traduction est annotée avec précision, tout en essayant de demeurer aussi fidèle à l’original que possible, sur les plans à la fois formel et poétique. Cet article vise à montrer que le texte en question, au-delà de son caractère autobiographique, donne à lire aussi la vision critique que l'auteur élabore au sujet des expériences complexes vécues par les Tibétains depuis les années 1960 sous l'autorité de l’État chinois.

Haut de page

Notes de la rédaction

Introduced and translated by Donyol Dondrup and Charlene Makley

Texte intégral

Introduction: Menla-kyap and his approach to hair

  • 1 Amdo is the Tibetan term used to refer to a vast region that is now mostly under the jurisdiction o (...)
  • 2 We are currently working on translating and analysing several important skits by Menla-kyap.
  • 3 This piece by Menla-kyap was briefly published in 2009 on the Tibetan language contemporary literat (...)

1In this chapter, we introduce readers to the Amdo1 [A mdo] Tibetan comedian, poet and performance artist Menla-kyap [sMan bla skyabs]. Menla-kyap’s body of work, especially his more well-known comedy skits, can be multi-layered and complexly structured in their own right. Each piece deserves serious scholarly attention in its entirety (Thurston, 2013; 2015).2 Here however, our goal is different. As an introduction to this brilliant and prolific artist and writer, we provide an annotated translation of his lesser-known 2009 autobiographical narrative, “Views on Hair and Hairstyles (2),” written through the unexpected idiom of his own hair.3 Although Menla-kyap’s piece is written in an autobiographical mode, we emphasize that the narrative is not about his own life per se, nor is it an exoticizing look at hairstyles as a feature of “Tibetan culture”. Instead, drawing on his preferred comedic and narrative modality of the allegory, Menla-kyap’s story of his hair is an artful allegorical account of key dilemmas and major turning points in his life, watershed moments which he takes to be emblematic of transregional shifts in all Tibetans’ lives in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

2Menla-kyap was born in 1963 in a Tibetan pastoralist family in Amdo Mangra [Mang ra] (now Mangra County, Hainan Prefecture, Qinghai Province, China), three years before the advent of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). A prolific writer, poet, lyricist, and social commentator, Menla-kyap is best known among Tibetans for his comedy skits in the Amdo dialect. He grew up in a pastoral community (Tib. ’brog pa) in Amdo Mangra and later received his education first at Qinghai Nationalities Teachers Training School in Xining, and then at the Shanghai Conservatory of Performing Arts. Menla-kyap catapulted to fame among Tibetans in Amdo for his comedic duets (Tib. kha shags) in the mid-1990s4. Today, it is safe to say that all Tibetans in Amdo are familiar with Menla-kyap’s work. Though controversial at times, he has taken on a key role as public critic and penetrating voice of conscience for an Amdo Tibetan public. To give a sense of Menla-kyap’s stature to a wider, non-Tibetan, English-speaking audience, we could say that he has become the Mark Twain of Amdo Tibet.  

3In recent interviews, Menla-kyap has emphasized his childhood desire to attend school, an aspiration that he said distinguished him from other children in his nomadic community. He joked in a 2016 interview that, “whereas other kids were fleeing school to go home, I was fleeing home to go to school!”5 Menla-kyap got his start in comedic performance through the advice of some of his teachers, who urged him to do a Tibetan-language form of the Chinese comedic duet genre (Ch. xiangsheng, Tib. kha shags). He performed his first comedic duet, “The Artist” (Tib. sgyu rtsal pa), for a group of co-workers in the 1980s. After a recording of that performance became popular, Menla-kyap was encouraged to write more comedic duets, gradually developing his own style and voice, and working to develop a specifically Tibetan form of contemporary live comedy that included multi-character skits (Tib. gar chung).

  • 6 However, in a 2012 interview, Menla-kyap said that one of his biggest regrets was that he could not (...)

4At the start of his performing career, Menla-kyap distributed his comedic performances only on audiocassette. Due to differences among Tibetan dialects, the audience of his comedies primarily consisted of Amdo Tibetan speakers.6 From the early 2000s, he started performing for the Qinghai provincial Tibetan television channel for its annual Tibetan New Year program, and later his comedic performances and commentaries became more widely available on television, CD and video. In my (Donyol Dondrup) conversations with several Amdo Tibetan intellectuals about Menla-kyap and his work, they were unanimous in the opinion that Menla-kyap’s work, especially his comedy skits, would never get old. His pieces are not just humorous, they are creative and substantive critical perspectives on Tibetan sociocultural and political life. In addition to his very influential comedy work, by 2016 Menla-kyap had written and published ten prose essays, over one hundred poems, lyrics for over 200 songs, and a book of poetry, and had also taken part in innumerable TV shows and live stage performances in Amdo areas. His subtle observations and portrayals of Tibetan popular culture and way of life, and his astute, albeit ironic analyses make him, in some ways, a self-taught anthropologist of contemporary north-eastern Tibetan society.

  • 7 In the 2016 interview, Menla-kyap drew a sharp distinction between his 1980s comedies and his perfo (...)
  • 8 In post-Mao Tibetan narratives of the recent past, writers and speakers have often presented figure (...)

5In his 2016 interview, Menla-kyap makes clear that he started taking his comedic performances seriously as an art form only after he had received training in filmmaking, screenwriting and literature in Shanghai, where he spent two years (1990-1992).7 Common themes of Menla-kyap’s more serious comedies from the mid-90s onward included Tibetan village grassland disputes (Thurston, 2013), ordinary Tibetan nomads and farmers’ encounters with Chinese doctors in hospitals, and fake Tibetan lamas, which he trenchantly ridicules. Comedies that he produced in the early 2000s took on a historical perspective as a way to comment on contemporary issues. For example, in a three-part series of comedy skits called The Gesar Horse Herder (Tib. Ge sar rta rdzi), he addressed themes relating to the 1904 British invasion of Tibet in order to critique more recent foreign incursions into Tibetan regions.8 More recently, Menla-kyap’s comedic performances have commented upon widespread criticism of Tibetans speaking mixed languages (code-switching between Tibetan and Chinese); the precarious economic adaptations of rural Tibetans facing market reforms that marginalize them (e.g., grassland fencing, the emergence of caterpillar fungus or yartsa gunbu [dbyar rtswa dgun ’bu] harvesting); rural development policies and unequal resource distribution; and the pervasive corruption of government officials.

  • 9 See Yurchak, 2005; Hartley and Schiaffini-Vedani, 2008; Jabb, 2015.

6In almost all of his comedic performances, Menla-kyap artfully stages scathing critiques of this corruption, ridiculing the sometimes absurdly human fallibility of the public servant in the context of the everyday practical ironies of the Chinese state. Menla-kyap often manages to do so in ways that protect him from direct state reprisals. This is because the main critiques in his skits are often implied rather than overtly stated. One might call this practice “coded communication,” after Menla-kyap's phrase “condensed meaning” (Tib. bsdus don), which he used in his 2016 interview to describe his own performances. Such coded communication is a common, indeed necessary recourse used by many Tibetan artists in China today to express their views on social and political issues.9 However, Menla-kyap’s critiques are not reserved for Han Chinese officials alone; ordinary Tibetans and Tibetan officials are also fodder for his parodies. He can be quite critical and self-reflexive about certain recent practices among Tibetans. For example, in Menla-kyap’s 2014 comedic speech, “Take Care of Blue Lake,” he pointedly questions the practicality and efficacy of Tibetans’ recent Buddhist practice of buying fish from the market and releasing them into rivers, a “life liberation” (Tib. tshe thar) practice which has been encouraged by Tibetan lamas and monastic scholars since the late 1990s (Gaerrang [Kabzung], 2012).

  • 10 Yet we should also point out that the work of Tibetan critics like Zhogdung [Zhogs dung] has also e (...)

7However, if one wants to grasp the broader context and significance of Menla-kyap’s commentaries, one should not reduce them to a modern fundamentalist critique of all of Tibetans' ritual practices; he is not criticizing Tibetans collectively as “backward” or anti-modern. In fact, unlike some of his intellectual peers of the 1990s—for example modernist critics of Tibetan society like the early Zhogdung and his followers (see Wu Qi, 2013)—Menla-kyap's critiques since that time have been subtle and multi-faceted.10 Relative to his peers, there is something highly original about Menla-kyap’s work. He eschews simple dichotomies (like “modern” vs. “backward”) and relentlessly challenges the presumptions of his characters, all of whom (including his own personas) stand for types of interlocutors in changing social environments: “In my skits,” he asserts in 2016, “each named character stands for something else.” For example, in contrast to those in the work of some of his peers, the rural, pastoralist Tibetan characters in Menla-kyap’s skits are often portrayed in a positive light, and not just as foils for modernist critiques of the Tibetan urban and educated elite. Often playing these pastoralists himself, Menla-kyap can present them as critical, sceptical characters who challenge the presumptions of outside visitors or the absurdities of development policies and goals.

8It can thus be difficult to grasp Menla-kyap’s multi-layered messages; his work navigates the boundaries of a kind of hyper-self-conscious irony. His narrative devices and performative styles highlight the arbitrariness of linguistic, cultural and political categories, as well as the intended and unintended artifice of all social performance. Translations of his rhetoric can be rife with scare quotes, which mark off the popular terms and unspoken categories that Menla-kyap sarcastically singles out for backhanded scrutiny. In fact, in this piece, Menla-kyap himself uses roman-style scare quotes around literally hundreds of terms and phrases, even redoubling the quotative mode by adding the Tibetan quotative verb zhes pa (e.g., “the so-called ‘city’,” Tib. “grong khyer” zhes pa’i). Indeed, as the piece progresses, and his voice shifts to express his growing self-awareness and indignation, the scare quotes seem to pile up to absurd proportions, such that nothing escapes his ironic framing.

  • 11 By contrast, to mark off the titles of classic Chinese texts, Menla-kyap uses the Chinese form of b (...)

9Although Menla-kyap does use quotation marks in more conventional ways to indicate the verbatim speech of his characters, given his ironic stance throughout the piece, we would say that every instance of quotation marks should be taken as indicating some ironic distance.11 In order to capture Menla-kyap’s often elliptical and allusive style, our translation philosophy is to try to stay as close as we can, formally and poetically, to the original text. We attempt to preserve Menla-kyap’s original form and intent by retaining all of his scare quotes—this is not meant to be easy to read. The multitude of scare quotes constantly stops us, inserting distance into the flow of the narrative, making us ask “why”, and compelling us to think about the many possible meanings of the words and phrases he brackets. We urge readers to be patient and consider the broader meaning of this narrative device. Menla-kyap’s scare quotes could in fact be taken as a pragmatic metaphor for the way his and others’ lives in the PRC (here emblematized by his hair) have been stopped, pulled up short, cut into new pieces, and regrown.

10For example, Menla-kyap’s scare quotes aid his powerful meta-linguistic analysis of the comment that a local Tibetan official made upon seeing Menla-kyap’s long hair for the first time in his home village (“Ah! This one… has changed! If your father doesn’t cut your girly hair, I’ll have to cut it!!”). In this direct quote and in his subsequent analysis of it, Menla-kyap unpacks the multiple voices or social personas embedded in this utterance, in an almost Bakhtinian way. Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin (1981) believed that multiple social positions could be present in the rhetoric of a single speaker. From his perspective, voices are not just individual speakers, but also characters or social types—collective subjects in unequal societies—that speakers evoke in everyday and formal contexts. In this sense, all speech is quotative. Menla-kyap’s analysis in this case illustrates this critical approach to language. For him, the “person” indicated by the word “this” in the official’s comment does not just refer to the long-haired Menla-kyap as an individual. Instead the word indicates a problematic collective subject, the changed “Other” who resists the ideologies and policies of the nation-state. The local official recognizes Menla-kyap as a social type, a “changed” person deemed to be a “crime” in the eyes of those leaders who, in his words, constantly display their pure “minds” towards the state. In this light, Menla-kyap’s “Views on Hair and Hairstyles” is a rare window offering a glimpse of the ironies and dodges of life in an authoritarian social and political context. Knowledge of this piece, we argue, is a vital prerequisite for any understanding of the nature of Menla-kyap’s wider body of work.

  • 12 In his introduction to this volume, Bromberger identifies four functions for hair treatment in a gi (...)
  • 13 See Noyontsang’s article in this volume for an insider’s view on “impure hair”.
  • 14 Mnol skra can be translated as “contaminated hair”. Shaving the “contaminated hair” or “polluted ha (...)

11In the narrative, Menla-kyap first and foremost probes the cultural politics of hair, specifically the very relationship between biological hair and its cultural and political uses.12 Menla-kyap is not interested in hair as just a body part. Thus he emphasizes the distinction in Tibetan between hair that grows on the head (Tib. skra) and hair that grows on the body (Tib. spu). In his view, whereas the term used for hair on the body (spu, also used for animal fur) is supposed to designate a biologically natural object, the term for hair on the head (Tib. skra) is a politically organized symbol designating a type of behavior. As a little boy, Menla-kyap wore a “hair amulet” (Tib. mnol skra), like many other Tibetan children in Amdo.13 Traditionally, when Amdo Tibetan nomad boys reached the age of three, they had the hair on their heads shaved off. Some of this shaved hair was rolled into a ball, sometimes with a small bell attached. The ball of hair was then fastened to the back of the boy’s coat as a protective measure. A common explanation for this practice is that children’s bodies, especially those of boys, although less susceptible to demonic harm after the age of three, continue to need this kind of ritual protection (Sa mtsho skyid and Roche, 2011: 261).14 As Menla-kyap grew older and reached school age, Tibetan notions of hair, bodies and people—such as those evident in hair amulet practices—gradually gave way to other notions of hair associated with statist social and political discipline. In other words, hair became a key marker for assessing changing standards of political correctness, especially if one failed to comply with the hair rules in school and in contemporary society. Thus for Menla-kyap, hair stands in for the sociopolitical person.

  • 15 From my (Donyol Dondrup) personal experience in Chinese public schools, “half-closure and half mili (...)

12Menla-kyap attended elementary school in the early 1970s at the height of China’s Cultural Revolution. In lucid prose, he writes, “It might be an exaggeration to say that schools at that time were like weaponless ‘armed forces’, but most would agree that they were like disciplinary ‘boot camps’.” In general, persons in Chinese schools were organized into a centralized hierarchy that extended from the school principal down to teachers and then to students. Those situated at each level had the right to punish those below them, but they in turn were also responsible for their conduct, and could expect to be punished by those above them. According to the Maoist pedagogical principles used in schools, self-criticism and “eating bitterness” (Ch. chiku, glorified hard labor and ascetic lifestyles) were two core values that underpinned so-called real learning and self-improvement. Even today, “half-closure and half-military management” (Ch. ban fengbi ban junshi guanli) is the dominant policy for school discipline in Tibetan areas of China.15 As much as Menla-kyap is critical of the secular school environment he experienced, he does not depict the traditional learning environments of Tibetan monasteries as romantically peaceful and humane. “All the ‘Great Teachers’ were ‘Lamas,’ ” he says, “and their thoughts and words, whatever they were, had to be viewed as ‘containers’ of ‘gold’.” Here Menla-kyap sarcastically compares secular teachers’ pretentions of absolute authority and knowledge to those of monk teachers in monasteries. He is thus commenting on what he sees as the authoritarian nature of both secular and monastic education at that time, whereby students could be viewed as mere empty containers to be filled by the knowledge of the teachers.

  • 16 The Shining Five-Starred Red Flag was published in book form in 1973. It was made into a film in 19 (...)

13Menla-kyap is very cognizant of the fact that he grew up in the shadow of the Cultural Revolution. He writes that in his early youth, the only book the school provided for reading during leisure time was The Shining Five-Starred Red Flag, a patriotic account of the Chinese People’s difficult time under the pressure of Western imperialism and the Japanese invasion in the first half of 20th century, followed by the glory of national liberation through the hard work and perseverance of the People’s Liberation Army, led by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Menla-kyap tells us that his childhood hero was Pan Dongzi, a model CCP member and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldier who was the Chinese protagonist of The Shining Five-Starred Red Flag.16 By reflecting on his childhood, Menla-kyap tells the story of the CCP’s gradually increasing cultural and political dominance over Tibetans, to the extent that Tibetan children of his generation replaced traditional Tibetan heroes, like King Gesar in the centuries-old Tibetan Gesar epic, with Pan Dongzi.

14As Menla-kyap matured and decided to become an artist, his long hair became an important marker for his identity. Intentionally keeping his hair long was his way of differentiating himself from the label of “intellectual burdened with ‘traitor’s hair’ ” (Tib. nang rul ba’i mgo skra), as well as from the valued career of a “lama” (his ironic term for a school teacher). It is difficult to grasp what Menla-kyap means by “traitor’s hair” in this piece, because the meaning of that expression shifts between multiple perspectives depending on which loyalties are taken to be transgressed. In general, it is a sarcastic citation of an older idiom for a certain westernized short hairstyle worn by characters in early CCP films who were portrayed as “traitors” (Ch. hanjian) to the nascent PRC nation-state (see footnote 20). Yet among Tibetans, the idiom could be used in counter-hegemonic ways. During the early Maoist years, when most adult Tibetan men and women kept long hair, many rural Tibetans saw those who cut their hair short as symbolic of obedient subjects like government officials, be they Chinese or Tibetan, who seemed to align with the ideologies of the CCP. Yet in the eyes of those local officials whom Menla-kyap refers to as post-1949 “newborn people” (Tib. gsar skyes)—the Cultural Revolution-era term for liberated, enlightened citizens of the new Maoist nation-state—Menla-kyap’s hair, brazenly flowing down his back in public, was grossly transgressive or “traitorous”.

  • 17 Menla-kyap never provides specific dates in this piece, but given that he first performed his comed (...)

15As an artist or comedian then, Menla-kyap was constantly being intimidated and challenged by the Tibetan elites of his home village, whom he sarcastically calls the “fat and high officials”. He tells us that he finally had to leave home for a big city (namely Xining, where Tibetans make up a very small minority), where he felt safer. Indeed, as a consequence of his relatively open defiance, Menla-kyap says he eventually spent seven months in jail, without any judicial process.17 His crime was of course not just his long hair, but most importantly his comedy skits, which staged scathing, very public criticism of the pervasive corruption of government officials. By specifically observing the vicissitudes of his creative career through the shifting cultural politics of hair, Menla-kyap tells us a nuanced story of how political pressures were ingrained in the everyday lives of Amdo Tibetans, even after the 1980s post-Mao reforms.

16Ultimately, Menla-kyap argues that the essence of hair is to grow in its own way, and the essence of humans is to have this same autonomy. His argument, however, is not just about advocating the pursuit of universal liberal humanity or individual autonomy. It is also an expression of Menla-kyap’s indignation and sorrow, his deep sense of the potential loss of a specifically Tibetan humanity in the face of both assimilation pressures and state repression—the possessive form “our” here most importantly referring to “us Tibetans” in the PRC: “if our hair does not have the freedom to grow as just hair, how could we ever have the freedom to live as just humans?”

Translation: Views on Hair and Hairstyles (2009)18
Menla-kyap (b. 1963)

  • 18 We received oral permission from Menla-kyap to translate this piece into English. All footnotes are (...)
  • 19 These two lines are also not easy to understand in the original Tibetan language. I (Donyol Dondrup (...)

17[…] Several years later, when my parents were reminiscing about how I arrived in this world, Mother said I was “born with shiny black hair, very cute.” According to Father, I was “a palm-sized person under a palmful of hair, [and I] almost died.” Nothing hard to understand there. The “cuteness” Mother spoke of was not the kind of “cuteness” implied in the common saying, Your own kids are beautiful to you. The fragile and helpless life “on the verge of passing away” implied in my father’s metaphor would elicit an unthinking “what a pity!” from the mouths of all black-headed Tibetans, who after all call themselves the “masters of compassion and sympathy.”
Now, the pitiful and fragile still might be used for several years to come.
But the need for such “sympathy” has been cleared away for many years now
19.

18Like the butter that emerges from milk churned thousands of times”, the main point of all I have said so far is: the tiny handful of hair that my parents were talking about has grown and fallen out again and again, and now it is on the brink of becoming a tiny handful again. So it’s time to write a few words about my hair and hairstyles, which have been such an important part of my life.

*

* *

  • 20 See footnotes 12 and 13 above.

19You may not believe it, but I still vividly remember that from the age of three till the age of seven or eight, I had this “hair amulet”, a circle of hair twisted with strings of wool and attached to the back of my coat.20 Whenever the image, created by an old pair of scissors, of a pint-sized Tibetan “shaved monk” or of a queue-coiffed “Chinese cow herder” in Tibetan robes appeared in a corner of a cracked mirror—that was what I looked like. Later on, we started using standard haircutters. And I started being able to see myself in an uncracked mirror.

  • 21 nang rul ba’i mgo skra literally means “the head-hair of someone who is rotten inside,” but its pra (...)
  • 22 Alluding to teachers claiming the status, wisdom and authority of Buddhist lamas.
  • 23 rig ma, literally, tantric consort. By choosing this term for “wife,” Menla-kyap sarcastically allu (...)
  • 24 Alluding to the common Tibetan notion of students as containers to be filled up with knowledge.

20My body changed, my look changed, and a center part was combed onto my head to style my hair to look nice, just like “traitor’s hair”.21 With that, I was able to attend school. From then on, my parents filled my ears with supplementary education: “Follow the rules at school. Follow the teachers’ words.” It might be an exaggeration to say that schools at that time were like weaponless “armed forces”, but most would agree that they were like disciplinary “boot camps”. All the “Great Teachers” were “Lamas” and their thoughts and words, whatever they were, had to be viewed as “containers” of “gold”.22 There was more of a “monastic” style or “severe” form of evaluation at schools back then compared to today. So, to accommodate the rules of the “armed forces” and the minds and eyes of the “Lamas,” the length of my “traitor’s hair” had never reached beneath my earlobes. But since the difference between rich and poor was unclear among the students and everyone looked alike, my “traitor's hair” was the only thing I could show off. Compared to pony-tailed herders on the grassland, my future was filled with the prospect of becoming a “Lama,” a teacher who could also take a wife23 and pour “gold” into the “containers” of others.24 And compared to little shaved monks in monasteries, I could not only sing “lascivious songs” but I also could seek a lover at a young age. My “traitor’s hair” was an emblem of all those privileges.

  • 25 When Menla-kyap was about to enroll in elementary school, it was the early 1970s. At that time in s (...)
  • 26 Pan Dongzi is a character in a well-known CCP propaganda movie called Shanshan de Wuxing Hongqi (“T (...)

21Besides that, I wore on my “traitor’s hair” a khaki Chinese-style Mao hat like those of the Red Guards, into which I had stuffed “propaganda” newspapers and girls’ silk scarves.25 That was just a custom or an imitation left over from the “Cultural Revolution.” In reality, I had never thought of myself as “regular army” or as a “real soldier.” When the Tibetan translation of the novel The Shining Five-Starred Red Flag became the only school reading material for leisure time and when it was later made into a movie, the story’s protagonist, a little soldier called Pan Dongzi,26 became an admired and respected figure for all the kids my age. During summer and winter vacations, I would tie a sash onto the ends of a stick, carry it as a gun, and, with other kids, pretend to join battles.

  • 27 Ch. Shuihu Zhuan.
  • 28 Ch. Sanguo Yanyi.
  • 29 Here Menla-kyap alludes to post-Cultural Revolution era practice of officially rehabilitating (dkar (...)
  • 30 gsug means bribery, gsug za literally means “eating bribes.” The word “eat” is commonly used among (...)

22As I passed through school after school, mimeographed Tibetan grammar books gave way to photocopied ones, and on the side I read the Tibetan translations of the blood-soaked Outlaws of the Marsh27 and the cunning, intrigue-filled, Romance of the Three Kingdoms.28 By the time I finished reading those two novels, my “dream” about becoming a “Lama” who would have the potential to pour “gold” into the “containers” of others had also changed. I moved away from the previous me, the intellectual burdened with “traitor’s hair,” and became an artist, one who “had” the freedom to decide the length of his own hair. This also meant I had to lead a city life. Before familiarizing myself with the new environment and work, I intentionally “styled” my “traitor’s hair” as a way to “rehabilitate” myself.29 My styled hair gradually became natural, flowing down my back. In order to “attract” the eyes of girls and “improve” my look, I kept the hair on my head lustrous and shiny. Yet my feet were so dirty they were rotting. At the time, if I had lain down naked in a garden, black flies would have surrounded me first before any honey bees got there. But I never tried that. Anyway, ever since the “class hierarchy” between the head and the foot emerged, if there were lowly servants like slaves, they would possibly be the big toes sticking out of the socks. If the big toes had the ability to talk, they would most likely speak up on behalf of the rest of the toes: “our rightful share has been squandered in the barbershops that crowd the winding city streets”. So that would be the moment for the hair to “criticize” the feudal Lord’s “bias” and “confess” to having eaten “bribes.”30 Such conversations could happen in reality, but I don’t hear them. What I hear are the reprimands of those in human society who know how to talk, the ones who eat bribes themselves.

23When I returned home for the first time, a fat official who clearly seemed to carry all the authority and sustenance of the entire community, exclaimed while rubbing his big belly: “Ah! This one… has changed! If your father doesn’t cut your girly hair, I’ll have to cut it!!” Fundamentally, this was neither a mere tongue-lashing nor a warning that I could ignore.

  • 31 gsar skyes, a Cultural Revolution-era term designating liberated, enlightened citizens of the new M (...)
  • 32 blo dkar (“pure mind”) and bsam blo’i go rtogs mtho (“high-level understanding”) are Maoist terms, (...)
  • 33 Most likely Xining.

24If I were to analyze his warning, the “person” indicated by the word “this,” with his exceedingly long, hard-to-label hair, is not the image of an “educated person.” The “person” indicated by the word “this” symbolizes a changed “Other” who resists the behavioral style of the “newborn”,31 the ones who grew up “under the red flag” of this nation-state. Only those leaders with “pure minds” in relation to the state and “high-level understanding” could perceive the “inherent seriousness” of the “crime” of being a so-called “changed” person.32 So what the “father” of the “person” indicated by the word “this” said was, “don’t mess with the officials, otherwise they will have to take care of you with their own hands.” Consequently, the “person” indicated by the word “this” could not stay in his hometown any longer and “fled” to the city,33 which the “power” of those leaders could not reach.

25At the time, I considered “getting by with the fools’ own methods.” But when I reflect on it now, I realize others had long since hurled “scissors of scorn” at my “prideful head.” This happened more than once. Since I have recourse to both the so-called “city”, to which it is hard to really belong, and to the “art” profession, which one day could belong to me, whenever I face “dangers” like those mentioned above, then, as always, I’m ready to flee. The former [the city] has taken some of the “beauty” away from my nature, and the latter [art] has added some “beauty” to my character. Anyway, it is thanks to my place of residence and my occupation that powerful people have been unable to strike their heavy scissors against the length of my braided hair.

  • 34 Menla-kyap again alludes to the difference in Tibetan between pu [sPu], body hair, and tra [sKra], (...)
  • 35 “Person of influence” here specifically refers to people who have close connections with top govern (...)

26Generally, hair that grows on the head is like any other body hair,34 and even during the “Cultural Revolution” there seemed to be no need for “manuals” controlling how to grow it or comb it. But our fat and “high” ones, who were nurtured by the “Cultural Revolution,” still seem to have a need to regulate “shaving and cutting.” For example, having switched occupations, I left the city to join a local theater group. The day I arrived, a group of young men noticed my hair and made the comment: “Bad timing. You happened to come during a ‘Haircut Movement’”. Basically, what happened was, the leaders of this group unanimously “agreed” to implement another leader’s policy to make “influential people”35 keep short hair onstage, while cutting everyone else’s long hair up to the nape of their neck. The leaders held a meeting to determine the standard length of hair (from the front, ears visible; from the back, neck visible). Then in the street, whenever they ran into those who didn’t comply, they would catch them on the spot and take them to a barbershop. To punish them, they would have the hair cut even shorter than the standard length.

  • 36 This is a common saying among Tibetans in Amdo (Tib. rgya khom na bya pho chu khar ’ded). This coul (...)

27Not only that, what is even more inconceivable is that it was well-known that whenever the “plump and pompous” local leaders saw someone with a longish mustache or beard in the street, they would immediately “grab” that person’s facial hair along with their lips and “never release” them. As for me, I’m the one whom everyone called “arrogant” at that time, so I felt confident that unless they in fact forcibly “shaved my head”, they wouldn’t be able to “shave” anything else on me. So I said, “Really! Isn’t it true that, as the saying goes, the Chinese have nothing else to do but herd chickens to the riverbank?36 If they don’t rein in their power, someday they might even try to ‘shave’ other people’s pubic hair! Is that really their job?” At that, the “newly shaved” ones who were assembled there agreed with me and said, “That’s so true!”

  • 37 Tib. nang logs, Ch. neidi, Chinese lowlands.

28It was either the effect of those words or my “not small” reputation for having a “stubborn personality”, but my lips and hair never encountered a single “grabber” or “shaver.” It also could be that I had seen the “lawless and reckless” practices of local “dictators” before, so I did not directly “confront” the “higher ups,” and tried to “avoid” them as much as I could. The ears of the “higher ups” were so sensitive that of course I knew going against them would be just like an egg hitting rocks. However, all along I was “sending” them gifts of “boastful words,” saying that the day someone came to seize my hair, the egg would still mess up the rocks. Fortunately, through a “mutual agreement,” I took the tuition I had offered to that group and I went to a professional college in the interior.37 That is the most profitable “business” that I have ever done in my life. At the “cost” of leaving my five-year contract with that group, where the “Hair Movement” was constant, I gained two years of time at a famous arts college where I could re-style my hair however I wanted, even to the point of combing it over my nose like a “modern jester.”

  • 38 It is located in Shanghai.
  • 39 Here, Menla-kyap uses the spatial terms “the other side of the ocean” (Tib. rgya mtsho’i pha rol tu(...)

29That art college is located in a relatively big city on the southern coast of the ocean.38 In spite of the hot weather conditions, I let my hair grow day by day until it flowed down to my shoulders. Since I had to bathe three times a day and wear sandals most of the time, my big toes got the chance to “rise up” and become the “owners” of a pair of new socks. With the rise of the “new sun” of true “freedom” and “equality” for my head and feet, for the first time I “tasted” the true essence of art. That is, across the ocean there exist true “human beings” and “human lives.” And I finally realized that on this side of the ocean, even though there are multitudes who walk on two feet, “barely human beings” who suffer more than me, they are unable to think for themselves about “human nature” and “human dignity.”39 When I saw this with my own eyes, I ultimately realized that the “eccentric” parts of my “personality” were “gold.” With that realization, my senses became sharper and my sorrow became heavier.

30When I returned [home] after graduation, I saw a few young guys with shaggy hair “casually” walking on the street, and I took this as a sign that the “Haircut Movement” had dissipated somewhat. However, aside from “hair length,” there were a few more things on my body that were “disturbing to see.” One example was that I liked wearing ripped and patched clothes, which annoyed many people. It particularly raised concerns for a new leader in my hometown. At first, he sent a message to me saying, “Menla-kyap, as the saying goes, even though one’s level of realization is equal to that of a deity, one’s actions still have to accord with the standards of humans. This is sincere advice.”

  • 40 “Winter meat” (Tib. dgun sha) refers to a common gift item offered by low-status Amdo Tibetans to h (...)

31It was clearly true that the adviser was sincere. He was one of those leaders who had “accidentally” become a leader, and had “suddenly” become fat, and every year delivered “winter meat” to upper-level village leaders.40 Not only that but, according to some evidence from village herders, he was one of my relatives, tasked with keeping me under surveillance. So I had to reply in a mild tone with a note: “I acknowledge, but do not accept.” However, when I went home the following year for the New Year and ran into him, in the ensuing confrontation it was clear that not only had I not accepted his advice, but also my saying “I acknowledge” had just been lip service. My hair had gotten even longer, and on top of that, I was only wearing intentionally ripped and patched clothes. Then in a despairing tone, he said, “If you can’t afford a pair of pants, I’ll buy you some! Please don’t wear patched clothes!” Seizing that golden opportunity to reply, I said, “Would you use public money to buy me a pair of pants? I couldn’t accept that. If you can get rid of the patched clothes of the masses under your leadership, I can rip the patches off my own clothes.” He immediately turned his head away and said nothing. Since then he has always ignored me, instead sidling around me to repeatedly tell my parents, always in a “concerned” yet annoyed tone, “Your son is so arrogant that there is no way to deal with him unless you as parents lecture him. No one wants to look at his hair and patched clothes, but on top of that his comedy skits only ever talk about Communist Party leaders eating public property. It’s public property. If that’s their share, they’ll eat it. But most importantly, if he keeps doing comedy skits like that, it will only hurt him, not us.”

  • 41 In China and now in Tibet, firecrackers are often set off in celebration of an auspicious event.
  • 42 He published this poem after his release.

32For such reasons, in those years there were several people around me who intimidated and threatened me both publicly and secretly, and I suspect that their desired “holiday” was the seven-month stretch I spent in a Chinese jail. Yet I never knew if those people ever set off any firecrackers.41 When I returned from prison, the leader to whom I had said, “I acknowledge, but do not accept,” must have felt a sense of defeat. It would have been most fitting for him to encounter a newly released prisoner with a shaved pate. But that prisoner, while behind bars, had written poems like, “Long Hair Flows With Pride,”42 and everyone could see that my hair had gotten even longer and my pride even greater.

  • 43 This is an allusion to the Maoist years; especially 1958, when many Tibetans in Amdo and Khams were (...)
  • 44 An allusion to Tibetan monks arrested and jailed during and after 2008.
  • 45 An allusion to the 2008 military crackdown on protests, which was ongoing in 2009.

33It was funny that everyone I met, instead of greeting me, made the comment, “They didn’t shave your head in prison?” It seems that in asking those questions, they were comparing me either to those criminal prisoners in Chinese movies or to the innocent prisoners of previous generations in their families’ histories.43 In response, I would say, “It seems that nobody dares to ‘forcefully shave the heads’ of today’s ‘political prisoners’ before they are legally sentenced.” But in reality, many Tibetan prisoners are “political prisoners” and among them, there are both shaved and unshaved ones, and also there are prisoners whose heads do not need to be shaved.44 In recent years, most of the “political prisoners” have been monks from remote monasteries, who were arrested en masse, beaten to a pulp, and left there.45 Then does it really matter whether the monks’ stubble is shaved or not? Yet these most recent “political prisoners,” those who have taken vows regulating hair length, might even be told to “wear long braids.” Whatever the case, an “enemy” is just an enemy, and doing something counter to the enemy’s nature and customs is a “political necessity”.

  • 46 In terms of time, here Menla-kyap could be referring to the coercive haircutting practices of the 1 (...)
  • 47 Jawuk Wande [sKya bug ban de] is an important historical figure in the Chabcha region (mid-western (...)

34In this sense, I was an “enemy” who was never sentenced, and a “political prisoner” whose head was never shaved. I was that type of prisoner. In certain contexts, the “body hair that grows on the head” would be counted as a “culture,” so who would think it is closely intertwined with “politics”? Think back fifty years ago, when our men’s top knots and queues and our women’s long braids were completely cut out and sheared off, changed to something like the “traitor’s hair” I had as a child.46 Not only was that “correct” but it was a symbol of political “revolution” and “new awareness.” Having made such a change, today those ideas still reside in certain people’s brains. Therefore, the fact that people like Jawuk Wande were labeled “traitors” and eliminated based on their “traitor’s hair” can be seen as a political position.47

  • 48 In this comment, Menla-kyap brings home his scathing critique of the political nature of hair on th (...)

35The reason the fat leader in my hometown reprimanded me while rubbing his belly was: if my hair had changed from the proper “traitor’s hair,” it was a “political problem” that was jarring to the leaders’ “political mind and eyes.” Otherwise, the “body hair that grows on my head” was certainly not growing on his belly!48 Similarly, the initiators of the “Haircut Movement,” those who “grab people’s lips,” and the one who told me, One’s actions have to accord with the standards of humans (in fact, his own standards), were saying that they do not allow “the body hair that grows on the head” to grow “freely” as just hair, but hair must instead be grown or fixed to accommodate “political necessities.”

36The followers of these leaders, those who have “political minds and eyes,” are teaching in today’s middle schools and universities. Instead of setting standards for students’ knowledge, they set standards for the length of their hair. They force the “body hair that grows on the head” to be grown to look like their own or to serve “political goals.” They’re saying students don’t have the very hair-growing “freedom” enjoyed by the “free people” of “feudal society” or of “the bourgeoisie.” That is also precisely why I said in the first part of this memoir that “the body hair that grows on the head” is an emblem of “freedom.” If our hair does not even have the “freedom” to grow as just hair, how could we ever have the “freedom” to live just as humans? The fact that the leaders and their followers are constantly flaunting their “political awareness” and ceaselessly slapping our own people in the face is a whole other story.

  • 49 Abbreviation of rtsa ba’i thob thang, basic rights. Here Menla-kyap is borrowing terms from Western (...)

37In recent years, my “body hair that grows on the head” has been neither long nor short. Although I go around with a long braid knotted at the nape of my neck, I have found neither the “freedom” necessary to the individual, nor the “awareness” necessary to the leaders. Nowadays it seems like there is no one saying I should “shave and cut” my hair, and in fact there is nothing much remaining to “shave and cut.” My palmful of hair is disappearing, not from accumulating a lot of wisdom. But my strong desire for “basic rights”49 has ripened even more than before.

  • 50 “Teeth laborers” (Tib. so shugs ngal rtsol pa) is Menla-kyap’s euphemism for government officials w (...)

38At this juncture, I would once again like to send some words to those “teeth-laborers”50 who have been disturbed by the “body hair that grows on my head.” This is what I want to say: Go ahead and eat. Eat with abandon the flesh, blood and bones of the common people. In a dictatorial environment, you could be right that it’s your “chance to feast.” Go ahead and bully, bully your own people, bully those whose hair meets or does not meet the “standard”. Your barking may be okay in a place where there is no “freedom” and “democracy,” but I am who I am, and not who you are. Also my hair is my hair, not yours. That is “the body hair that grows on my head,” and not even a whisker of it has anything to do with you.
November, 2009

Haut de page

Bibliographie

Anonymous
1993 
A mdo’i kha shags [Comedic Duets of Amdo] (Xining, Qinghai Minzu Chubanshe).

Bakhtin, Mikhail
1981 The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, edited by Michael Holquist, translated by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin, University of Texas Press).

Bhum, Pema
2001 Six Stars With A Crooked Neck: Tibetan Memories of the Cultural Revolution (Dharamsala, Tibet Times).

Hartley, Lauran and Schiaffini-Vedani, Patricia (eds)
2008 
Modern Tibetan Literature and Social Change (Durham, NC, Duke University Press).

Jabb, Lama
2015 
Oral and Literary Continuities in Modern Tibetan Literature (New York, Lexington Books).

Gaerrang (Kabzung)
2012 
Alternative Development on the Tibetan Plateau: The Case of the Slaughter Renunciation Movement, PhD dissertation, University of Colorado.

Rohlf, Gregory
2016 Building New China, Colonizing Kokonor: Resettlement in Qinghai in the 1950s (New York, Lexington Books).

Sa mtsho skyid and Roche, Gerald
2011 Purity and Fortune in Phu sde Tibetan Village Rituals, Asian Highland Perspectives, 10, 231-284.

Thurston, Timothy
2013 Careful Village’s Grassland Dispute: An A mdo Dialect Tibetan Crosstalk Performance by Sman bla skyaps, Journal of Chinese Oral and Performing Literature, 32 (2): 156-181.
2015 
Laughter on the Grasslands: A Diachronic Study of A mdo Tibetan Comedy and the Public Intellectual in Western China, PhD dissertation, The Ohio State University.

Wu Qi
2013 Tradition and Modernity: Cultural Continuum and Transition among Tibetans in Amdo, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Helsinki.

Yurchak, Alexei
2005 Everything Was Forever, Until It Was no More: The Last Soviet Generation (Princeton, Princeton University Press).

Haut de page

Notes

1 Amdo is the Tibetan term used to refer to a vast region that is now mostly under the jurisdiction of the Chinese provinces of Qinghai and Gansu and some parts of Sichuan Province.

2 We are currently working on translating and analysing several important skits by Menla-kyap.

3 This piece by Menla-kyap was briefly published in 2009 on the Tibetan language contemporary literature website gZhon gsar dra ba (The Youth Website). That popular blog site has since been closed. However, Menla-kyap’s piece was re-published in 2013 on the Tibetan language website Reb gong shes rig gling (Rebgong Culture Center) http://www.rebgongcul.com/bo/literature/2013-10-16/215.html (accessed July 2016). Menla-kyap wrote “Views on Hair and Hairstyles” in two parts; however, he only published Part 2 online. Our translation is Part 2.

4 See a 2012 Tibetan interview with Menla-kyap at http://www.tibetcy.com/showart.asp?art_id=442. In 2016, he sat for an interview on his life and work with a Tibetan friend who has an independent online videocast featuring interviews with prominent Tibetan figures. See http://www.iqiyi.com/v_19rrld8no8.html?src=frbdaldjunest. See also Anonymous, 1993, and Thurston, 2013.

5 See this interview at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30BJSu0ltc0 (accessed October 2016).

6 However, in a 2012 interview, Menla-kyap said that one of his biggest regrets was that he could not incorporate other Tibetan dialects into his comedy skits. He spoke of an earlier dream of travelling and learning other Tibetan dialects, but due to political constraints on his mobility he was never able to act on it.

7 In the 2016 interview, Menla-kyap drew a sharp distinction between his 1980s comedies and his performances from the mid-1990s onward. He stressed that prior to the 1990s, he had not been very serious, but that he later aspired to more “breadth and depth” in his writing and performances, such that his narratives would be more artful, taking on allegorical and metaphorical meanings. He singled out as examples of such work “The Ge sar Horse Herder” (Tib. Ge sar rta rdzi) and “Telephone” (Tib. kha par).

8 In post-Mao Tibetan narratives of the recent past, writers and speakers have often presented figures representing a variety of invading forces emphasized in state-sponsored histories. However, Tibetans do this in part to comment counter-hegemonically on the role of the CCP in Tibetan regions. Menla-kyap’s choice of the British in this case (rather than, for example, the KMT, or the Muslim warlord Ma Bufang) emphasizes the foreignness of the invading force.

9 See Yurchak, 2005; Hartley and Schiaffini-Vedani, 2008; Jabb, 2015.

10 Yet we should also point out that the work of Tibetan critics like Zhogdung [Zhogs dung] has also evolved over time, especially after the 2008 protests and the 2010 Yushu earthquake.

11 By contrast, to mark off the titles of classic Chinese texts, Menla-kyap uses the Chinese form of bracket quotes.

12 In his introduction to this volume, Bromberger identifies four functions for hair treatment in a given society: gender indications; identity indications; social order/disorder indications; aesthetic norm indications. Menla-kyap’s “capillarian autobiography”, presented here, clearly taps all four. [Editors] [HG and CM: we don’t really see the usefulness of this schema, but we see no reason why the other two functions would not be included here, especially “‘function 3’”].

13 See Noyontsang’s article in this volume for an insider’s view on “impure hair”.

14 Mnol skra can be translated as “contaminated hair”. Shaving the “contaminated hair” or “polluted hair” is a way to purify the body. This ceremony, according to Sa mtsho skyid and Gerald Roche, “marks the transition to a more mature stage, when the child is less vulnerable” (2011: 261). See also note 13.

15 From my (Donyol Dondrup) personal experience in Chinese public schools, “half-closure and half military management” is the name for the dominant school management policy in Tibetan areas, especially at the middle school and high school levels. “Half-closure” means that students are only allowed to leave the schools on weekends, and parents and relatives can only visit students on weekends. “Half-military management” includes policies such as requiring school uniforms and prohibiting boys from wearing long hair.

16 The Shining Five-Starred Red Flag was published in book form in 1973. It was made into a film in 1974.

17 Menla-kyap never provides specific dates in this piece, but given that he first performed his comedic skits in the early 90s, his stint in prison was most likely in the late 90s. According to Françoise Robin, the jail time was served in 1996.

18 We received oral permission from Menla-kyap to translate this piece into English. All footnotes are by the translators.

19 These two lines are also not easy to understand in the original Tibetan language. I (Donyol Dondrup) consulted several Tibetan scholars about their meaning, yet they all came up with different interpretations, so we are intentionally leaving these two lines vague in our translation.

20 See footnotes 12 and 13 above.

21 nang rul ba’i mgo skra literally means “the head-hair of someone who is rotten inside,” but its pragmatic meaning is best translated as “traitor’s hair.” As Menla-kyap describes here, a hairstyle with a combed center part was a common way of marking a character as a traitor in CCP propaganda movies. These movie characters were portrayed as “traitors of China” (Ch. hanjian), who spied for the so-called “imperialistic countries” (Ch. diguo zhuyi guojia), mainly Japan, Britain, and the US. However, in the 1980s and 90s combing a center part became a popular hairstyle among young men and it was seen as a “Western”, modern hairstyle.

22 Alluding to teachers claiming the status, wisdom and authority of Buddhist lamas.

23 rig ma, literally, tantric consort. By choosing this term for “wife,” Menla-kyap sarcastically alludes to secular teachers likened to lay tantric ritualists who, in contrast to monk teachers with their vows of celibacy, can take lovers and marry. On the subject of lay tantric ritualists, see Sihlé in this volume.

24 Alluding to the common Tibetan notion of students as containers to be filled up with knowledge.

25 When Menla-kyap was about to enroll in elementary school, it was the early 1970s. At that time in some nomadic regions in Amdo, especially in Chentsa and Chabcha, it was a fad to wear “yellow or khaki-colored Maoist hats. When I (Donyol Dondrup) was in my teens (the late 1990s), khaki Maoist hats were popular in my hometown as well, and usually men and boys wore them. In order to look nice, youths would stuff the hats with towels, newspapers, and silk scarves to make the front of the hat appear stiff and crisp. In 1996, when my family moved to the Labrang region, Tibetans there were not wearing Maoist hats, and in fact there was a stigma against doing so. I remember our neighbors curiously staring at my father and myself for wearing Maoist hats when my family first moved there.

26 Pan Dongzi is a character in a well-known CCP propaganda movie called Shanshan de Wuxing Hongqi (“The Shining Five-Starred Red Flag”). It came out in 1974 and was produced by the only CCP studio company in China called August First Film Studio (Chin: bayi dianying zhipianchang). It features stories about Pan Dongzi’s strong yearning to join the People’s Liberation Army after the enemy killed his mother. His father was also a soldier in the PLA. Later in the movie, Pan Dongzi accidently encounters the enemy, then risks his life to serve the PLA by delivering food and letters to them (see Bhum, 2001, for his account of his own attempts to emulate model soldiers during the Cultural Revolution).

27 Ch. Shuihu Zhuan.

28 Ch. Sanguo Yanyi.

29 Here Menla-kyap alludes to post-Cultural Revolution era practice of officially rehabilitating (dkar ’don, lit. “to make white/pure”) a person who had been labeled a class enemy or “hatted one”.

30 gsug means bribery, gsug za literally means “eating bribes.” The word “eat” is commonly used among Tibetans in Amdo to express the pervasive corruption of state officials. The general Tibetan term, usually translated as “corruption”, is rgyu za pa, literally “eating wealth.” Our Tibetan informants often say sgor mo za (“eat money)” when talking about corrupt officials taking bribes or kickbacks; gsug za is a more formal way to express the same thing. Here, Menla-kyap’s comedic move is to metaphorically point out how much time and money is spent on styling hair at the expense of other concerns.

31 gsar skyes, a Cultural Revolution-era term designating liberated, enlightened citizens of the new Maoist nation-state.

32 blo dkar (“pure mind”) and bsam blo’i go rtogs mtho (“high-level understanding”) are Maoist terms, both implying that one’s thoughts and understanding are in alignment with the ideologies of CCP. These terms are still commonly used in policy documents today.

33 Most likely Xining.

34 Menla-kyap again alludes to the difference in Tibetan between pu [sPu], body hair, and tra [sKra], hair on the head. Here he points to the biological nature of all hair, and thus to the cultural and political arbitrariness of the attention paid to hair on the head. From here onwards, as a way of constantly reminding the reader of this point, he refers to the hair on his head as “the body hair that grows on a person’s head” (mi’i mgo la skyes pa’i spu).

35 “Person of influence” here specifically refers to people who have close connections with top government officials.

36 This is a common saying among Tibetans in Amdo (Tib. rgya khom na bya pho chu khar ’ded). This could be a reference to the often hapless Chinese settlers sent to open farms in Tibetan regions during the Maoist years. Thus this sarcastic expression could be a glimpse of Tibetan pastoralists’ views of those settlers at that time (on Chinese settlers in Qinghai, see Rohlf, 2016). Here, Menla-kyap caustically applies it to Tibetan officials of his theater work unit, likening them to Chinese officials who run around doing the useless state work of bossing people around.

37 Tib. nang logs, Ch. neidi, Chinese lowlands.

38 It is located in Shanghai.

39 Here, Menla-kyap uses the spatial terms “the other side of the ocean” (Tib. rgya mtsho’i pha rol tu) and “this side of the ocean” (Tib. rgya mtsho tshur rol tu) to shift between geographic scales. In Shanghai, which is on China’s east coast, he discovers an international world of non-authoritarian states in contrast to the PRC. However, we could also take this spatial contrast to refer to the vast difference in opportunities, personal liberties, and resources he discovers between China’s eastern coastal cities and the relatively impoverished western regions where most Tibetans live. Thus his critique is not aimed at the benighted “masses” or ordinary Tibetans. Instead, he is referring to all PRC citizens, including Tibetans, who are disproportionately subject to authoritarian discipline and therefore “unable to think for themselves.”

40 “Winter meat” (Tib. dgun sha) refers to a common gift item offered by low-status Amdo Tibetans to higher-status officials as a kind of routine inducement to do favors later.

41 In China and now in Tibet, firecrackers are often set off in celebration of an auspicious event.

42 He published this poem after his release.

43 This is an allusion to the Maoist years; especially 1958, when many Tibetans in Amdo and Khams were arrested.

44 An allusion to Tibetan monks arrested and jailed during and after 2008.

45 An allusion to the 2008 military crackdown on protests, which was ongoing in 2009.

46 In terms of time, here Menla-kyap could be referring to the coercive haircutting practices of the 1958 “Democratic Reforms” campaigns in Amdo, or he could be referring more broadly to all the coercive haircutting that Tibetans endured during the Maoist years, including during the Cultural Revolution. In terms of space, we cannot assume Menla-kyap is referring just to Amdo. He is alluding to more of a historical Tibet, or an imaginary Tibet of the whole plateau, a Tibet that is defined by a shared sense of pain and trauma after the Maoist years.

47 Jawuk Wande [sKya bug ban de] is an important historical figure in the Chabcha region (mid-western Qinghai), who famously fought against the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the forest. He has become more of a legendary figure for Tibetans in Chabcha, and is now remembered as a heroic guerilla fighter who killed many soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army. He was ultimately arrested and killed by PLA troops. Here, Menla-kyap pointedly reverses the meaning of “traitor’s hair” to refer to Jawuk Wande’s long hair, which, to the PLA, signified his rebel status.

48 In this comment, Menla-kyap brings home his scathing critique of the political nature of hair on the head. He does this by pointing out that even though the fat official construes Menla-kyap’s long hair as a threat to the official’s very sustenance (e.g., the rubbing his big belly symbolizes his ability to command disproportionate resources from the community), Menla-kyap’s hair has no physical relevance to the official at all (e.g., it is not growing on the official’s belly). What disturbs the official is not the physical hair but what it represents to him.

49 Abbreviation of rtsa ba’i thob thang, basic rights. Here Menla-kyap is borrowing terms from Western liberal discourse.

50 “Teeth laborers” (Tib. so shugs ngal rtsol pa) is Menla-kyap’s euphemism for government officials who live off of bribes. “Teeth laborers” implies that these officials use no other tools but teeth to “eat” bribes. In his other works, he uses the phrase klad shugs (brain laborers) and lus shugs (manual laborers). These terms are originally from the Chinese language, i.e., naoli laodongzhe for brain laborers and tili laodongzhe for manual laborers.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Donyol Dondrup et Charlene Makley, « “The Body Hair that Grows on the Head” », Ateliers d'anthropologie [En ligne], 45 | 2018, mis en ligne le 20 novembre 2018, consulté le 13 décembre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/ateliers/10550 ; DOI : 10.4000/ateliers.10550

Haut de page

Auteurs

Donyol Dondrup

Charlene Makley

Professor of Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, Reed College, Portland, OR
makleyc@reed.edu

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Ateliers d'anthropologie – Revue éditée par le Laboratoire d'ethnologie et de sociologie comparative  est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page
  • Logo LESC - Laboratoire d’Ethnologie et de Sociologie Comparative
  • Logo Maison René Ginouvès - Archéologie & Ethnologie
  • Logo DOAJ - Directory of Open Access Journals
  • OpenEdition Journals