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Dashan (aka Mark Rowswell) has been called "the most famous foreigner in China", where he has worked as media personality and cultural ambassador for over 30 years.
Born and raised in Canada, Rowswell began studying Chinese in the mid 1980s, first at the University of Toronto and later at Peking University. While in Beijing, he became interested in xiangsheng [she-ang shung], a revered form of traditional comedic dialogue in China, and was soon appearing on national television under the stage name "Dashan".
Repeated performances to hundreds of millions of television viewers turned "Dashan" into a household name across China, and his media career expanded from comedy to dramatic acting to hosting cultural, diplomatic, educational and commercial programs & live events. Over time, Dashan came to be seen as an all-round cultural ambassador between China and the West and as a symbol of finding common ground between cultures, "a foreigner but not an outsider" according to the People's Daily.
Dashan is the only non-Chinese performer to have appeared four times on the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, the largest annual television extravaganza in China with an estimated audience of over a billion viewers.
Dashan served as Canada’s Team Attaché during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and as Canada’s Commissioner General for Expo 2010 in Shanghai. In 2006 he was inducted into the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honour. In 2012 Dashan was named "Goodwill Ambassador to China" by Canada’s Prime Minister.
In 2018, the University of Alberta conferred an honorary Doctor of Letters on Mark Rowswell in recognition of his contribution to cross-cultural communication.
In recent years Dashan has returned to his comedic roots, combining traditional Chinese comedy with Western stand-up in a ground-breaking solo show "Dashan Live". Chinese audiences all know the character "Dashan" from TV; over this 60-minute performance Dashan shares hilarious behind-the-scene stories of his 30 years between East & West.
Dashan is the stage name I have used since the first crazy appearance on China Central Television in 1988 that led to this wild and wonderful career. I continue to work as a freelance performer in China and throughout Chinese communities around the world. It's been a very eclectic career that spans entertainment, education, diplomacy, business & charity, and that's why the term "cultural ambassador" gets tossed around. It's a convenient catch-all.
So "Dashan" is not a character; he's just me doing my work in a public forum. I control what I do, but as a public figure your image and reputation exist somewhere "out there" in the public domain. I work with that public image, try to continue developing it and put it to good use, but also recognize that I don't entirely own or control it. "Who is Dashan" depends on who you ask; every fan and every critic has their own perspective. Each of them owns a little piece of the public reputation.
That's why I often refer to "Dashan" in the third person. It's interesting to step away and try to look at it objectively, because the public perceptions tell you more about the observer than the subject. In that sense, "Dashan" is a little window on modern China, on how Chinese see themselves and their relationship with the outside world, on how Westerners see that relationship, and sometimes on the clash between those perspectives, and how perspectives have changed in the 30 years "Dashan" has been around. I just do my thing, but as a public figure people will often see you as a symbol of something more.
Someday I'll write more on this, but it is a big part of the background to my current work on "Dashan Live", a solo comedy show I continue to develop and perform, in which I explore behind-the-scenes stories of my life & work between East & West, and have some fun with the public image of "Dashan".
Relatively unknown in the West, Dashan is one of the most famous Western personalities in China's media industry, where he occupies a unique position as a foreign national who has become a domestic celebrity, largely through his repeated appearances on China Central Television since 1988...Go to page