Hailing from a middle-class neighbourhood in Ottawa,
Mark Rowswell became immersed in the Mandarin
language at university. But it wasn’t until he spent a year
studying at Beijing University that everything changed.
Under the pseudonym, “Dashan,” he began performing
comedic routines on Chinese television and has since
gone on to become the most famous foreigner in China.
He has maintained strong connections to Canada as well:
he was named cultural attaché for the Canadian Olympic
team during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The First Show
Among the foreign students, my Chinese was better than average. Most had only done a year or two of Chinese in their home countries. I, on the other hand, had already done a four-year BA.
One day, a Chinese TV producer came to the university looking for a foreigner who could speak Mandarin. They wanted someone to host an international singing competition. One of the teachers recommended me. I went along for the experience. I wanted to get off campus and see a different side of the country.
The first show led to the second. A month later, I was invited to perform a comedy skit on national television during a New Year’s Eve special. Five hundred and fifty million people were going to be watching!
In the skit, I played a character called “Dashan,” which means “big mountain” (I’m rather tall). The response was amazing. I became a star virtually overnight. That’s why, in China, I’m still known as Dashan. Suddenly all kinds of opportunities began to open up. Each show was a new experience that helped broaden my understanding of the country.
At first I was simply a novelty act. People were astounded that a foreigner could speak the vernacular language of daily life rather than just the formal language they taught at school.
“Kickstart: How Successful Canadians Got Started”, © 2008 by Alexander Herman, Paul Matthews and Andrew Feindel. Published by Dundurn Press, www.dundurn.com