Mark Rowswell is Dashan, a Canadian and a popular performer in China. He is both a celebrity and an entrepreneur with a story to tell. He lives in Toronto and is so fluent in Mandarin that his accent is unmistakable, even to native speakers!!
Dashan is known by millions of Chinese people. That's right, millions. Since his first appearance he has performed countless times in China specializing in an ancient form of comedy that is called "crosstalk" in English (xiang sheng in Mandarin, pronounced see-ang shung). Essentially, this style of comedy is based on word plays and on the symbolism of Mandarin words. Words are very important to Dashan.
"You can't be fluent in a language unless you have a good understanding of the culture," Rowswell states," and by learning a language it's impossible not to learn about the culture. The two go hand in hand."
This is a philosophy that Mark Rowswell believes in and promotes as the best way to bridge the culture gap. His language abilities and deep understanding of Chinese culture have helped him to create a career for himself.
It all began when he was only twenty-three. A major Chinese television station was hosting a variety show and invited foreign talent to participate. Mark Rowswell was studying Asian Studies and Mandarin at the University of Beijing and answered the call for live "acts". He performed in a comedy skit done in crosstalk form . Audiences were floored by the familiarity of the character he played called "Dashan" (Big Mountain in English). Not only did he have a perfect accent in Mandarin, he was able to convey the subtleties of Chinese humour. With hundreds of thousands of viewers watching the broadcast Dashan became an instant celebrity!
How did Mark Rowswell get to be so good at speaking Mandarin? When he was nineteen he made friends with his boss, a Vietnamese woman of Chinese origin. She taught him a few words of Mandarin and aspects of Chinese culture. At university he had no idea what to study so he took a general arts program doing a little bit of everything including a course in East Asian studies. His experience with Chinese culture gave him an edge so he continued studying the language and culture of the Asian world, focusing on China. Mark was such an exceptional student that he was offered the opportunity to study at the University of Beijing in China. He kept on learning about Mandarin and life in China.
Mark has maintained a presence in Canada-China relations through public speaking engagements and the promotion of Canadian business ventures in China. Two years ago, he started his own business and called it "Dashan Inc.". This small company develops and manages the Dashan image both in Canada and in China. Dashan hosts a regular radio program in China and has also starred in many Chinese television shows. Recently his accomplishments were permanently documented in a National Film Board of Canada production entitled "Dashan: Ambassador to China's Funny bone". Mark has hosted many functions as master of ceremonies, using his ability to bridge two cultures to bring people together.
The prospects for Dashan's future? He plans to continue using his Dashan image to help Chinese people and Canadian people understand each other's cultures.
"On both sides (in Canada and in China) there is a preconception that Asians and Westerners are really different, but Dashan breaks that down." Rowswell explains that "Dashan has an appeal (to Chinese viewers) because he is kind of like the guy next door, the one you see in the living room. He is a foreigner but when he opens his mouth he becomes like <one of us>." Mark Rowswell, as a person is surprisingly what many Canadians would identify as "one of us - Canadian". Mark manages to be both, at home in China and in Canada.
Mark Rowswell calls himself a celebrity but he is also an entrepreneur. His career has spanned two continents and Dashan continues to be in demand. Can you imagine being so famous that you are never left alone in one country at the same time as being unknown in your country of birth? You never know where it will lead you when you make Asia a part of your life.
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© 1997 - TG Magazine / The Students Commission
© 1997 le magazine TG / la Commission des Ètudiants