Mark Rowswell: The Most Famous Canadian?

MaxPower August 6th, 2008

There is a nice (unattributed) quote I like to pull out whenever people start to think that their, or their company’s or Canada’s accomplishments are gaining some traction globally. No matter how great your triumphs or how tragic your defeats there are approximately 1 billion Chinese who couldn’t care less.

However, Mark Rowswell, better known as Dashan (Big Mountain) to over 1 billion Chinese, shatters that axiom. For those (like me) who had only heard of him in passing the story goes that for the past 20 years, “the Ottawa-born Toronto resident has packaged his guy-next-door charm with a perfect grasp of the Chinese language to become one of China’s hottest personalities”.

In one of his better known routines, Dashan engages in xiangsheng, or crosstalk, a form of comedic dialogue rich in puns and rapid-fire tongue twisters. A typical sketch has a Chinese star trying to teach Dashan in the art of crosstalk, only to have the tables turned, with Dashan emerging as the master.

The most common estimate is that 80 per cent of China’s population knows of Dashan, giving him a fan base of just over one billion people.

The BBC, which usually loves to underplay Canada internationally, backs that claim up stating: “The most famous foreigner in China is a household name in his adopted country, recognised by almost everyone. But the Canadian can walk down the street in his home city of Toronto without anyone giving him a second look.”

And as was noted on Dashan’s website (check out Dashan’s YouTube page too), he is the volunteer official cultural attache for Canada in the upcoming Beijing Olympics. That is what is great about this story – the guy is Canadian through and through, modest, self-effacing and helpful – willing to help out Canadian athletes by creating a guidebook full of cultural information on the Chinese and practical know-how (i.e. how to get to the nearest Starbucks and bank machine). Also, he is known AS a Canadian, not as a “westerner” or white guy or American like so many successful Canadians internationally. Apparently, one of the most popular responses to someone saying I Am Canadian in Beijing is praise about Dashan and the country.

On Friday, Dashan is going to join Team Canada for the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics. The CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee expects “The Chinese to go nuts… We’ll be the second-most-popular team there by a long shot” .

Go Canada Go.

  • Never heard of him.. Interesting story though..

    Reinforces that I should probably pickup Cantonese or Mandarin sometime soonish..

  • I’m kinda stunned that I didn’t know who this guy was. I guess we have our media to blame for not bringing him to light.

    Sow sang Gwai low David.

  • I am Chinese and I love dashan, i knew this guy from the TV since i was a little boy.