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Dashan (Mark Rowswell) hosting a live broadcast for China Central Television in November 2006
Born Mark Henry Rowswell
(1965-05-23) May 23, 1965 (age 52)
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Nationality Canada Canadian
Alma mater University of Toronto
Beijing University
Occupation Presenter

Dashan (Chinese: 大山; pinyin: Dàshān; literally: "Big Mountain") is the Chinese stage name adopted by Canadian Mark Henry Rowswell, CM (born May 23, 1965 in Ottawa, Ontario)[1] who works as a freelance performer in the People's Republic of China. Relatively unknown in the West, Dashan is the most famous Western personality in China's media industry, where he occupies a unique position as a foreign national who has become a bona fide domestic celebrity.

Dashan is best known for his mastery of Mandarin, and most of his media work is done in Chinese. He also spoke Cantonese, which he learned before Mandarin,[2] in a Ford commercial targeted at North American Chinese consumers.



Rowswell attended high school at Nepean High School in Ottawa, Ontario. Rowswell began studying Chinese while attending the University of Toronto in 1984. His original Chinese name, as given by his Canadian Chinese-language teacher, was Lu Shiwei (路士伟) based on his surname Rowswell. Upon graduation from the University of Toronto with a bachelor of arts in Chinese studies in 1988,[3] Rowswell was awarded a full scholarship to continue Chinese language studies at Peking University.

Early television appearances[edit]

Rowswell first appeared on Chinese television to host an international singing competition in November 1988. The following month he was invited to perform a comedic skit on national television during the CCTV New Year's Gala, a variety program broadcast to an estimated audience of 550 million people. The name "Dashan" ("big mountain" in Chinese) comes from the character Xu Dashan (Chinese: 许大山) that Rowswell played in the skit, which was entitled Ye gui (夜归). The skit propelled him to national stardom overnight because of his fluent Chinese and delivery.

Due to the abrupt nature of Dashan's rise to fame, he has been called an "accidental celebrity." However, his subsequent longevity and continuing prominence in the Chinese media more than two decades later suggest something more substantial. Many foreign nationals appear regularly on Chinese television, and foreigners fluent in the Chinese language are no longer a rarity. Yet no other foreign national has come close to the level of recognition and popularity in China enjoyed by Dashan.


Following Rowswell's first appearance as "Dashan", he began formal study of crosstalk (a traditional Chinese comedic performance) with his mentor, comedian Jiang Kun. In December 1989, Dashan became the first foreigner to be formally accepted into the strict crosstalk hierarchy as a member of the "9th generation," a move that caused considerable controversy in Chinese performing arts circles at the time. Crosstalk is often called "the art of comedic language,"[citation needed] and as such is regarded in China as a highly skilled form of performing art beyond the reach of most native speakers, much less a foreigner.[citation needed]

Through the 1990s, Dashan appeared frequently on national and regional television programs across China to perform crosstalk, including several appearances on CCTV's annual television program celebrating the Chinese New Year, CCTV New Year's Gala (春节联欢晚会), in 1998 and 1999. This program is China's most watched annual television event, with an estimated audience of 900 million to 1 billion viewers. Appearances on this and other programs gained Dashan wide recognition throughout China.

Dashan's public crosstalk performances decreased in the early 21st century. In a 2005 interview with the Chongqing Evening News, Dashan stated that he seldom performs crosstalk due to the increased requirements that performers stick to a stipulated topic as well as exceeding audience expectations since his televised debut.[4]

In early 2009 Dashan made a return to the CCTV New Year's Gala to perform a crosstalk skit in which he appeared together with Ma Dong, son of the famous crosstalk master Ma Ji. The skit received 2nd Prize in the audience choice awards announced at the end of the Chinese New Year holiday. With this performance, Dashan became (at the time) the only foreign national to have appeared on the CCTV New Year's Gala a total of three times.[5]

Dashan made a fourth appearance on the CCTV New Year's Gala in 2011, in a skit introducing and performing with several foreign students studying Chinese at Confucius Institutes. The skit had no accompanied Chinese performers and was awarded 2nd prize in the audience choice awards.[6]

Current work[edit]

Dashan's initial fame came from performing crosstalk, but he gradually expanded into a variety of activities and continues to be a popular performer and on-air personality on Chinese television. In recent years Dashan has also become more active in online and social media, attracting over 5 million followers on two Chinese microblogs, Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo.

Cultural ambassador[edit]

In many instances, Dashan has transcended the role of celebrity performer to become a cultural ambassador between China and the West, both in an informal as well as official capacity. During his official visit to China in February, 2012, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced: “For many years Mark Rowswell has used his extraordinary talents to build bridges of understanding between Canada and China. I am pleased to name this highly recognized and respected individual as Canada’s Goodwill Ambassador to China.”[7]

Dashan served as Commissioner General for Canada at the Shanghai 2010 World Expo.[8] Previously, Dashan served as Team Attaché to the Canadian Olympic Committee for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.[9]

Television host[edit]

Much of Dashan's television work now is as a freelance host of many varied television programs and live events, especially those with an international focus and requiring a bilingual (English/Chinese) emcee.

Dashan has also hosted numerous educational programs. Most notable of these include the ESL series 'Dashan and Friends' and 'Dashan's Adventures'[10] and programs teaching Chinese as a foreign language for CCTV International, including "Travel In Chinese".

Standup comedy[edit]

Most recently (since late 2013) Dashan has been "on a mission to introduce Western stand-up to China", performing in small clubs and at universities across China. In June 2014 he announced his plan to develop a travelling show, the "Burned Out, Washed Up, Never Say Farewell" tour.[11]

Dramatic acting[edit]

Dashan has occasionally delved into dramatic acting, often to portray other famous foreigners in Chinese history. In 2005, he played the lead role in a 24-part television series "Palace Artist" broadcast by China Central Television, as the 18th century Italian Jesuit painter Giuseppe Castiglione. In 2006-07, Dashan performed the lead role in "Red Star Over China", a stage play based on the life and work of the American reporter Edgar Snow. In 2007-08 he starred in a Chinese stage adaptation of the French comedy "Le Dîner de Cons" ("The Dinner Game" in English), which toured across China and for which he was awarded the prestigious White Magnolia Award for best supporting actor.

Endorsements and cameo appearances[edit]

Dashan's name and image can often be seen in commercial endorsements for various Chinese and international companies, including Canadian Ford automobiles starting in 2007[12] and 2008.[13] Dashan is also active as a spokesman for several charity organizations, primarily involved with cancer prevention as well as environmental protection.

On June 29, 2011, the National Gallery of Canada launched an audio tour that was recorded by Dashan. The tour features Dashan speaking in Mandarin about the gallery's Canadian art collection.[14]

University of Toronto Board of Governors[edit]

On April 30, 2014 Dashan was appointed to a 3-year term as a member of the Board of Governors of the University of Toronto.[15]


  • In 2009, Thompson Rivers University (Kamloops, BC, Canada) bestowed an Honorary Doctorate[16] on Dashan recognizing his efforts to build global connections between cultures and economies through international education. The Honorary Doctorate was presented by TRU during its Convocation ceremony on June 26 at the Tianjin University of Technology, Tianjin, China.
  • In 2008, Dashan was awarded the White Magnolia Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in "The Dinner Game". This marks the first time a Westerner has received one of China's most prestigious awards for the performing arts.[17]
  • In 2007, The Governor-General of Canada announced that Dashan had been appointed a member of the Order of Canada, Canada's highest civilian honour in recognition of a lifetime of outstanding achievement. The appointment had been in effect since October 5, 2006.[18]
  • In 2006, Dashan was awarded the Key to the City of Ottawa, in recognition, as a native of Ottawa, of his contribution to furthering understanding between the peoples of China and Canada.[19]
  • In 2004, Dashan was chosen as one of "Ten Outstanding Young Adults of Beijing." This marked the first time a foreign national has received this award, one of the highest honours granted by the Beijing authorities.[20]
  • In 2004, Dashan also received a rare "Special Recognition Award" from the Canadian Cancer Society for his work on a joint Canada-China cancer prevention program.[21]
  • In 2000, the University of Toronto selected Dashan as one of "100 Alumni Who Shaped the Century."[22]
  • In 1999, TIME Magazine selected Dashan as one of the "Leaders for the 21st Century."[23]
  • In 1998, China's New Weekly Magazine chose Dashan as one of the "Outstanding People of the Past 20 Years."[24]
  • In 1995, the National Film Board of Canada produced a documentary, directed by Guy Nantel, called Dashan, Ambassador to China's Funny Bone.[25]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]



  1. ^ "Ottawa Citizen - Google News Archive Search". google.com. Retrieved 8 May 2015. 
  2. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnfHDV8Gl0A
  3. ^ "Crossed Wires" University of Toronto Magazine, Winter 2009, retrieved 2010-05-14.
  4. ^ "Dashan signs books, trashes crosstalk in Chongqing", Danwei, 12 July 2005. Retrieved 2013-04-24.
  5. ^ "春晚“英伦组合”得三等奖" China Daily, Beijing, February 9, 2009. Retrieved on 2009-3-19.
  6. ^ "Dashan to perform at Spring Festival Gala" CNTV.cn Retrieved on 2011-4-24.
  7. ^ "PM names Mark Rowswell "Dashan" as Canada's Goodwill Ambassador to China" Press release. Retrieved on 2012-2-7.
  8. ^ The Commissioner General for Canada at Expo 2010 in Shanghai, Mr. Mark H. Rowswell, CM Press release. Retrieved on 2011-4-24.
  9. ^ Canadian Olympic Committee (November 6, 2006) Canadian Olympic Committee Names Mark Rowswell Team Attaché for 2008 Olympic Games. Press Release. Retrieved on 2007-9-18.
  11. ^ "Can Stand-Up Comedy Succeed in China?" The Atlantic, May 6, 2014. Retrieved on 2014-6-18.
  12. ^ Dashan promotes Ford to Chinese-Canadian market
  13. ^ "New Chinese Ford ads feature Canadian Dashan". marketingmag.ca. Retrieved 8 May 2015. 
  14. ^ "National Gallery of Canada’s new audio tours enhance its visitors' experience through enriched information on the national collection" Press release. Retrieved on 2011-6-30.
  15. ^ http://www.governingcouncil.utoronto.ca/Assets/Governing+Council+Digital+Assets/Information+Manual/2013-2014/bioGoverningCouncil.pdf "Governing Council 2013-2014" Retrieved on 2014-6-18.
  16. ^ [1]
  17. ^ "Dashan Wins Best Supporting Actor White Magnolia for 'The Dinner Game'" Liberation Daily, March 14, 2008. Retrieved on 2008-10-1.
  18. ^ Governor General of Canada (February 20, 2007) Governor General Announces New Appointments to the Order of Canada. Archived November 15, 2007, at the Canadian Government Web Archive Press Release. Retrieved on 2007-9-18.
  19. ^ Glen McGregor, "Anonymity to fade for Ottawa native who's a star in China," Ottawa Citizen, March 22, 2006
  20. ^ "Dashan Named 'Outstanding Youth of Beijing'," Xinhua News Agency, December 23, 2004. Retrieved on 2007-9-18.
  21. ^ Canadian Cancer Society (14 October 2004) China's Most Famous Foreigner to Receive Prestigious Canadian Cancer Society Award. Press release. Retrieved on 2007-9-18.
  22. ^ "100 Alumni Who Shaped the Century," University of Toronto Magazine, Vol 27, No 3, Spring 2000, p 18.
  23. ^ "A New Generation of Leaders," Time, September 27, 1999, p 66.
  24. ^ "Outstanding People of the Past 20 Years," New Weekly, December 1, 1998, p 73.
  25. ^ "Dashan - Ambassador to China's Funny Bone". Documentary film. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2 August 2010. 


  • "Rowswell, Mark Henry". Canadian Who's Who. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2006.