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Mark “Dashan” Rowswell

Performer makes his mark in China

Mark Rowswell is likely the most famous Canadian you’ve never heard about. To some 800 million people in China, he’s instantly recognizable as the performer Dashan, which means Big Mountain – apt for the six-foot-two celebrity. And this summer, the 39-year-old’s career will get a boost when he stars on China’s national TV station in the drama Palace Artist, based on the life of 18th-century painter and Jesuit missionary Giuseppe Castiglione.

Yes, things turned out rather well for this graduate of Chinese studies at U of T. After he landed at Beijing University as a foreign-exchange student in 1988, Rowswell responded to an open invitation for foreign talent to appear on a TV variety show. He performed a traditional form of Chinese comic dialogue known as xiangsheng (“crosstalk”), a highly scripted and polished skit of wordplays (think Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First”). 

Dashan evolved into a cross-cultural ambassador, frequently appearing as a host of TV variety and educational programs, and even as celebrity pitchman. Speaking of his persona, Rowswell says, “It’s a guy who’s western on the outside and Chinese on the inside.” Rowswell now lives part time in “near anonymity” in Thornhill, Ontario, with his wife, Lin, and their two children.

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