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Popular Chinese celebrity Dashan visits U of T Scarborough

Mark Rowswell, known to fans in China as “Dashan,” visits fans at U of T Scarborough. His new live show is a combination of western stand-up comedy and traditional Chinese monologues (photo by Ken Jones)

The U of T alum looks to reinvent his act

U of T alum Mark Rowswell, aka “Dashan” in China, delivered his live performance in Mandarin to a packed crowd recently at the University of Toronto Scarborough.

“Dashan Live” is based mostly on Rowswell’s personal story of being a famous foreigner in China. He says Chinese living in western countries like Canada are an ideal audience for his show since they understand both cultures. 

“They are already in this halfway position between the two different cultures so they are more likely to understand my stories,” he says.


Mark Rowswell, aka “Dashan,” speaks to fans at U of T Scarborough (photo by Ken Jones)

The audience was mostly made up of international students from China and members of the Chinese community in the GTA. Rowswell is the second-most famous Canadian in China just after Dr. Norman Bethune, also a U of T alum, who helped deliver modern medicine to rural China in the early 1900s. 

Rowswell, who is a member of U of T's Board of Governors, gained his Chinese audience through television but now wants to try something a little different – live shows. He says that in China, a celebrity's live show features the same kind of performance or persona that audiences are used to.

“I want them to see me as I am, a real person,” says Rowswell. “This isn’t something you usually see from Chinese comedians.”

It’s his third year performing stand-up comedy since he stopped hosting TV shows and live cultural events for CCTV, the Chinese state television broadcaster. He says he was tired of doing the same thing over and over again, and he relishes the opportunity of having more control of his own show. 

“What I was doing on TV was mostly hosting other people’s programs,” says Rowswell. “The production value in doing stand-up comedy is very different.”

Though he speaks Mandarin just as fluent as native Chinese speakers, Rowswell says what he did on Chinese television for almost 28 years was very limited. 

“For most foreign comedians in China, what we do is mainly demonstrate linguistic skills like tongue twisters or perform a piece of Guankou,” which Rowswell explains is a traditional Chinese linguistic skill of saying a series of names in one breath. 

“I want to do something more original,” he says.

His live show is a combination of western stand-up comedy and traditional Chinese monologues. Western stand-up comedy features personal stories via jokes, while the latter is mainly based on an existing formula. 

Rowswell says many people believe these two kinds of comedy are very different from each other, but he doesn’t agree. 

“I think the sense of humor is the same,” he says. “I like how cultures can meet. I don’t think there’s always cultural conflicts – I actually think they can go along together.”  

He says he really enjoys the opportunity to meet students in person, many of whom grew up watching him on TV.