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China’s “Most Famous Foreigner” Mark Rowswell: Ready for Dashan 3.0

He has been China’s most famous foreigner for nearly three decades: Canadian Mark Rowswell aka Dashan. On March 30, he talked about his life as a household name and his work as a comedian in the PRC at Beijing’s the Bookworm. What’s on Weibo was there to take note.

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He is China’s “most famous foreigner” since the late 1980s: Canadian Mark Rowswell, better known as Dashan. On March 30, he talked about his life as a Chinese household name and his work as a comedian at Beijing’s The Bookworm. After a fruitful China career of nearly three decades, Rowswell says he’s now ready for ‘Dashan 3.0.’ What’s on Weibo reports.

Canadian Mark Rowswell aka Dashan (大山) has been working as a comedian and media personality in China since the late 1980s. His excellent Chinese made him instantly famous when he starred in the most-watched televised show in the world, the CCTV Spring Gala. Since then he has appeared on countless Chinese TV shows and dramas, and has appeared on the Spring Gala a total of four times.

On Sina Weibo, Dashan (@大山) now has over 3.8 million fans. He might not be the most popular non-Chinese person on Weibo (Stephen Hawking gained 4.2 million followers since he joined Weibo), but he certainly is the most famous Canadian in China ever since Norman Bethune.

One of the reasons for Rowswell to talk about his work during a special talk at Beijing’s the Bookworm on March 30 (moderated by Asia correspondent Nathan VanderKlippe), is his upcoming show in Australia at the Melbourne Comedy Fest, where he will be performing in Chinese. It’s now all about the physical audiences for Rowswell, who says he’s disappointed with Weibo and the virtual world, and wants to do comedy offline – up close and personal.

 

THE BIRTH OF DASHAN

“I thought it was just an audience of 500 people; nobody told me there were 550 million people watching the show on TV.”

 

As Dashan’s career in China will soon hit the 30-year mark, the Ottowa-born performer is perpetually known as “the foreigner who speaks fluent Chinese.”

Perhaps surprising for someone who masters Mandarin so well, Rowswell did not speak a word of Chinese until the age of 19. He chose to study the language out of curiosity after the phrase “the next century belongs to China” started to make its rounds in Canada. From 1984 to 1988, he studied Chinese at the University of Toronto and then headed to China.

Mark Rowswell aka Dashan talks at The Bookworm, March 30.

“We all knew that China was going to be a big part of the world, that many Chinese would come to Canada – but how many Canadians were going to China?”, Rowswell tells his audience at the Bookworm. He set out to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to “ride the wave”, although he was not sure about his exact plans yet.

Within 3 months after starting his studies at Beijing University, Rowswell was asked to participate in a TV show and ‘Dashan’ was born. His Chinese name (that literally means ‘big mountain’) is a peasant one, which in itself already was a joke.

But the name Dashan grew bigger than Rowswell could have ever imagined when he later appeared at the national CCTV gala. “I had no background in performing, and I thought it was just an audience of 500 people; nobody told me there were 550 million people watching the show on television. The little skit that we did somehow hit a sweet spot somewhere, and it ended up being the most popular act of that particular show,” Dashan recalls.

Dashan performing at the 1998 Spring Festival Gala, the best-watched televised event in the world (appears at 3.00 minute mark).

Rowswell’s career soon set off and ‘Dashan’ became a national hype. For a long time, Rowswell did not see his work at the time as a goal in itself: “I thought of it as a stepping stone to get into Chinese society, and to get away from campus and my study books. I traveled with a Chinese performing group and experienced things other foreign students in China would never experience – I even went to places foreigners were not allowed to go.”

Although Rowswell at the time still aspired to work at the Canadian embassy or somewhere else, his work as a freelance performer eventually turned out to be decisive for his eclectic career path, that has brought him to where he is today at the age of 52.

 

DISAPPOINTED IN SOCIAL MEDIA

“I have trouble reading Weibo because I just don’t find anything interesting on it. It’s very hard to keep engaged on a platform that you don’t find interesting.”

 

Looking back on the past thirty years, Rowswell says he can roughly divide his story into three parts. “Dashan 1.0” is the foreign student who appeared on TV as a comedian and TV host. That first stage led him to the “2.0” stage, where his role as a freelance performer also grew into one of being more of a cultural ambassador.

Rowswell received official recognition for this cultural role when he was part of Canada’s Team Attaché during the 2008 Olympics, and later became the Commissioner General for Canada at Expo 2010 in Shanghai. After this period, he searched for a new goal and hoped to find it online.

“After 2010 I thought the answer was Weibo,” Rowswell says: “I really got into Weibo around 2010, 2011, 2012. But post-2012 or so, Weibo is really…I mean, I still maintain it, but I really have trouble reading Weibo now because I just don’t find anything interesting on it. It’s very hard to keep engaged on a platform that you don’t find interesting.”

Rowswell expresses his disappointment when he says he feels that “the promise of social media has not played out.” Although he says he thought that internet was the channel to lead the next stage of his career, “it did not work out that way.”

It is not just Sina Weibo that has not brought Dashan what he had hoped for: “I just think social media in general.. (..) We used to think technology was going to make it easier to communicate and that social media was going to bring people together but that has not worked; social media has unleashed the basic human tribalism and reinforced it.”

As Rowswell felt that the future of his career would not take place online in front of a virtual audience, he decided to focus on physical audiences and returned to the offline stage.

 

THE THIRD ACT

“Stand-up comedy is something that is closely tied to the rise of counter-culture and individualism in China.”

 

From foreign comedian to cultural ambassador, Rowswell reveals that he has always felt he was not truly doing his own things as a freelancer. “I was always doing stuff for someone else, doing someone else’s show. But where is my show?!,” he laughingly says.

It is stand-up comedy in which Dashan has found the next stage of his career, which he calls “Dashan 3.0” or “the third act.” Rowswell stresses that he does not want to be the foreigner in China performing solely for foreign audiences in expat bars. He specifically wants to connect with Chinese audiences; Chinese-language comedy is giving Dashan the stage and the possibility to directly speak to them.

As stand-up comedy (站立喜剧) is finding more channels and bigger audiences in China, Rowswell feels this is the right niche to explore: “It allows me to build on something new. It is not mainstream comedy here, but is something that is closely tied to the rise of counter-culture and individualism in China.”

Rowswell also finds that his eclectic career and experiences now give him the opportunity to take on some kind of mentoring role as a performer. The upcoming Chinese “Dashan Live” show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival – where he will be the only “non-Chinese Chinese performer” – is an important part of this new journey.

“It takes time to find your own voice,” Rowswell remarks. As Dashan 3.0, he now has the opportunity to finally share his own experiences and his own stories, in his own Dashan show.

“Dashan Live” will take place from April 12-16 at The Forum, Melbourne.

– By Manya Koetse

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, Sino-Japanese relations and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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Weibo Servers Down After Lu Han Announces New Relationship

A Chinese celebrity’s relationship announcement led to a rare breakdown of Weibo’s servers on Sunday.

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A Chinese celebrity’s relationship announcement led to a rare breakdown of Weibo’s servers on Sunday. So many fans commented on Lu Han’s new love affair that the social media platform was inaccessible for two hours.

“Hi everyone, I want to introduce my girlfriend @GuanXiaoTong to you.” It was this one-sentence message that set Weibo on fire on Sunday, October 8.

The message was posted by Chinese singer and actor Lu Han (鹿晗 1990), who is one of the most popular celebrities on Weibo. Lu currently has 41.2 million followers on his official Weibo account (@M鹿M).

The singer previously had 43 million fans on Weibo, but lost many followers after his relationship announcement. Many fans did not like the idea that their favorite star is no longer single. Lu was formerly a member of the South Korean-Chinese boy group EXO and its sub-group EXO-M.

So many people responded to the news of Lu Han’s new girlfriend that some servers of Sina Weibo experienced a rare breakdown. Chinese media report that, according to a statement released by a Weibo Data Assistant, the two-hour network crash was the result of a data surge caused by fans commenting, sharing and liking Lu Han’s update.

By Monday, the public announcement had received 2,4 million comments and nearly 5 million likes.

Guan Xiaotong (关晓彤) is Lu Han’s new girlfriend – and everybody knows it.

Guan Xiaotong is a Chinese actress with more than 20 million fans on her Weibo page.

It is not the first time that a public announcement by a Chinese celebrity causes so much consternation on Weibo. In 2016, Chinese actor Wang Baoqiang announced that he would divorce his wife Ma Rong after she had a secret affair with his own agent. That post became one of the top-trending topics of the year.

A day after Lu Han’s revelation, searches for his name on the Weibo platform were limited and only showed a “we can not display any results for this search” announcement.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Celebrities in Chinese TV Dramas Can No Longer Receive Excessive Salaries

Celebrities in Chinese TV dramas can no longer receive ‘excessive’ salaries, which are considered ‘harmful.’

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A document issued by the Chinese film, TV & radio industry association states that celebrities in Chinese TV dramas should no longer receive ‘excessive’ salaries. Top-earning stars’ high fees are considered ‘harmful’ for a healthy development of China’s entertainment industry.

On September 22, the China Alliance of Radio, Film, and Television (CARFT) issued a statement regarding the pay of actors in Chinese television dramas, Xinhua News reports.

The CARFT, a non-profit organization that works under the government, orders China’s production agencies to limit the expenses for cast salaries to no more than 40% of the total production costs for online/TV drama series. Within this percentage, the salary of the show’s leading actors cannot exceed 70% of the total salary paid to all actors.

The measurement is meant to improve the “healthy and orderly development of the [entertainment] industry.” China produces the largest amount of television dramas in the world.

According to DW News, around 50% to 70% of current total TV drama production investments goes to actors’ salaries; in countries such as the US, Korea, or Japan, this is only 10% to 20%.

In 2016, the lead actors for the 90-episode Chinese TV drama Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace, actress Zhou Xun and actor Wallace Huo, each made $22.5 million. The series production costs were $1.35 million per episode.

Chinese actress Angelababy is one of China’s top-earning actresses. She makes around $200,000 for every episode.

It is not the first time the high fees of Chinese actors make headlines. In 2016, The Beijing Review reported that Chinese stars’ salaries were under fire for being excessively high. A member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Sun Baoshu, stated that since casting takes up such a large part of production funds, producers have to cut budgets for things such as scriptwriting, stage setting, and sound recording. This leads to poorer productions, Sun said, harming the development of China’s entertainment market.

On Weibo, many netizens expressed their support for the latest measure, although others said it would be better if authorities would not meddle so much with the entertainment industry. “The higher ups have policies, while the lower downs have their own ways of getting around them” (“上有政策,下有对策”), one user said, meaning that production companies and actors will always find other ways to channel money in the industry.

By Manya Koetse


Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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