Officially wooing: a new act for Dashan

(China Daily)
Updated: 2009-11-20 13:45
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Though he can spout tongue twisters in fluent Mandarin at speeds warped enough to boggle the minds of Chinese, don't expect such performances to be routine for "the most famous foreigner in China" at next year's Shanghai Expo.

Officially wooing: a new act for Dashan
Mark Roswell [China Daily]
Officially wooing: a new act for Dashan

Entertainment personality Mark Roswell, popularly known on the mainland as Dashan (Big Mountain), will instead be cruising the coming months, not by entertaining Mandarin-speakers with the kinds of Chinese acts that struck his name to fame 20-plus years ago across China, but by serving his home country in his first-ever official government capacity as Commissioner-general of Canada for 2010 Shanghai World Expo.

The 44-year-old celebrity in China aims to put Canada on the world map by making its pavilion one of the top five toured by the projected 70 millions visitors.

Superficially known as a northern country filled with vast lands and igloos - and maple syrup - Canada today isn't quite the large rural sprawl people think of when referring to the Great White North, said Dashan.

"It's not all about Niagara Falls, smoked salmon, wheat, pulp and paper and Norman Bethune. These are things people know about Canada already," he said.

"We want to show a much more modern, vibrant, multicultural, creative and environmentally aware Canada: Urban Canada," he added, noting the country is the world's second-largest geographically, yet 90 percent of its population lives in cities.

Officially wooing: a new act for Dashan

Still, the starkly Canadian symbols which include other favorites like moccasins and Mounties won't be left out of the country's 142-year history. They will have a space within Canada's 6,000-sq-m plot being created as an artistic expression of Cirque de Soleil, a Canadian entertainment company hailed internationally as a mastermind of live performance.

The Ottawa native's rock star status in China perhaps couldn't make the longtime Beijinger a better fit for his new post as his country works to improve relations with the world's fastest-growing economy.

Since Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper took office in 2006, relations with China have chilled due to several moves by his Conservative government, including favorable attitudes toward Taiwan and declaring the Dalai Lama an honorary citizen.

Officially wooing: a new act for Dashan

But Dashan's job isn't political in nature - it's strictly one of cultural diplomacy, in sync with his perennial efforts of building a bridge between the East and West, he said.

"I'm not trying to improve relations between two governments; I'm trying to improve understanding between two peoples, which is why I think this job is one that I can do," he said.

With any luck fans may still catch a glimpse of Dashan's famous xiangsheng (crosstalk) act next year though. While he joked that he'll perform for the expected 30,000 daily visitors coming to the expo, he is considering taking the stage at one of his country's nationally planned events between May and October.

Minus a brief reporting stint for Chinese channel CCTV-5 from the Vancouver Winter Games, which opens in less than 100 days, Dashan will be parked in Shanghai until the end of the world's fair.

Having divided his time between China and Canada since 1995, Dashan has no plans to call it quits on his journey in the Middle Kingdom anytime soon. He's already plotting beyond Expo: Western-infused Chinese stand-up as inspired by Shanghainese comedian Zhou Libo, who he described as a pioneer in Western-infused Shanghai-style comedy.

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