China's "Most Famous Foreigner"
If you happen to come across a Chinese language instruction program on CCTV International called "Sports Chinese," you may not be aware that its host, the ingratiating Canadian redhead who goes by the name Da Shan is the most famous white man in China. Da Shan ("Big Mountain"; his Anglo name is Mark Rowswell) acquired his impeccable Mandarin at Peking University in the late '80s, and remained in the country after the Tiananmen Square crackdown drove most other foreign students out. Appearing in some television sketches, he took up Xiansheng, a traditional Chinese form of nonsense comedy, his mastery of which brought him widespread popularity. To non-Chinese, Da Shan comes across as obsequious and slightly antiquated; resident expatriates regard him as deeply uncool. But it is precisely this non-threatening, deferential manner-a Caucasian Uncle Tomism-which the Chinese find so lovable, and which has made him a ubiquitous television host and endorser of commercial products.