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Why do so many Chinese learners seem to hate Dashan (Mark Rowswell)?

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发表于 2018-6-6 09:09 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式
https://www.quora.com/Why-do-so- ... ashan-Mark-Rowswell
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Thanks for the question, which I’ve followed for some time but thought best to let others speak first. In fact, this question has come up many times in my 20+ year career in the Chinese media. % V( _, p# |- d! d' t8 S3 G9 C' O

' B, H4 i: U5 o7 X5 ZVery early on, only a few months after my first television appearance in 1988, I was in the university cafeteria line-up when two American students in front of me started joking to each other by saying “Hey, are you Dashan?” and “Your Chinese is almost as good as Dashan” etc. I laughed along and explained, “Yeah, I actually get that one myself a lot, really annoying.”2 @- I8 ?  B6 J# r
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“YOU think it’s annoying? Hey, at least you ARE Dashan! Imagine how annoying it is for us?” the American student exclaimed. I realized he was right.$ j- a/ n0 Z% A4 \
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Many years later, Kaiser Kuo wrote to the effect (I’m paraphrasing) that: “Dashan seems like a nice enough guy, but for some reason every once in a while I have the urge to punch him in the face.” I thought that was a pretty fair statement. There has always been something of a Mr. Rogers quality to the Dashan character – he’s such a nice guy you sometimes wish he’d make a cameo appearance in a horror movie just so you could watch him get ripped to shreds, and then replay it over and over on YouTube.
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I often say that being a celebrity or a public figure is not who I am, it’s just what I do. So it’s important to be able to stand aside and analyse your public image as objectively as possible. That’s why I often speak of Dashan in the third person; he is me, yet he isn’t.
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I agree with most of the answers below. Let me summarize and add my own commentary (or defence, if you will).
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' \) ?4 F$ ^7 V. wIn short, the reasons seem to be as follows:+ T4 G; ?- F4 [5 x' s3 X- {

3 K% \/ H$ [+ c1 o4 i1) Overuse – People are sick and tired of hearing the name “Dashan”;
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2) Resentment (Part A) – Dashan’s not the only Westerner who speaks Chinese fluently;7 B3 P- H& D$ P& J
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3) Resentment (Part B) – Being a foreign resident in China is not easy and Dashan gets all the breaks;. x$ l, R. Y; f* i* L# W/ Q- |

# V6 M9 C/ i  r+ h! ^5 K$ w4 K4) Political/Cultural – People wish Dashan had more of an edge;4 z# x; ~0 G' a0 p3 W

  i# y& }( W: {- }1 u5) Stereotyping – The assumption that Dashan is a performing monkey.! A  o. J0 e5 f* C6 w4 w

) A" P( T! G* D* h9 s7 y, {! JFor a more detailed discussion:
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1) Overuse. The number one reason seems to be simply the frequency with which Dashan’s name is brought up when it comes to the subjects of Canada-China relations, or Westerners learning Chinese, etc.
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' O7 l4 v/ p: IThere is a parallel here with the mention of Canada in general in China and Dr. Norman Bethune, a Canadian surgeon who died serving the Communist Revolution in China and was later memorialized by Chairman Mao. For decades now, every time Canada is mentioned in China the memory of Dr. Bethune is sure to be raised. Frankly, many Canadians in China are sick and tired of hearing about Bethune. The fact is, especially in the early years of formal diplomatic relations, the ‘70s and ‘80s, most Chinese had never heard of any Canadians other than Dr. Bethune. In the early ‘90s the Canadian ambassador to China told me: “The best thing about Dashan is that finally, thank God, we have a second topic to discuss during all those endless banquets!”- T5 E( S: o9 w: i9 Y$ p
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I think Canadians probably now wish there was a third topic to discuss, other than Bethune and Dashan…6 |/ A" _2 e/ i; {) o
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Small talk in China tends to be very ritualized, and Dashan has become one of those “standard topics” that is safe and culturally acceptable to discuss whenever the topics such as Canada, Westerners in China or Westerners learning Chinese are discussed. In some senses, it’s a formality that has worn thin and, through gross overuse, has become annoying for many Westerners. For example, having a taxi driver mention Dashan simply because you have given directions in Chinese.
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  p; ^- r8 k9 UFurthermore, there is a lack of other similar comparisons, leading to an overuse of Dashan as a role model.+ X0 q/ U3 w7 }( g

3 ]* N; x4 n' H+ R$ Q2 ]% A7 R7 ZWhen it comes to the subject of Canada, most Chinese still cannot name many famous Canadians. Those that are famous in China, from Céline Dion to Avril Lavigne, are not necessarily known first and foremost as being Canadian – they are international celebrities that happen to come from Canada. With Dashan, being Canadian has always been an integral part of the public image. So, even in 2012 the first two names that pop up when one mentions Canada are usually Bethune and Dashan.
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When it comes to discussing Chinese language acquisition, Dashan seems to almost monopolize the category of “successful role models” in public discussion. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so annoying if every time a Westerner opened his/her mouth and spoke Chinese they were then compared to one of a dozen different role models rather than just Dashan. The fact is, if you ran a poll and asked people to say the first name that pops into their head when you mention “a Westerner who speaks Chinese”, chances are “Dashan” would be well into the 90% range.
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I’m going to discuss the reasons for this further in point (2), but let me add a note here to say that the fact my name is frequently raised in public discussion is clearly a sign of my success as a performer and public figure and not something I should feel ashamed of or try in any way to correct.& |+ O% ^( d- f: F! D6 `& v
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2) Resentment (Part A). Dashan’s not the only Westerner who speaks Chinese fluently.
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That’s clearly true and I have never personally claimed to be the best. I didn't start learning Chinese until I was 19 and still only have a B.A. in Chinese Studies. There are a great deal of Westerners that either acquired Chinese at an earlier age than I did, or went on to acquire much more substantial academic and professional qualifications than I have.- h2 d# Z0 b+ }' |. b
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That being said, a reputation has been built up around Dashan that is hard to beat. In fact, I have to work damn hard myself to live up to it. The basis for this reputation is fairly simple, but multi-faceted:$ v7 Q, h0 Y) c* E5 t% K4 Y

8 D) d; A5 O8 H# ?9 ]$ y: p4 ?, r7 |, r( va) Dashan is on television. There are many Westerners who speak excellent Chinese, but they haven’t had as much mass media exposure as Dashan has.
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b) Dashan has been on television for 23+ years and counting. It doesn’t really matter how many Westerners appear on television speaking Chinese nowadays, or how well they do, they will always be compared to Dashan because he was there in the “Ed Sullivan days” of Chinese television, when everyone watched the same shows (because there was practically no other choice) and because he stuck at it. There is a certain stability to the reputation that comes from longevity, and that is very difficult to exceed in the much more diverse mass media environment of today.
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. o6 R( U/ j: A  z% Pc) Dashan does xiangsheng 相声, or at least that’s what he became famous for. Whether the reputation is deserved or not is debatable, but xiangsheng is known as “the art of language” and considered beyond the ability of most native speakers, much less a foreigner who learned Chinese as a second language.4 f6 I/ n+ J8 p- L8 g" B) d' ~, ]
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Furthermore, Dashan became famous for doing xiangsheng with some of the leading performing artists of the day, and for consistently showing them up. The standard comedic set-up for these performances pitted Dashan, the foreign student, against XXX, the senior Chinese master who was going to show Dashan “the glories of Chinese civilization” and yet over the course of the skit the master was revealed to be a blustering buffoon who knew less about Chinese language and culture than his foreign student. After exploiting this comedic theme N times, it’s quite natural that Dashan would gain the reputation for being a master of all things Chinese, 无所不知无所不晓. It’s one of the reasons I eventually turned away from xiangsheng – you can only exceed people’s expectations a certain number of times before you’ve raised the bar too high even for these highly scripted and polished performances.
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d) Dashan does comedy. Comedy, like the arts in general, is something that touches people somewhere very deeply. It doesn’t matter how fluent you are unless you say something people remember, and there is no easier way to be remembered (at least in a good way) than to stand up and tell a good joke. I’ve done a lot of different work over the years, and at the end of a long year of hard work you often realize that the only thing people will remember is one line you said in one particular skit, because it was funny. That’s the power of comedy.- E6 _4 A# a% ?) o7 v4 O5 E$ M7 D

( R1 }* W* h" P" N9 G$ L0 Re) Dashan represents or symbolizes something very powerful to a Chinese audience. I don’t want to get too deeply into this, because my answer is already running too long, but let me say this: Chinese have a very complex and conflicting view of themselves and the world at large. They have a very strong self-identity and sense of pride, and this leads to a strong sense of “us vs. them” and of being misunderstood and misaligned by the rest of the world, or the West in particular, as well as a strong sense that they are gradually losing their language and culture in the process of globalization. In the face of this, Dashan represents a Westerner who appreciates and respects China, who has learned the language and understands the culture and has even become “more Chinese than the Chinese”. It’s a very powerful and reassuring image that appeals to very deep-rooted emotions. / ~; [, ?! G# x5 Z7 r

; j6 Z0 |- h8 G% U8 }! `So it doesn’t really matter how fluently one speaks Chinese, because in the end it’s not a language competition. Skill is rational, but Dashan also relates to the audience on an emotional level.
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3) Resentment (Part B) – Being a foreign resident in China is not easy and Dashan gets all the breaks.1 m& G2 v& [( [  o7 x0 C( s

6 s! a( b$ F6 e& e3 q. qThis is true too. From my perspective, I wouldn’t say that I’ve gotten all the breaks and everything has been easy for me, but I understand the perception. Chinese tend to think that foreigners get such preferential treatment in China, what could they possibly complain about? But it is true: it is difficult day-in, day-out to be a long-term foreign resident of China. It is also exceedingly difficult to make a living as a foreigner in the Chinese media, as an actor, television host or whatever. I’ve done pretty well on balance.$ K: }1 e3 B. J( R. G2 a
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Part of this resentment also comes from the perception that Dashan has raised the Chinese language bar too high. No matter how hard you work over how many years, you just never get to the top. Believe me, I understand this completely because I’ve raised the bar too far for myself. That being said, I think I will use the rest of my career to see if I can push it a bit higher.
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) z3 b9 o( R+ f4 v( q2 B, z4) Political/Cultural – People wish Dashan had more of an edge.# _/ I, Y) i' W  L* U

/ D; y% B% r4 ]( U1 P2 JThis one is more complicated. In general, Westerners (and particularly Americans) tend to prefer celebrities (and especially comedians) who have an edge. Admittedly, there are no sharp edges to the Dashan character.8 w9 Q0 a2 M4 d/ @, H+ U& c& M6 ^& `
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Part of this delves into the political realm, where resentment stems from the wish that Dashan used his public person to be more politically active.6 e/ R' M6 D7 b+ S2 [

  Z: c9 y% z8 _& a# `2 _! ~4 aLet me deal with both aspects.
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Culturally, the Dashan character does tend to be quite Canadian. We’re just not as aggressive in general as Americans. The adjective most used to describe Canadians is “nice”. How dull and boring can you get?1 i# b& K7 }' O( R

+ X' {* x! d3 P8 W6 C0 ZAlthough Canada and America are very close culturally, there are some fundamental differences. Primarily, Canadians never consider themselves to be number one in anything apart from hockey. And although we are both relatively young nations built by successive waves of immigration, Canadians have a much weaker self-identity than Americans. We don’t have a strong mainstream culture of our own, which I think makes us more malleable culturally. When Canadians come to China, we don’t do things “the Canadian way” because nobody has the slightest idea what “the Canadian way” is. So we tend to adapt pretty well to different cultures.
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Secondly, I work within Chinese cultural norms – the limits of what is culturally acceptable to a Chinese audience. That doesn’t necessarily mean you pander. You can challenge the norms and push limits here and there, and I believe I have done and continue to do that, but in large part you work within culturally acceptable limits. Chinese don’t go for shock humour, nor do they tend to accept what is commonly accepted in the West – that it’s OK to be offensive as long as you are offensive on an equal opportunity basis. That’s just not part of the Chinese comedy or media scenes.
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Also, in many instances what would be acceptable for a Chinese performer to say is not considered acceptable for a foreign performer, especially when it comes to social or political satire. Even in a comedic exchange between individuals, you have to be aware that the audience may not perceive this as Character A making fun of Character B, but instead as Foreign Character making fun of Chinese Character, which goes over like a ton of bricks.
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So I work within cultural norms. This spills over into the political realm, because, to be honest, Chinese cultural acceptance of foreign political criticism is almost nil. In short, I don’t have to worry about what government censors might say because Chinese audiences would never let me get that far anyway.0 f. e4 R+ D' w3 V  t* |, q. I

( t+ D5 B4 `% f$ x0 F# I3 ]I could make a short public statement like that of Christian Bale recently or Björk a few years ago. It’s very easy to do and ensures you get very good coverage in the Western media. You go home and everyone thinks you are a person of moral conviction who stood up to the great Chinese monster. But the fact is that these kinds of statements elicit almost no sympathy whatsoever from ordinary Chinese citizens. They simply are not culturally acceptable to the broad Chinese audience. And it’s very difficult to see what impact they have other than to further convince ordinary Chinese people that China is misunderstood and that the Western world is antagonistic towards China and resentful of China’s development. What use is that?
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$ D7 m) ?2 d, O4 f) ?2 }3 bAs Sarah Mile commented, "Looking at western media and literature, we see a trend for the most subversive and anti-China stances being the most popular." That is true. I would say that Dashan is a pop culture figure, not an underground artist. I work in the mass media, like all pop culture figures in China do. If that means Dashan doesn't suit this trend in the western media, that's too bad.
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5) Stereotyping – The assumption that Dashan is a performing monkey.. T1 N7 B# L# A  q
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Peter Hessler is one of my favourite American writer of books on China, but he did a real hatchet job on Dashan in his book “River Town” where in the same passage he admits that he’s never seen any appearances but then concludes that Dashan is a performing monkey. There was no justification or explanation given." h+ b4 A3 d7 R( `" F

( l3 V! W- y" bI do understand where this perception comes from, and it's closely linked to the comedic formula I described in part 2c. Successive comedic skits in which Dashan consistently "showed up" his Chinese teacher led us to explore more and more ways in which my character could exceed the teacher's (and hence the audience's) expectations. This led to a formula under which Dashan was constantly being tested for his knowledge of Chinese culture or skill in the Chinese language, and typically ends with the same conclusion: Teacher says "Wow, I can't believe it" and the audience applauds.* E4 a* e9 ~& q7 B/ p9 p: N( Z

! F  j- u+ j4 S2 XHowever, I think to label this as being a "performing monkey" is an oversimplification that reflects a particularly Western bias and that doesn't stand up to serious analysis.
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The bottom line is that the performances are designed for a Chinese audience. To be a successful comedian you have to have a clear understanding of audience perception, even if you are making an ass of yourself. You have to understand why audiences are responding to your material. In over 20 years of performing I have never felt that the Chinese audience's approach to Dashan is: "This guy is a funny monkey; let's make him dance." That's just not how Chinese audiences see the character. The "performing monkey" label is something that comes exclusively from Westerners.6 u7 Z- q, B8 Q% ~/ L& x5 T
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This even borders on racism in more extreme cases. The logic seems to go like this: white guy – speaks Chinese – Chinese people laugh – he must be making an ass of himself. Of course, the only way a white guy could possibly entertain a Chinese audience would be to be a complete buffoon.
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In some cases, this perception again seems to be based on resentment. Dashan is perceived as being successful. Others may be prone to ask: "Why him and not me?" The natural conclusion: Dashan must have sold out and stooped to all sorts of things that I would never do. It's a psychological reaction that doesn't require any evidence or serious analysis, and appeals most strongly to those foreigners who have been the least successful in China.$ N' R7 G, a5 ?  x: }* `
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Typical Foreigner? Poster Boy?) _2 J; T- j' c. j

& d) t: k: o9 ~" t; ~3 ]Several comments mention Dashan as representing Chinese people's perception of the "typical foreigner". I don't think that's true either.
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All cultures have their own stereotype of the stupid, bumbling foreigner. (Manuel in “Fawlty Towers” is my favourite example.) No matter where you come from, foreigners are often perceived as speaking your native language poorly, as being out-of-touch, clueless and inept. That's certainly not Chinese people's perception of Dashan.
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In fact, one way of explaining the Dashan character is that it’s the flip-side of this universal stereotype: at first glance he was seen as the typical foreigner, but over time developed the reputation for being “more Chinese than the Chinese are”. That’s the whole root of the comedy.
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This may have developed into a new stereotype of its own, the typical China Hand or "Friend of China" but you can’t claim that Dashan represents the stereotypical token foreigner, or the stereotypical foreigner in general. If that were true, how on Earth would Dashan ever be differentiated from the multitude of token foreigners and stereotyped role players that appear in the Chinese media?" \% d$ j4 v" J# L
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I think in general a lot of the anti-Dashan sentiment stems from the fact that Dashan is by far the most famous Westerner in the Chinese media, and as such is often perceived as the poster boy for this group in general.
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4 g- `7 `# }& N& }3 GFor my part, all I can say is that I do my own thing and take responsibility for that. Nobody forces me to do anything and I have a lot of control over what I will and will not do. So judge me on my own record. I don’t represent anybody but Dashan. I'm open to criticism or a critical discussion about Dashan, but it should be based on what I've actually done, not just some vague and uninformed perception of what people think Dashan might have or must have done.
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! n+ `: F1 [+ I) ^A long answer, but I think I covered the main reasons and offered my own personal defense.6 F5 m3 e0 X5 O
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And, no, I don't eat children (human children, at least).
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