World beater

Updated: 2011-11-11 07:42

By Todd Balazovic (China Daily)

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World beater

President of Guinness World Records, Greater China, Rowan Simons, has lived in China for 25 years. [Todd Balazovic / China Daily]

The 57th edition of the Guinness Book of World Records released this month shows China leading the way in number of record-breakers

Whether it's the longest hair in the world (5.6 meters grown for 38 years by a woman from Guilin city), or the largest bottle of cooking oil (a 700 gallon vessel built and filled with camellia oil by Pingyuan county in Guangdong province) Rowan Simons is China's go-to-man when it comes to setting the record straight.

The English-born president of Guinness World Records (GWR) Greater China has been charged with the mission of bridging the gap between China's flourishing numbers of record-breakers with the rest of the awestruck world.

"We've seen a very big increase. China is very fast becoming one of the major world record breaking markets in the world," Simons says.

Since the first Chinese edition of the Guinness Book of World Records was published in 2000, the number of Chinese record holders has more than quadrupled, catching international attention for enthusiasts of the fantastic and freaky.

"China's fascinated by world records as everyone in the world is - it's an incredible brand that goes everywhere," the 44-year-old says.

China ranks as No 7 on Guinness' list of most records broken with more than 100 titles achieved.

Currently, the US holds the No 1 slot with more than a quarter of the world's records.

But it's a ranking, Simons says, that is going to shift as Guinness World Record prepares to open its fourth global headquarters in Beijing next year.

Though not an official adjudicator, the term used for someone who officiates record-breaking attempts, Simons has been tasked with breaking down the language barrier.

"One of the reasons China hasn't been bigger earlier is because of the language. One of my key jobs is to create the full Chinese language service," he says.

By offering their records database and submission forms in Chinese he said they hope to encourage more Chinese to come forth and challenge existing accolades.

"We need to make it easy for a Chinese person to search for records and apply for records, as well as using the Chinese platform to promote the records, such as microblogs, websites and video channels," he said.

Currently, the only way for Chinese to apply for records is using the GWR website in English.

So far, China's managed to capture several existing records, with one of the most recent being in August when 3,090 bikini clad citizens of Huluduo city, ranging from ages 4 to 69, assembled to usurp Russia's claim of the largest bikini photo shoot.

"Our head of adjudications from London flew there, verified the record and now China has the record for world's largest bikini shoot. It's something that would have never happened perhaps even a decade ago," he says.

"That's one of the amazing things about Guinness World Records. All the results of our work end up encouraging more people to take up our work. When people can see records being broken, they naturally want to participate."

China has so far managed to be the first to break a number of non-existent records, with the oldest being the world's first seismograph, developed by Chinese astronomer Chang Heng in 132 AD.

And the number of records held by Chinese is only set to grow as GWR pushes to open their Chinese-version website later this year.

"A lot of the times there are existing records that have already been broken, it's just a matter of someone recognizing them and pointing it out," he said.

Though he's never attempted to break a Guinness record himself, Simons' list of accomplishments in the 25 years he's lived in China are record-worthy themselves.

From developing the media campaign for former prime minister Tony Blair's first official visit to China to forming one of Beijing's first amateur football clubs, aptly titled Club Football Beijing, the London-native has accomplished many firsts since living in the capital.

When he arrived in Beijing to study Chinese at Beijing Foreign Studies University in 1987, Simons admits that beyond learning a 'strange foreign language' he had no idea what he wanted to do in life.

But following a position teaching English to CCTV's then fledgling English service presenters, Simons was gripped by the allure of media.

"It suddenly struck me that media was the most incredible thing - we could spend two days recording a show in one place, but hundreds of millions of people could see that work," he says.

Dropping out of university, Simons returned to the UK where he sought out jobs that would bring him back to China on a more official level.

He found three: working part-time as a manager for China Sponsorship Limited, which handled marketing sponsorship for the 1990 Asian Games; a consultant for BBC World services commercial arm, and a freelancer for Television Week magazine, he quickly learned how to navigate China's media scene.

In 2001 he put his specialized knowledge to use, forming Odyssey Media Group, helping pave the path for some of the world's biggest media enterprises to enter the China market.

It was Simons understanding of Chinese media that first prompted GWR to approach him to help set up its yearly television special in 2006.

Filming live record-breaking attempts and showcasing the year's biggest attempts from China and across the world, the special now commands an audience of more than 450 million during the China's Spring Festival celebrations.

The television show's rampant popularity paved the way for GWR's plans to open its 4th global headquarters in China's capital next year.

"I started talking with them a few years ago and told them they need to take China more seriously," he says.

With more than 20 years working in Chinese media and a strong conviction towards fair play, GWR naturally saw Simons as the perfect fit for the new operation and appointed him the president of GWR Greater China earlier this year.

"Everything that I did while forming the club football league was about fair play. Fair competition, no cheating - if you're the best then you win. GWR is very much about that same principal," he says.