From the sports field to the spotlight: Civil engineering graduate Matthew Knowles makes it big in Chinese film industry

Matthew Knowles, Clemson University class of 2008, was walking through downtown Greenville, S.C., while in town not long ago, when he heard his name being called. As a Greenville native, this might not seem out of the ordinary. Yet this time, it was his Chinese name that caught his attention over the hum of downtown.

Turning around, Knowles was surprised to see a young Chinese girl excitedly waving him over.

“I thought to myself, this is crazy. How is there someone from Sichuan province in Greenville, South Carolina? I couldn’t believe she recognized me,” said Knowles.

With some context, the encounter makes a little more sense. After graduating from Clemson with a degree in civil engineering, Knowles took off to Sichuan Province, China, to teach English at the local high school and volunteer. Originally only planning to stay for one year, Knowles — now a lead actor in China’s highest-grossing ever action film — got talked into re-upping his trip, a decision that would prove to be life changing.

In this photo from the Chinese film Asura, Clemson graduate Matthew Knowles plays a character named Rawa.
Image Credit: Courtesy of Matthew Knowles

A Chance Encounter

As the son of a Presbyterian pastor, Knowles was excited to do humanitarian work and make his parents proud back in South Carolina. But during his second year in China, Knowles garnered a different kind of attention—from two local celebrities who heard him sing karaoke.

“I sang a Chinese song I’d learned when I was teaching, and they just freaked out. They were like, ‘You don’t sound like a foreigner. If I closed my eyes, I would think you’re Chinese. You sound like a superstar. You have to come on our show.’ So I went, sang and wound up signing with an agency as an all-around actor. I was an actor, host, model and singer,” Knowles said.

What sounded natural was anything but — at first. Upon moving to China, Knowles experienced a hefty dose of culture shock, which is what…

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