China's internet German star writes to Merkel urging Germany to go cashless like China

China's internet German star writes to Merkel urging Germany to go cashless like China
Thomas Derksen, known as Afu to his 5 million followers on Chinese social media, is famous for making humorous videos that poke fun at the cultural differences between his native Germany and China.
PHOTO: China Daily/Asia News Network

Viral video star Thomas Derksen is better known for poking fun than pushing for societal change. Yet in July, he attempted to do just that in his native Germany.

In the runup to the G20 gathering in Hamburg, the Shanghai-based funnyman wrote to Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, urging her administration to follow China's example of building a "cashless" society.

"My Chinese friends always tell me that they admire a lot of things about Germany, but now the time has come that we Germans should learn from the Chinese people," he wrote.

"In Germany, I never went outdoors without taking my wallet, but since I've lived in China, I've found that a cashless economy is not something that will happen in the future, it is happening now."

Derksen, known as Afu to his 5 million followers on social media, said it was the first time he had tried to use his celebrity status to enhance Sino-German relations.

The 29-year-old comedian, who speaks fluent Mandarin as well as the Shanghai dialect, is famous for his humorous videos, which poke fun at the cultural differences between his homeland and his adopted home.

In some episodes, he dresses as his mother-in-law and mimics the way older women in Shanghai ask about his salary or plans for starting a family. In others, he appears as a driving instructor who yells at his students, using Shanghai slang to describe the brake pedal and accelerator.

One of his most popular videos, in which he jokes about being married to a Chinese woman, has been viewed more than 900,000 times on Sina Weibo.

Derksen said his chief inspiration for starting the videos was Papi Jiang, a graduate of Beijing's Central Academy of Drama who shot to fame after uploading similar sketches in 2015. "At the time, Papi Jiang was so overwhelming popular in China, and I thought I could be a male, German version of her," he said. However, rather than being known as the "male Papi", he's more commonly referred to as the "happy, chubby German".

Derksen first visited China in 2007 as a high school student. That three-week trip, which included stops in Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing in Jiangsu province, left a deep impression of a nation with a unique culture and warmhearted people.

In the fall of 2012, he returned as an exchange student at Tongji University in Shanghai, where he met his future wife, Zhu Liping.

Yet the course of true love never did run smooth. For a long time, Zhu's father refused to speak to Derksen. Undeterred, the German enrolled at Fudan University to continue his studies and learn more about China and its culture.

He was eventually accepted by the family, and the couple were married in 2015. In fact, his Chinese name Afu came from his father-in-law.

After becoming an internet celebrity, Derksen said he is recognised from time to time on the street. He and his mother-in-law were also shown square dancing in the Shanghai government's recent promotional video, This Is Shanghai.

"In Germany, it would take many years to get so many followers," he said, adding that now he has such a large fan base he sees an opportunity to be a cultural bridge between Germany and China.

In addition to online payment, he said he has also witnessed rapid developments over the past five years in bike-sharing, high-speed rail and e-commerce, which has brought more convenience to millions of people.

His homeland would benefit from introducing such innovation, he said, adding, "I think it's time Germany learns from China."

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