Bringing home “Made in Germany” gadgets has been a ritual among Chinese tourists who show reverence for high quality. But when it comes to Chinese innovations that impress average German counterparts, Thomas Derksen would vote for mobile payments.
The 31-year-old German is better known in China as Afu, an avatar he picked meaning fortune or luck. He is so drawn to the cashless lifestyle in China that he went so far as to write a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, proposing the adoption of mobile payment in his own country.
As a foreigner-turned-internet celebrity in China, Derksen looks at Chinese stereotypes, speaking the local dialect fluently in his self-made video episodes across major video content platforms like QQ, Douyin to Meipai.
Hailing from Cologne, Derksen worked at a local bank for three years before he studied East Asian politics and economics for his university major at age 23. An exchange program at Fudan University landed him in Shanghai, where the city’s cosmopolitan nature and its dizzy pace mesmerized him.
“I have always aspired to do something that is international and influential, and China is the best place I can think of right now,” he said.
Ahead of the 2016 G20 Summit in Hangzhou, he uploaded a video in which he went through a cashless day in the city using Alipay, the country’s biggest mobile payment tool, from taking bus rides, paying bills to borrowing umbrellas free of charge.
Viewers’ positive response pushed him to produce a sequel during the 2017 G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, when he read out an open letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to encourage the adoption of mobile payments.
“Here (in China) I found the era of mobile payments has arrived … it’s time for Germany to learn from China,” he said.
Derksen’s celebrity status－drawn largely from his talent for creating humorous social media videos in fluent Chinese－allowed him to capitalize on an international diplomatic event as a chance to build cross-cultural understanding. Through the German media, Derksen helped his compatriots understand one aspect of life in China.
Through the shows, he also got to know his future business partners, with whom he co-established a business consultancy Derksen Industries Co Ltd that targets smaller German businesses coming to China and those seeking to expand into Germany.
He also took charge of marketing and events for a fintech firm, which uses automated software to help people make smart investments overseas.
“Things change very fast here (in China). I don’t normally make long-term decisions, but my ultimate goal is to be the cultural bridge between Germany and China,” he said.
Published by “China Daily”