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Can you simply post everyday stories about China on the web? Or do vloggers and other influencers have to position themselves politically? The question of how to position yourself toward the People’s Republic is not new. Foreign correspondents have been dealing with this long before the Internet existed.
But the genre Fabian Peltsch looks at in our analysis is a more recent phenomenon: In China, a number of German influencers have risen to national fame with well-made videos in Chinese. They report on everyday experiences, casually teach German, or share cooking videos. They see themselves as cultural mediators. But this kind of harmless international exchange also attracts critics, such as blogger Christoph Rehage, who was banned from the Weibo platform due to his provocative political statements.
Shortly before the end of the year, there is discontent in Brussels about the EU’s relations with China. At the G20 summit in Bali, China’s President Xi Jinping gave Council President Michel and Commission President von der Leyen a wide berth. The frustration showed on Tuesday in a debate on how to deal with the People’s Republic in the EU Parliament, as Amelie Richter analyzes.
Several MEPs criticized the China policy of the Union as divided. EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Borrell reacted with some spite, vehemently rejecting the accusation of cluelessness when it comes to China. Despite all the controversy, however, one thing seems certain: The imminent extension of sanctions related to the human rights situation in Xinjiang.
German influencers: cultural mediators on the brink of trivialization
Thomas Derksen has become Germany’s most important cultural ambassador in the People’s Republic of China with his sympathetic videos about his life in China. The trained banker from Marienheide was allowed to accompany German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on his last trip to China. He showed soccer player Lothar Matthaeus around his hometown of Shanghai as part of the “FC Bayern Legend Trophy Tour” campaign. Hardly anyone recognized the soccer legend. In stark contrast to Derksen, who now smiles from billboards as an advertising ambassador for German brands.
His pseudonym, Afu 阿福, roughly translates as “the lucky one”. Derksen has 21 social media channels in China. A total of around ten million people follow him there. The 34-year-old also has 665,000 subscribers on YouTube, many of them Chinese expatriates or citizens of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
From Buddha-bellied comedian to fit entrepreneur
His Chinese wife Liping convinced him to start vlogging about ten years ago. In the beginning, it was just a bunch of silly videos in which Afu parodied his Chinese parents-in-law with a wig and a cigarette in the corner of his mouth. From his humble Buddha-bellied beginnings, he has become a well-trained entrepreneur whose videos cover a wide range of topics, from children’s education to the energy crisis. He is now also known in Germany. Derksen has published two books about life with his Chinese in-laws. On German TV, he gave language tips from everyday life, such as how to address a woman in Chinese.