By creating online content in Chinese about Chinese culture on Chinese social media, these foreigners have forayed into the political realm, bolstering their home country’s reputation within China’s borders and also generated goodwill toward their host countries.
Here is a list of some of them who have become well-known for their work and contributed to cross-cultural exchange:
Foreign celebrities in China
1. Canada: Mark Roswell (a.ka. “Dashan”)
The Canadian comedian’s Chinese stage name is “Dashan” and he has earned a reputation as “China’s most famous foreigner” over the years. Besides being well-known for his comedy, he has been named Canada’s goodwill ambassador to China, after serving as Canada’s representative at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, and participating in every Canadian prime ministerial visit to China since 1994. He has 3.81 million followers on his Weibo.
2. Germany: Thomas Derksen (a.k.a. “Afu Thomas”)
Affectionately known as “Afu Thomas” to his Chinese fans, Derksen - who can speak virtually flawless Mandarin-, is best known for his online musings of his life as a foreigner in China on his Weibo account.
With a strong following of more than 5 million followers on the Chinese social media platform, he became a cultural ambassador for both his home and host country when he wrote a letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel in July, before the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on how he thought Germany could learn from China and become a largely cashless society.
In the following days, stories about his letter that went viral appeared in both Chinese and German media. It was a masterstroke that promoted cross-cultural understanding: his countrymen now understand one aspect of life in China and his Chinese fans learned what civic engagement looks like in his home country.
3. Japan: Yamashita Tomohiro
A Shanghai-based Japanese national, Yamashita braved the headwinds of the then sensitive tensions of the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands) dispute that had grasped news headlines and ventured to China to see if it was really true that the Chinese don’t like the Japanese — as he had heard that it was so on Japanese media.
Five years later, the internet celebrity can speak Mandarin fluently and has gained more than 1 million followers on his Weibo account with his comedy videos and distinctly Japanese humour.
While Yamashita has not spoken directly about the tense relations between China and Japan, he calls himself a “lubricant for China-Japan relations”.
He believes his work represents a mutual feeling between the youths of China and Japan, where mutual interests and understanding outweigh political antagonisms.
4. Israel: Raz Gal-Or
Raz Gal-Or is the co-founder of the Foreign Research Institute in Beijing, an online outfit that aims to cater to the Chinese audience by making videos that cultivate understanding for young foreigners in China.
Their Chinese social media platforms on Weibo and Miaopai have over 3 million followers and they enjoy 11 million views per video.
Calling themselves the “Laowai Influencers”, these foreign nationals create humorous online videos about how expats live their lives in China. They also chat and sing to their fans in live-stream videos as they interact with fans on a personal level.
Thier videos are now a highly-popular alternative for young people in China, providing an insightful source of information to understand cross-cultural differences.