The News UNIT: Jeff Berwick on THE COMING BITCOIN FORK and ...

Bitcoins Come to China

By Chen Huijing (陈慧晶) Issue 618, May 6, 2013 Market, page 17 Translated by Zhu Na Original article: [Chinese] http://www.eeo.com.cn/ens/2013/0509/243777.shtml
Within just one month, the value Cheng Hua’s (程华) Bitcoin holdings had increased nearly sixfold.
Bitcoin, an unofficial virtual currency that’s transferred digitally without an intermediate financial institution, saw its value soar from $46 to $230 between Mar 10 and April 10.
Cheng Hua was one of the first Chinese to trade the currency. In China, Bitcoin lovers like him call themselves “BTCers.”
Li Xiaolai (李笑来), who claims to have the largest collection of Bitcoins in China, describes his obsession saying, “Bitcoin is the most stunning and most subversive social experiment in history.”
Will Bitcoin start to challenge traditional currency? Or is this just a speculative bubble that will become the digital world’s “Tulip Mania”?
A Crisis and an Opportunity
If it weren’t for the banking crisis that hit Cyprus, Cheng Hua may have totally forgotten about the 2,000 Bitcoins that he and his friends bought two years ago.
On Mar 16, the Mediterranean island nation of about 1 million signed on for a 10 billion euro bailout from the EU and IMF. As part of the deal, Cyprus would raise 5.8 billion euro by levying a one-off 6.7 percent tax on bank deposits under 100,000 euro and 9.9 percent on higher deposits. Once the news circulated, people in Cyprus rushed to withdraw their money from banks.
During this time, downloads of online software for trading Bitcoin started to boom. Cypriots were very interested in a virtual currency with no central government control.
Jeff Berwick, founder of StockHouse.com and CEO of TDV Media, announced that he planned to open a Bitcoin ATM in Cyprus. He said that within just a few days, he received many orders for these special ATMs.
With the surge in demand, the price of Bitcoin against the U.S. dollar soared. On Mar 16, it was worth $47. By Apr 9, it broke through $200 and reached its highest point of $230. But it soon fell back to around $100.
“During this month of watching Bitcoin, I hardly got any sleep,” said a “BTCer” who just recently got interested in the field. “Between the time I closed my eyes and opened them again, the price had risen or dropped more than $10. It was very exciting.”
He’s considering selling his house so he can invest all his money in Bitcoin.
Cheng Hua was also shocked by the recent events. He found that the 5,000 yuan he invested in Bitcoin two years ago was now worth 40 times that amount.
Investment
Bitcoin was started in 2008 by an anonymous creator as an alternative to government controlled currency - much like gold. And like gold, Bitcoin is “mined” virtually. According to Wall Street Journal, people can mine Bitcoins with computers and special software by solving complicated mathematical problems. But since the process is so difficult, most just opt to buy it. New Bitcoins are made available to be mined when the network is updated, and the amount of new coins distributed will be halved every year until 2140 when the total number will be capped at 21 million.
In May 2011, Cheng Hua and his colleagues at a software company started to mine Bitcoin online. “At that time there weren’t many people mining, so it was easy,” he said. “In the beginning, we could dig up two or three Bitcoins per day. There were different mines as well as rankings. We joined one of them, and coins were allocated based on the contribution of miners’ calculation ability.”
Like many Bitcoin lovers, Cheng Hua and his team’s mining experience wasn’t very successful. The money they generated from selling Bitcoins was less than what they’d invested in the electronic infrastructure to mine. After half a year, they gave up. Luckily for Cheng, he held on to many of the coins.
Li Xiaolai (李笑来), founder of a major website, invested hundreds of thousands of yuan and suffered major losses, but persisted in the Bitcoin market. He continued to gain more by buying low and selling high. “In the end, I gained 2,100 Bitcoins using this method, which was far beyond my expectations,” Li said.
He says that Bitcoin is valuable because it ensures inviolability of private property through its decentralized peer-to-peer structure. To him, it provides a guarantee of freedom.
The Future Economy?
Bitcoin has come a long way in its short history. As of Mar 30, all Bitcoins that have been issued so far were together worth over $1 billion. And a series of Bitcoin-related industries have developed including Bitcoin exchanges, information websites and third-party payment services.
In the U.S., Bitcoin is already being used in daily life. According to an October 2012 report by BitPay, a company providing payment mediums for Bitcoin, over 1,000 merchants accepted payment with the currency through their system.
Though Bitcoin just started to take off in China this year, there are already more than 10 online stores on Taobao that accept the currency. And after the Ya’an earthquake hit, Bitcoin donations were accepted.
American economist Paul Krugman has come down hard on Bitcoins, saying they “derive their value, if any, purely from self-fulfilling prophecy, the belief that other people will accept them as payment.”
“BTCers” have a different view. Li says that Bitcoin does indeed have some shortcomings currently, but that’s because people dealing with the young currency have a mindset that’s accumulated after thousands of years of using traditional money. Volatility, he says, is natural in the beginning.
“I don’t see Bitcoin as speculation or an investment,” Li said. “For me, it’s a social practice. Gold doesn’t support currency. People’s trust supports currency. Bitcoin is the same. It has no intrinsic value. It’s gained trust from people on the internet voluntarily. This trust is more valuable than the forced trust traditional currency relies on.”
Cheng Hua holds the same view “Bitcoin is based on the principle of trust,” he says. “Maybe it will have bubble stages, but currency must go through these stages during development. The traditional legal currency also went through these stages in its emergence. The future economy in the virtual world is built on the basis of virtual currency. This is the value of Bitcoin.”
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