A few days in the life of a Chinese Bitcoiner. Zhang Weiwu meets the CEO of a large exchange and is surprised to find himself in a conversation about its future. Here, he explains why the Chinese think China is the world and finds out that the biggest Chinese exchange really might shut down, while he waits for his plane to Saigon.
I waited at the airport for my plane to Saigon (which was, like all Chinese planes, late), while Huobi, the largest Chinese BTC exchange, announced that their bank would be shutting down their account. As I waited I checked the charts and watched the crash. I was angry that I had missed the bottom – it didn’t go as deep as I had expected. At the same time, I should have been happy, since the news meant I’d won the argument. That’s a really rare experience in China, and I was also worried that he’d lost face. The Chinese don’t usually argue. Arguing is like fighting, and since fighting is bad, discussions have to be approached carefully.
I’d had a meeting with the CEO of a big exchange. It was he who had invited me in the first place to his big office with a sizeable tea set and table, on which he had no time to finish a brief tea ceremony. Not only was the tea ceremony cut short, but he said in a sorry tone, ‘everything else, too. I’ve been running this Bitcoin exchange business for a year and I never had weekends in that time.’ He told me everything about his business, with a frankness the Chinese often cannot afford.
‘Take it or leave it be. I still think we can play big.’
He said: ‘I asked for this meeting for a reason. The Bitcoin game is going down, and we need to fight every last inch. It started when BTCChina announced 0% fee, and it will end soon. As with everything else in China, the survivor is the winner. You are among the earliest adopters in China. You’ve been a CEO. You look like someone who can handle yourself. We should be partner and join forces.’
I answered: ‘As frank as you have been to me, I am afraid PBOC meant it seriously. It doesn’t matter what they order, it matters what they intend, and they intend to put Bitcoin out of the picture. It’s not a survivor’s game. It’s a loser’s game.’
The other half of the afternoon was spent in discussion.
He: ‘PBOC needs Bitcoin to counter USD dominance.’
I: ‘PBOC is the wealthiest organisation this world have ever seen. They are too lofty to make use of bitcoin.’
He: ‘FxBTC could be lying to quit business quietly.’
I: ‘Why should they want to quit business in the wake of a site-wide upgrade with new branding?’
He: ‘You have to believe in something in order to run a successful business!’
I: ‘And to think critically to decide whether to invest in it in the first place!’
The debate went on. I feel like I hadn’t had this kind of discussion in Chinese for years. It made me feel like a foreigner in my own land. Finally he said, ‘Take it or leave it be. I still think we can play big.’
‘Play big, but not on this turf. There are more business to run than exchanges, and there are more places than China. You know what? I am thinking of Hong Kong, and then South America. They’ve always had currency problems waiting for solutions; Chinese businessmen already gather there, and Latin American people don’t have a big central power to be afraid of Bitcoin. We have a world to conqueror!’
He laid open his hands, sighed, and said, ‘You know there is no world beyond China.’