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Digital currency bitcoin gains virtual interest

By Wu Yiyao in Shanghai  (China Daily)

13:47, June 03, 2013

A pile of newly minted bitcoins arranged for a photograph in Sandy, Utah, in the United States. Created four years ago by a person or group using the name Satoshi Nakamoto, bitcoins are a virtual currency that can be used to buy and sell a broad range of items - from cupcakes to electronics. People can also pay with bitcoins in various coffee shops, phone and computer stores and bookstores in big Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai. [Provided to China Daily]

Bitcoins increase in popularity but reservations held in some quarters

While the debate over whether the 4-year-old bitcoin is a revolutionary invention or a Ponzi scheme rages, some people have already used them to buy real things and appreciate the smooth and fast transaction process.

"When you use the bitcoin payment system, it's like an online payment but it's more convenient," said Shen Yu, a 23-year-old postgraduate student who is majoring in telecommunications at a university in Beijing.

With 20 bitcoins, worth 6,000 yuan ($979) at the time of payment, Shen bought a laptop from an e-commerce platform in the United States.

"When you pay with bitcoins, the transaction is fast and you don't need a foreign currency credit card such as MasterCard or Visa, which is usually required by websites that do not accept bitcoin payments," said Shen.

Most of those involved in the trading of bitcoins, known as bitcoiners, are students and information technology professionals. They favor transactions using bitcoins because they can't be bothered using complicated online payments or with currency exchanges, said Shen.

In China, acceptance of bitcoins as something valuable first became known to the public when holders of the digital currency donated the coins to the e-wallet account for the victims of the Sichuan Ya'an earthquake. In China, some online retailers selling products ranging from three yuan phone cases to 1,000 yuan ($163) bedding announced that they would accept payment using bitcoins. People can also pay with bitcoins in various coffee shops, phone and computer stores and bookstores in Beijing and Shanghai.

Shen's 200 bitcoins were earned through "mining", a process of intensive computer calculation based on specific cryptographic rules.

Bitcoiners make money, or bitcoins by laboring, which is setting up a better environment for the bitcoin society through the Internet, said Shen., one of the most viewed websites for bitcoiners, says the currency has no intrinsic value, no real world counterpart, no guaranteed exchange rate and is not backed by precious metals. Transactions involving bitcoins rely on the good faith and credit of the issuing authority.

Although critics say the "mining" process is virtual labor and is not productive for the real world in any way, bitcoiners see it as equivalent to the real labor of constructing the infrastructure for a currency system in the real world.

"Why do banks charge fees when you transfer money or withdraw cash and exchange currencies? Because certain infrastructures are used that cost money and when we conduct mining, we are contributing to the safety and smoothness of transactions involving bitcoins, which deserves a reward in the form of bitcoins," said Shen.

For Chang Jia, the pen name of a science fiction writer who prefers not to reveal his real name, bitcoins have already established their position as a digital currency and have been accepted in many countries.

Chang sold 10 copies of his latest piece of fiction and received a total of 0.7 of a bitcoin, about 400 yuan, based on the exchange rate on May 7.

The income is just a tiny part of Chang's bitcoin deposits, which amount to about 2,000 and could have been sold for 4 million yuan when the exchange rate was at its peak.

Fluctuation in value

Most of the coins were traded from "miners", the bitcoiners who earned the digital currency through "mining", said Chang, at quite a cheap price when the exchange rate was really low because the business had just started in China.

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