Bitcoin, released to the world in 2009 by a person or people called Satoshi Nakamoto, is not backed by a central bank or a government and is seen as an alternative payment system. In February 2013, Bitcoin went into the mainstream as a monetary crisis threatened to bankrupt Cyprus, seen as a safer bet. Early adopters of Bitcoin have been richly rewarded as the price has soared – in one case, a young Norwegian bought a house from an $850,000 windfall on a US$22 investment.
Hundreds attend China's first bitcoin summit, defying Beijing's warning
Several hundred people defied the central government's bitcoin crackdown by attending China's first summit on the digital currency in Beijing this weekend.
Venture capitalist Li Xiaolai, who organised the conference, dismissed the suggestion that Beijing would ultimately outlaw the use of digital currencies in the mainland.
"Thailand has already banned bitcoin, so has Russia. But who cares if China bans it as long as everyone knows the whole world can't ban it," Li said. He denied that bitcoin users felt threatened by the central government, and said bitcoin posed no threat to Beijing.
However, the chance of the government implementing further measures aimed at disrupting the growth of bitcoin on the mainland forced the heads of the five largest bitcoin businesses in China to skip the event. The prominent figures within the bitcoin world wanted to reduce the summit's profile.
Since December, the People's Bank of China has launched a series of crackdowns against the digital currency, discouraging banks and payment companies from dealing with money involved in bitcoin trading.
Watch: What's bitcoin and how does it work?
Li, who in the past has said he owned a six-figure number of bitcoins - which would make him a multi-millionaire - declined to reveal his bitcoin holding yesterday. He said he was pleased with the turnout.
"I'm glad to have an opportunity to introduce … the environment of bitcoin in China. It is a very stunning innovation," Li told attendees.
Among them was Zheng Qinen, 23, who quit his job in January despite receiving a "good" salary. He felt he could make money faster by working in the bitcoin industry. "I'm a bitcoin believer, I believe in this technology, and I quit my job because I can't help jumping into this new world. I know I can make a fortune," Zheng said.
He described the government's crackdown as "reasonable and logical".
"If I was the Chinese government, I would do a similar thing. If there is no restriction - if Beijing doesn't say it is a risky thing, or give warning - then lots of people will lose their money."
Zheng did not rule out the possibility of the mainland eventually banning bitcoin. "It might not happen this year but it could happen someday. It's a challenge to the traditional structure of government," he said.
Engineer Hui Yenyan, 26, said she had lost 10,000 yuan after buying at the height of the bitcoin boom, only to sell as the price has tumbled. "I'm not happy I lost my money but I hope to get it back," Hui said. "I still think bitcoin will replace money."