The Bitcoin price has been shooting up quickly in the last few weeks, a movement that has surprised many especially since most predicted that the Bitcoin price would fall below $100 or even $50 following the demise of Silk Road.
Although Bitcoin certainly did crash on that day, hitting a three-month low of $85 for a few moments, the price steadily picked up, regained its original level and is now higher than it ever was with the exception of only three days in Bitcoin’s history, all during the media-fueled frenzy culminating in a spike in April this year.
What has been fueling the price movements? To some, it is the downfall of the Silk Road itself, as many people believe that with the loss of what was probably the “shadiest” part of the Bitcoin community, mainstream institutions will be much more willing to take it seriously. To others, it is the rapid growth of the Chinese community, bolstered by a division of Chinese Google equivalent Baidu accepting Bitcoin for one of its services.
Today, a massive spike in the Bitcoin price, accelerating hyperexponentially from roughly $180 on MtGox to a high of $195, provides some strong evidence that it is in fact China that is playing the principal role. Here is the chart of the Bitcoin price between roughly 7:00 and 10:00 GMT today:
The pattern is one that has been replicated many times in Bitcoin’s history. Here, for example, you can see the Bitcoin price’s movements just before it broke $30 for the first time in one and a half years this February:
In both cases, the exact same scenario unfolds: a powerful psychological threshold is pushed against, offers resistance, and when the threshold is finally broken the market erupts in a wave of exuberance that quickly leads to a minor spike, a subsequent crash and a consolidation. The pattern can even be seen in the downward direction as well, at those times when Bitcoin is in its downward swings. This time, however, there is one major difference: the psychological threshold in question was measured in CNY, not USD. Nearly every Chinese exchange followed the same pattern of brushing up against 990 CNY, staying there for some time, and then finally breaking through 1000 CNY and shooting up by six percent almost immediately afterward. In US dollars and Euros, the exchange rates of $165 and EUR 120, respectively, are comparatively meaningless.
Although it might be hard to believe, the Chinese Bitcoin exchanges are in fact responsible for much more trade volume than those in Europe and the United States. BTCChina, the most prominent Chinese Bitcoin exchange, currently shows roughly the same volume as MtGox and BitStamp, and there are plenty of other exchanges that have not received as much public attention outside of China, but whose volumes add up to even more than BTCChina altogether. However, these statistics were always known to be somewhat unreliable, as Chinese Bitcoin exchanges have very low fees, encouraging speculation.
If Bitstamp had a de-facto 0.15% fee, one could expect much more speculative trade happening on there as well. This rally certainly does not by itself provide solid proof that there is much non-speculative Bitcoin activity going on in China – for that, we may need to wait for a few more months for the Chinese Bitcoin community to catch up, but what it does show is that, as of today, the Bitcoin markets are dominated by the Chinese. The sleeping dragon appears to be finally waking up.
Vitalik Buterin is a co-founder of Bitcoin Magazine who has been involved in the Bitcoin community since 2011, and has contributed to Bitcoin both as a writer and the developer of a fork of bitcoinjs-lib, pybitcointools and multisig.info, as well as one of the developers behind Egora. Now, Vitalik's primary job is as the main developer of Ethereum, a project which intends to create a next-generation smart contract and decentralized application platform that allows people to create any kind of decentralized application on top of a blockchain that can be imagined.