Bitcoin Mining in China

China is the undisputed world leader in Bitcoin mining.

Chinese mining pools control more than 70% of the Bitcoin network’s collective hashrate.

Here is our estimated* mining hash power breakdown by country:

China - 71%
India - 4%
Georgia - 2%
Iceland - 2%
Venezuela - 2%
USA - 1%

15% of the hash rate is missing from above chart, but it’s likely that China crontrols an even greater amount.

Not only does China manufacture most of the world’s mining equipment, but massive mining farms are located there to take advantage of extremely cheap electricity prices.

China also accounts for hefty Bitcoin trading volumes. Chinese exchanges used to lead the world in terms of volume.

However:

Chinese volume has fallen substantially since the PBOC decreed that exchanges could no longer offer 0% trading fees. This ruling flushed a lot of wash trading from the Chinese exchanges.

So, just why is China the world’s leader in Bitcoin mining?

Reason #1: Cheap Electricity

Electricity cost is the most important factor for a profitable mining operation. As mining difficulty increases, the least efficient miners are forced to shut down first.

Electricity in China is extremely cheap compared to most other countries. Chinese electricity in industrial regions is either supplied by hydro-electric facilities or subsidized by the state.

China’s cheap electricity keeps Chinese miners at peak efficiency and allows them to outlast their foreign competitors.

Reason #2: Excess Coal

Coal is the cheapest power source but also the dirtiest. It’s well-known that China has comparatively lax environmental policies. Major cities like Beijing are notorious for their high levels of smog, produced mostly by burning coal.

Energy producers can freely burn coal and use the energy for Bitcoin mining. Instead of physically transporting the coal, it’s easier and more cost-effective to establish a Bitcoin mining operation near a source of coal and convert carbon directly to crypto.

#Bitcoin enables Chinese entrepreneurs to export coal by burning it and using the energy to mine.

— Emin Gün Sirer (@el33th4xor) July 20, 2015

Reason #3: Leading Bitcoin Mining Pools

Mining pools, as the name implies, are collaborations between individual miners and, frequently, major mining companies. Their hashrate is combined so that the pool has a better chance of finding a block. The block reward is then shared among all contributing members, according to their proportional hashrate.

The result is that many miners outside of China are attracted to Chinese mining pools due to their size. The bigger a pool, the more steady and predictable a member’s earnings. Many miners are lured by the prospect of small, steady earnings as part of a major pool, as opposed to the high- reward-but-low-odds lottery which is solo or small-pool mining.

China is home to four of the five largest Bitcoin mining pools over the past year. As of the 29th of March, 2017, the distribution of hashrate was as follows:

1. AntPool

Antpool is another Chinese based mining pool, maintained by the ASIC manufacturer, BitMain. Antpool has mined nearly 20% of all blocks over the past year. Antpool currently has a hashrate of about 675 Petahash per second (PH/s).

There is some speculation that AntPool disguises its true hashrate by running subsidiary pools. These are said to include ViaBTC, BTC.com, GBMiners, CANOE and possibly others.

2. F2Pool / DiscusFish

F2Pool, also known as DiscusFish, is based in China. F2Pool has mined about 18.5% of all blocks over the past twelve months. At the time of writing, it controlled about 380 PH/s.

3. BTCC

BTCC is China’s third largest Bitcoin exchange and also operates a large mining pool. The BTCC pool has mined about 11% of all blocks over the past year. It controls about 240 PH/s.

4. BW Pool

BW, established in 2014, is another mining company based in China. BW’s pool has mined about 10% of all blocks over the last year. It controls in the region of 225 PH/s.

So, what does this situation mean for Bitcoin? Sadly, nothing good:

Mining Centralization

There’s a definite downside to China’s mining dominance:

Centralization!

Having so much mining power centralized in any single country exposes the Bitcoin network to a worrying degree of political risk.

Should the Chinese government decide to crack down on Bitcoin, perhaps seeing it as a threat to their economy or a competitor to their own planned digital currency, they could wreak untold havoc in the Bitcoin ecosystem.

Inside a Chinese Bitcoin Mining Operation

The video below offers an inside look at how Bitcoin mining farms in China operate:



*This section will provide insight on how we calculated our mining estimation chart.

We looked at the network hash rate chart at blockchain.info.

At the time of writing, here are the Chinese pools and their respective hash rates:

The total from these pools is 72%.

For India, GBMiners controls ~3.4% of the hash rate while Bitcoin India has ~0.3%. This gives 3.7% for India.

BitFury has most of its hardware running in Georgia, and Bitfury is at 2.3%.

BitClub has most of its farms in Iceland and at time of writing is at about 2% of hash rate.

There are no pools that definitely point towards the USA and Venezueland having lots of hash power, but it is known that there is decent mining activity in these countries.

We’re missing 15% of the hash rate from our estimates, because Slush Pool and BTC.com pool control about 13% of the network, but there hash power comes from many different countries. We suspect that the USA, Canada, Venezuela, China, Iceland and Georgia make up the majority of this other 13-15% but it is hard to say exactly how much.

Legality of Bitcoin in China

Bitcoin’s value has increased exponentially over the past year, as digital currencies continue to gain popularity. This tremendous surge in popularity of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has attracted significant attention from governments, regulators, and lawmakers.

China, which once accounted for the lion’s share of bitcoin trading, is currently the largest country to clamp down on the use of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. It banned both cryptocurrency exchanges and Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs). It appears that China would like bitcoin to stay as an “afterthought” sort of thing.

On the 5th of December 2013, China’s central bank (the People’s Bank of China) banned financial institutions from dealing in bitcoin. A statement by the central bank said that whilst digital currencies don’t yet pose a threat to China’s financial system, it carries multiple risks.

On 1st of April 2014, the central bank of China ordered the country’s commercial banks and third-party payment processors to close bitcoin trading accounts. They were given two weeks ultimatum to do so. Without these third-party payment processors, bitcoin exchanges in China couldn’t have the ability to take Chinese Yuan in payment for bitcoin.

In 2017, China banned all Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) – fundraising through cryptocurrencies – claiming that 90% of the ICOs launched in the country are scams. In a joint decree from several financial regulators, including the central bank of China, the group said they consider ICOs to be an illegal and unlicensed public financing activity. According to their statement, crypto token sales involve financial crimes like the Ponzi scheme, illegal fundraising, illegal issuance of securities and illegal distribution of financial tokens.

For common citizens, however, trading using bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies isn’t illegalized yet. The cryptocurrency regulation has only made it extremely difficult for citizens to purchase or trade digital coins.

Bitcoin miners moving out of China

Needless to say, China is the world’s undisputed leader in bitcoin mining, thanks to the country’s cheap electricity, cheap labor, and manufacturing capabilities. Having cracked down cryptocurrency exchanges and ICOs, China is now planning to go after bitcoin miners. To do so, it is hitting where it hurts the most – limit power supply. Without access to electricity, new bitcoins cannot be generated.

The Bloomberg news agency reported that the People’s Bank of China was mulling ways to curb power usage by companies involved with virtual currency mining. The government is investigating power consumption of cryptocurrency miners to determine whether their use of cheap or free electricity has affected power prices in those areas.

Recently, law enforcement in China confiscated 600 hardware used to mine bitcoins. This was after a local power grid operator reported abnormal electricity usage. The report, however, did not say when the police confiscated the machines.

One of the largest bitcoin mines belongs to Bitmain. Bitmain is located in SanShangLiang, and has expanded its operations to Canada and the US. It is also setting up a regional headquarters in Singapore. Bitmain is a Beijing-based company that also manufactures cryptocurrency mining hardware known as ASIC that solves complex math equations to generate new bitcoins. In fact, the company claims that 70% of the bitcoin mining rigs were made by them.

Another major Chinese bitcoin mining rig known as BTC.TOP has also decided to shift its operations to Canada.

Major Chinese Mining Companies and Pools

China houses some of the world’s biggest mining pools. The main cost of bitcoin mining is the electricity. It can constitute up to 70 percent of the overall cost. For this reason, most of these bitcoin mining equipment are installed in rural places close to hydroelectric plants. These plants often produce more electricity than they can sell to the country’s state grid. Some plant owners have opted to either sell the surplus energy to bitcoin miners or set up their own mines.

Since bitcoin mining consumes huge amounts of energy, miners often seek locations with easy access to cheap electricity. One such place is Sichuan, which has of late become known as ‘the capital of bitcoin mining’. It is a home of the world’s largest bitcoin mines.

Miners set up mines in the area owing to its abundance of hydropower, ideal for the high energy needs of the machines needed for cryptocurrency generation.

And as said before, Bitmain is the biggest bitcoin mining company in China. The firm operates two of the world’s largest bitcoin mining pools – BTC.com and AntPool – which contributes to virtually 25% of all bitcoin mining pool’s hash rate.

Bitmain has also cooperated with ViaBTC, which is the third largest mining pool in the world. When combining ViaBTC and the two mining pools run by Bitmain, this is nearly 50% of the total hashing power on the bitcoin network.