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China’s most influential people in crypto
Here are eight people quietly shaping and nurturing the crypto industry
For da bing’s first column on the new year, I wanted to look back at what, for Chinese crypto investors at least, the very difficult year that was 2020. Specifically, I wanted to call out the most influential people in Chinese crypto who managed to thrive last year, since they’re the ones who will doubtless help shape and direct the industry in the coming year.
It’s no secret that Chinese investors got rekt during Black Thursday in March, far worse than their western counterparts. They were unable to enjoy DeFi’s summer harvest, and are now holding empty bags as they hope that BTC drops a little so they get some buy-in. BTC mining continued its decentralization path, dispersing out of China’s major hubs such as Sichuan, to Europe and the United States. Filecoin mining in China was hyped, halted, then launched, mooned, and then settled into its current, more subdued range.
Crypto VCs are hustling at conferences and cocktail parties but somehow managed to miss most alpha projects. Let’s face it. Major crypto breakthroughs are still deeply grounded in the West.
Morale went even lower as Ponzi schemes, such as PlusToken, tainted the industry and further estranged potential investors from considering the space.
And yet, despite a bad year, 2020 also taught the Chinese crypto community a lesson: As a community, our impact will dwindle if we don’t focus on building and nurturing projects that contribute to the long-term advancement of crypto.
Which brings us back to the point of this column: Who are the influencers in China that have been trying to do exactly that?
I lurked on numerous WeChat groups and tried to focus on people who are the builders and the nurturers. I was also looking for the names that are not as well known in the west—so you won’t see the usual suspects such as Bitmain’s Jihan Wu, Binance’s CZ, Huobi’s Leon Li, Wanxiang’s Feng Xiao and dForce’s Mindao Yang. Instead, I picked the top eight—eight, being an auspicious number that means wealth in Chinese.
Pan, commonly known as 彪哥, is chosen not simply because of his influence as a crypto OG, but because of his continuous reinventing of how a mining pool can operate.
Pan was an early employee at Bitmain in 2014, and later ran BTC.com. He founded Poolin in 2017, a crypto-mining pool headquartered in Beijing. With offices in Sichuan, the center of mining, it quickly became one of the largest mining pools in the world.
Compared to many Chinese mining influencers who behave more like traditional energy-sector operators, Pan talks and acts like a Fintech entrepreneur.
In 2020, he expanded his product offerings by releasing Poolin Wallet and Poolin Asset Management. He hired a team of developers and traders to study DeFi projects and managed to garner handsome returns for his customers, while many others completely missed the DeFi train.
As mining becomes increasingly competitive and margins squeezed, Pan is showing the rest of China’s crypto community how to move from mining to fintech.
Eric Yu, co-founder & CTO Math Wallet
The rise of Math Wallet surprised many. Compared to the majority of crypto wallets that focus on one blockchain, Math Wallet takes pride in being the only wallet that supports over 50 public blockchains.
That’s significant because in China, many investors have shifted their eyes from likes of BTC and ETH to Polkadot, Filecoin, Near and other Layer1 protocols. Instead of installing a wallet for each blockchain, they can just use Math for all of them.
Coming from traditional tech—Microsoft, HP, and Accenture—Yu and his team have tailored Math Wallet for the average retail customer of China. Gamification features such as daily “wheel-spinning,” where users win random tokens, has proven to be a successful customer retention trick. Math has also expanded its market outside of China: 40% of its current users are foreign, with 10% of that group in the States.
Huang is one of the most active crypto VCs based in Shanghai. She joined the firm in 2017 and was made a partner in 2020 and is best known for her investments in Polkadot and Filecoin—way before the two projects boomed in 2020. As a sort of unofficial spokeswoman of Filecoin, she mentors Filcoin’s “Slingshot” accelerator program, and drives Fenbushi’s multi-million-dollar Filecoin ecosystem fund.
There are many China-based investors who are little known by western audiences, of course. Huang is known for communicating her successful bets through her research writing, a rare talent not often seen among Chinese investors. She also represents a growing trend in China where investors are increasingly allocating funds to a multi-chain world, in platforms such as Polkadot and Filecoin.
Diane Dai, co-founder of DODO
Dai is considered the god-mother of DeFi in China. Among other things, she created and curates China’s first DeFi Wechat group, the influential “DeFi The World.”
But Dai isn’t your typical crypto hustler. Her biggest contribution to China’s DeFi circle is not limited to building a DeFi community. By founding DODO, a DeFi project known for its “Proactive Market Making,” she showed how a Chinese crypto team can attract international capital from the likes of Coinbase Venture.
Dai showed the world that Chinese projects aren’t purely speculative. Because of DODO’s success, we saw a new wave of developers and capital flow into China’s DeFi circles.
David White, crypto entrepreneur and developer
White is an investor in and the brains behind YFII. (His nickname is 老白, literally “Old White,” an evolution from his original nickname, "White Noise.") Based in Beijing, he spent years working as a data scientist at China’s tech giants such as Tencent and Douban.
White’s biggest contribution to Chinese crypto 2020 is his leadership in forking and leading YFII.
YFII could be considered the first successful Chinese DeFi DAO that’s still actively managed by volunteers. It’s been launching new products every month since its inception and collaborating with other DeFi projects like a real, international trooper. White’s leadership makes YFII the best example of how to localize a DAO in the China context: from meme creation to WeChat communication, to token incentivization—and more importantly, to continuous innovation. YFII could disappear one day, but the process of its creation has electrified China’s crypto community.
Suji Yan, founder of Mask Network
A web3.0 layer that enables users to post encrypted messages, trade tokens and even fiat, Mask’s genius is it's a simple onramp built atop traditional web2.0 platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
Mask also plans to launch an ITO (Initial Twitter Offering) which allows users to participate in dapps on those social media platforms.
The idea behind Mask is dope: while many are creating new protocols in the hope to lure users to a new community, Yan simply moved his protocol to where users already were, and offered them the world of web3.0 without asking them to move.
Yan’s team is entirely born out of China’s DeFi community. It’s an optimistic sign that talent still exists. Yan represents China’s cyberpunk culture. He is a thought leader in the decentralized network / governance space and. and has the charisma to build a Web3 Trojan horse.
Colin Wu, Founder of Wu Blockchain
Wu Blockchain is an influential crypt media platform known for breaking news and industry analysis.
For many years, Chinese crypto journalism was dominated by players who have no professional journalism background. They often wrote articles that only serves the purpose of pumping token projects.
Wu is different. Trained as a professional journalist, he has uncovered stories with facts and courage. He was the only Chinese crypto media that reported the Babel Finance scandal, for instance. He was also the go-to crypto-journalist for any topic related to mining because of his excellent sources in the sector.
Wang might be an unfamiliar name in non-Chinese crypto circles but his product, Loopring Protocol, gained traction as one of the earliest DEX on Layer 2, using zkRollup.
Wang has been in the Chinese crypto space since 2016. He launched Loopring in 2017, during the ICO craze, and raised millions. However, he was the rare breed who returned ICO funds back to investors, mindful of China’s sudden desire to regulate crypto.
What remains unchanged is Loopring’s original vision to build a DEX. Due to Ethereum’s clogged network, Wang and the team adopted zero-knowledge proofs to provide a scalable and secure service. In addition, Loopring is building a payment service, and aims to be the crypto Paypal.
What sets Wang apart from other Chinese cryptopreneurs is his persistence. Many projects have risen and fallen as crypto booms and busts. Wang and his team didn’t give up during crypto’s darkest days, nor did they pivot to a direction that caters to short-term gains. Instead, they wanted to build DEX from day one—and that’s what they delivered.