INC/ESN An emerging technocracy with blockchain technology for a decentralised politics? A case of the appropriation of blockchain technology in China


As a consequence of the financial crisis in 2008, the past decade has witnessed how Bitcoin has emerged and poised to become an alternative monetary system, as one of the applications of blockchain technology. It has been well accepted in China as well, with over half of the Bitcoin miners in China. Its underlying blockchain technology brings alive the idea of such a financial system rid of control and interference of any political and financial authorities.

Bitcoin can be considered as a socio-technological assemblage featured with a peer-to-peer transaction and communication. It is based on decentralised technology that has been argued by scholars it could circumvent political and financial authorities. (Golumbia, 2016; Hayes, 2018, Narayanan A and Clark J, 2017; Nakamoto, 2008, Zimmer, 2017)

This paper presents an exploratory case study on the nascent blockchain technology in China. To examine how blockchain technology has been appropriated in China.

Based on two-year ethnography from 2018 to 2019 on Chinese bitcoin community, this paper will first examine the design of bitcoin technological infrastructure to reveal design choices that represent the values of its designers. The paper then examines experiences that Bitcoin brings to its Chinese adopters on influencing the operation of blockchain technology in China. The paper concludes by pointing out that the design of bitcoin represents a flourishing of libertarian values and giving rise to a technological agency with libertarian values. As Bitcoin penetrates into Chinese people's social networks, it becomes socio-technological assemblages that coordinate and enforce the libertarian values. Although, the decentralisation and its consequential autonomy brought by the blockchain technology constantly reconfigure the way Chinese people believe in technology and society, the intensification of neoliberalism through blockchain technology foreground a governing rationality where digital computation technology become a centralised power.