The Rise And (Likely) Fall of Clubhouse in China

How popular is Clubhouse in China? It’s so popular that recently someone tricked your reporter into coughing up a referral code—and resold it on Xianyu, a popular second-hand goods marketplace in China. 

Funnily enough, the person who purchased my code happened to be a friend based in Shanghai, which is how I knew that even clubhouse referral codes have formed their own economy. That’s product-market fit on steroids!

Why Polkadot Is The Hottest Crypto In China

Similar to the west, where Clubhouse has attracted a group of loyal crypto enthusiasts, the voice-based app found its initial footing among China’s crypto community. Investors, Institutions, influencers, and retails have flocked to the platform, launching conversations about topics ranging from DeFi, Protocols, Polkadot, Justin’s Tron, leaking-alphas, to, well, many other juicy topics.

This week’s da bing looks into the rise and potential fall of Clubhouse in China. In retrospect, both were inevitable. 

It’s a virgin land 

Its rise was inevitable because Clubhouse returned Chinese netizens to the pre-Great Firewall era, when information flowed freely. Before the app was blocked yesterday users could simply download the app by switching their App Store to a country outside of China, and viola—they could seamlessly breach China’s Great Firewall. Once safely outside it, they could talk freely about topics ranging from Taiwan, Xinjiang, Communism, Privacy, to even the Great Firewall itself (which is literally translated as “being walled 被墙.”)

No VPN was needed, once people had the app. But then yesterday users started complaining about connectivity issues, and it was generally believed that the Government was starting to interfere. So now everyone is switching to their VPN connection, which is the same way they access Google, Facebook, the New York Times and everything else the Firewall blocks.

So many of the hottest Clubhouse topics are forbidden on China’s existing social networks, notably WeChat and Weibo. Sensitive words are typically banned immediately. Perhaps Clubhouse survived as long as it did because audio is trickier to catch.

How popular are these sensitive topics? The first time Clubhouse broke its 5000 people per room limit was when Elon Musk talked with Robinhood chief executive Vlad Tenev about the recent GameStop saga. But the second time was when a group of Chinese from all over the world engaged in a conversation about the China-Taiwan relationship.

That room ran a few days nonstop, and at many points it was oversubscribed and people couldn’t get in. Participants shared stories and perspectives about the history and prospect of the two territories. None of that would have been possible on a native Chinese social network.

Truly borderless

Clubhouse is appealing to China’s crypto circles because it breaks down two fundamental barriers. 

First, it gives Chinese crypto enthusiasts direct access to western crypto thinkers and leaders. Before, most people relied on media and influencers to spread the latest innovations of the west. Now, they can simply join a room and get Stani talking nonstop about AAVE. 

Second, it breaks down the barriers between the expat Chinese crypto circle and the one in China. For example, one room called “Bay Area DeFi” has around 100 people talking nonstop 24/7. Despite the room’s name, it’s by no means limited to those living in the Bay Area. Instead, because the room never shuts, people from all walks of life talk about crypto. And when it gets late in the Bay Area, the torch continues to be carried by someone in Beijing. 

Breaking down these boundaries is healthy for the industry as a whole, not only because information is exchanged more freely, but also because it puts a voice to a person’s profile picture. This might seem trivial during normal times, but during a global pandemic with limited mobility, Clubhouse brings back the usual crypto norm, where socializing is essential to learn and grow in the industry. 

Big guys are acting fast 

But, smelling Clubhouse’s virality, Chinese crypto institutions want a piece of the pie, too. Who’s the fastest? Our old friend Justin Sun. 

Not only did Sun announce his investment in “Two,” a Chinese copycat of Clubhouse, he’s also been hosting frequent conversations on Clubhouse. Your reporter stumbled upon one of the fireside chats where Sun shared, candidly, his dilemma about whether to stay in San Francisco or move to a different city, should he want to start a family. 

The other crypto giants are just as clubby, too. CZ and Yi He, co-founders of Binance, have gathered an army of Binance employees to host AMA types of conversations that last for 30 minutes. OKEx launched a weekly chat on Crypto in China with a number of familiar Chinese crypto influencers. 

And soon the inevitable fall

As I lurked around Clubhouse and even attempted to host a few conversations, I could not help but compare Clubhouse to Facebook before Facebook was banned. I was exposed to historical facts that were never taught in school, and the impact on me was long-lasting. 

In the end, Clubhouse will likely follow Facebook’s footsteps. We will see a dozen hobbled versions of Clubhouse competing for the mass market in a censorship safe way in the audio-only social media space. In the unlikely event China’s censors currently have no technology to sniff out “bad spoken speech” you can be sure that will be rolled out soon. And in the end, the company that offers that will try to be the Clubhouse clone that wins China.

Of course, the Firewall might well block the majority of Chinese who use social media. But as always, it won’t have a big impact on China’s crypto community. We’ve taken pride in getting through the Wall since day 1.

Three other big things

‘The9’ pivoting to crypto mining 

Microstrategy isn’t the only tech firm that’s becoming known for pivoting to digital assets from its core, legacy business. In China, struggling tech firms also saw the huge upside in crypto and decided to pivot. One of them is The9 Limited, a social media and gaming platform that I used to roam around a decade ago. As the company became less relevant, it decided to enter the crypto mining industry by striking a deal to buy 26,007 bitcoin ASICs from a number of mining rig producers. 

Compared to western firms that enter crypto from the trading and cash management perspective, Chinese firms chose the mining route because of its proximity to mining rig producers in China. As mining becomes more industrialized, we will likely see more institutional capital pouring into the sector.

DoraHack launches a DAO-as-a-Service startup on Polkadot 

Dora Hackathon is a household name in China’s crypto community. The global hackathon is backed by DoraHacks, one of the largest and most active blockchain developer communities in the world. I’ve been to their hackathons in Boston and Beijing. Making even more news last week, the organization announced a new project Dora Factory, which is focused on building DAOs on Polkadot.

Specifically, the startup will build infrastructure tools that empower DAOs to govern themselves. The most interesting part of the project might be its choice of blockchain: Dora selected Substrate, a modular framework that allows developers to build Polkadot’s parachain. As we know, Polkadot has gained some level of consensus in China. Rather than competing head on with Ethereum-based DAO tools, Dora chose a blockchain that’s gaining momentum in China. 

DCEP dropped in Beijing

China’s Central Bank Digital Currency has finally arrived in its capital city Beijing. In order to encourage locals to stay in town for the Chinese New Year, the government is distributing 10 million RMB to select Residents. They can use the money to purchase both online and offline products. The online merchant partner remains JD.com, one of China’s largest e-commerce sites.

What really stands out in the announcement is the Chinese government’s desire to use DCEPT during Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympics. Assuming the pandemic will be under control, it’s likely that international tourists will have a taste of DCEP sooner than later. 

Do you Know?

 “大佬” literally translates to “big man.” The term was traditionally used to describe tycoons, moguls and even gangster bosses. Unsurprisingly, the word has been picked up by China’s crypto community and is frequently used to refer to whales or influencers. What we’ve observed in the past two weeks is the high concentration of these 大佬 on Clubhouse. Any room that has traces of them would instantly attract hundreds of listeners. Now that Clubhouse has been banned, they might have to go back to the good old WeChat world. 

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