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GOLD RUSH

Photos: Life inside of China’s massive and remote bitcoin mines

Liu Xingzhe/ChinaFile/EPA
Bitcoin mine owner Liu, 29, stands in front of a wall of cooling fans at his mine where he houses and operates mining machines for miners who do not want to move to rural Sichuan.
  • Johnny Simon
By Johnny Simon

Deputy Photo Editor

This article is more than 2 years old.

Taking advantage of the cheap and plentiful hydroelectric power that an army of computers require, bitcoin mining is spreading in remote parts of China’s Sichuan province. In dark and isolated warehouses, bitcoin mining machines hum along solving equations to produce the highly valued cryptocurrency.

In 2016, Chinese photographer Liu Xingzhe spent time in China’s bitcoin mines and with the miners themselves, who monitor the vast hallways of machines producing cryptocurrency for various clients. According to Liu, miners typically live in company dormitories for days at a time—not unlike the mining towns of yore—only occasionally traveling dozens of miles to the nearest town.

Although increased government oversight has caused Chinese bitcoin trading to falter, the country remains an important player in bitcoin mining, thanks to cheap labor and computing power (paywall). Chinese clients who pay for bitcoins to be mined on their behalf can monitor progress remotely, using apps on their mobile phones.

Liu Xingzhe/ChinaFile/EPA
A bitcoin “mine” with a blue tin roof sits next to a hydroelectric power plant in Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province.
Liu Xingzhe/ChinaFile/EPA
Packing materials for mining machines pile up beside the water-cooling system at a Bitcoin mine in Sichuan province.
Liu Xingzhe/ChinaFile/EPA
Packaging for mining machines up in an employee dormitory in Sichuan.
Liu Xingzhe/ChinaFile/EPA
An employee reassembles a calculation board at a Bitcoin mine in Sichuan province.
Liu Xingzhe/ChinaFile/EPA
A miner inspects a malfunctioning mining machine during his night shift.
Liu Xingzhe/ChinaFile/EPA
Employees at a bitcoin mine in Sichuan.
Liu Xingzhe/ChinaFile/EPA
Bitcoin miner Liu (left) meets with clients at his mine in Sichuan. Liu moved from Henan to Sichuan in 2015 in search of cheaper electricity. Now, he manages more than 7,000 mining machines for clients all over the country.
Liu Xingzhe/ChinaFile/EPA
Bitcoin miner Kun walks in between aisles of mining machines in Sichuan.
Liu Xingzhe/ChinaFile/EPA
Mine employees use their phones to play games and watch TV shows nearby.
Liu Xingzhe/ChinaFile/EPA
A bitcoin mine dormitory in Sichuan. Once a week, they hitchhike to the nearest town, 20 miles away (32 km). “The good thing is, there isn’t anywhere to spend money, so you can save your whole salary,” one miner told Liu Xingzhe.
Liu Xingzhe/ChinaFile/EPA
Goats from a nearby village walk next to a bitcoin mine’s cooling fans.
Liu Xingzhe/ChinaFile/EPA
A mountain road winds toward Bitcoin mines in Sichuan province.

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