Signs of blockchain mania: “Mao Zedong” touting the technology in China

Keeping up with the times.
Keeping up with the times.
Image: Reuters/Thomas Peter
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Mao Zedong would be turning in his crystal coffin if he knew that he’d be touting blockchain one day.

A blockchain event in China hired a Mao Zedong impersonator to give a speech at its opening session this morning (May 28), forcing organizers to apologize following a widespread online outcry over the controversial move.

The 2018 Boao Block Chain Forum for Asia is a two-day event taking place in Boao, the same southern Chinese town where Beijing’s official Boao Forum for Asia, known as China’s answer to Davos, is held annually. The two events share similar logos despite not being affiliated.

In a video widely circulated on social media, Xu Guoxiang, a Chinese actor impersonating Mao, is seen giving a speech on stage. “I hereby, in the name of Mao Zedong, thank you all,” he said in the clip, imitating Mao’s accent. The audience erupted in cheers and laughter.

Chinese laws prohibit the use of the images of Communist Party leaders for commercial purposes, and mentions of political figures online are strictly monitored and controlled. Videos of Xu’s speech have been censored on Chinese microblogging site Weibo.

The organizing committee of the conference, which was founded earlier this month, said in an online statement (link in Chinese) that it is “deeply sorry” for the speech causing “unhealthy influences.” But it added that the speech only reflects the actor’s views, not the views of the organizers of the event, which was approved by local authorities. The event claims to have attracted more than 5,000 attendees, with VIP tickets sold at prices up to about $460. A spokesman with the committee didn’t respond to Quartz’s request for comment., a Chinese news site dedicated to covering blockchain, is one of the major organizers of the event while Touchdor Group, a financial services firm based in eastern Zhejiang province, is listed as the main sponsor for the event. According to China’s corporate registration site (link in Chinese), Touchdor is on a list of companies flagged for failing to meet required reporting obligations, because it didn’t report its financials in 2016, and is not contactable via its registered address. Quartz was unable to reach the firm immediately.

China’s major blockchain players on Monday issued statements saying they had nothing to do with the Boao event—although they have been listed as co-organizers or partners in publicity materials (link in Chinese). Those include venture capital firms such as Panda Capital and Lightspeed Capital, and industry publications such as Beijing-based Golden Finance.

“We strongly condemn any blockchain activities that are illegal, against public order and the morals of the society, and misleading to the public,” read a statement from Golden Finance (link in Chinese).

The “Mao” speech is one of the latest signs that China’s blockchain space might have become too bubbly, with VC investors pouring millions of dollars into blockchain startups, and governments, both at the local and central levels, gunning to take a lead in the tech. Last month, a blockchain forum in Macao hired a string of pop stars (link in Chinese) to perform at the event, turning it into a kind of music festival. Photos circulated online purportedly show there has even been a blockchain conference for Buddhist monks (link in Chinese).

“I never attend any blockchain forums. It’s better to use the time to work on how to implement [the tech],” commented a Beijing-based venture capitalist in a WeChat post today. Otherwise, he said, people will see blockchain “merely as a mirage.”