Vitalik Buterin in China

Vitalik Buterin in China

Can’t travel to Asia anymore due to Covid-19? Can’t have that meeting that you wanted anymore?

As the GCR team receives ongoing questions and pings from our western readers on the things happening in Asia, we are re-surfacing some of the in-depth coverage interviews and write-ups of notable themes, organizations and figures in Asia that continue to be relevant in the cryptocurrency circle. We hope that once travel opens up again, you’ll be more prepared than ever to pursue and learn about the happenings in Asia.

This post gives a good glimpse into what Vitalik’s history and involvement in China have been like, and what he’s been doing lately on the ground in China.

This is GCR’s highlight of an article written by Tangxia Ling, Ye Zewei. The article’s original title was Listening: ” V God” is not God, 48 hours of following around Vitalik in Hangzhou (China). We edited the pieces slightly to provide more context for our readers.

This may be the tenth time Vitalik has come to China.

His trip schedule was full. After finishing his speech at the Shanghai Wanxiang Blockchain Summit, Vitalik rushed to the cities of Hangzhou and Shenzhen to promote Ethereum 2.0.

This time, he chose the speaking venue to be taken place in colleges and universities because “students are the next generation of developers.”

In 2014, 20-year-old Vitalik founded Ethereum. Smart contracts have since become mainstream. Tens of thousands of projects at one point was issued on the Ethereum blockchain, opening the ICO frenzy. The Ethereum’s token, ETH, also rose from $1 to a height of $1,506, becoming the world’s second-largest digital currency by market capitalization, second only to Bitcoin. Vitalik soon became known as the “V God” in the Chinese blockchain community.

Ling, the author, followed and interviewed Vitalik for two days. In her eyes, he is not a “V god”, but a 25-year-old boy-next-door who is able to be himself in amidst of this chaos and growth.

Vitalik’s Emoji

On September 21, at Zhejiang University, the people who came to listen to Vitalik crowded the room. When he came on to the stage, there was a commotion in the crowd, everyone got up and took pictures of him. “Oh…” He picked up the mic and made a strange noise. The students at the scene were amused by him.

After 40 minutes, Vitalik’s speech ended. However, the host told him that he still had to stay on the stage. Vitalik responded with a pout and his face expression showing helplessness. He could only stand on the stage and accept the ” glaring torture” of the audience.

Ling listening | "V God" is not God: Vitalik Hangzhou line 48 hours close-up observation, Vitalik Buterin in China about cryptocurrency and blockchain
Vitalik on Stage

At noon, a group of 10 people went into the restaurant to eat. Vitalik walked straight ahead and past everyone, getting there first and sitting on the chair at the very center the table. A second later, he found that everyone around him was looking at him. He felt like something was wrong and he immediately got up and sat straight on the far side of the door.

During the meeting, some people introduced him to the Hangzhou blockchain development team. Most of the time he nodded politely when he heard things that he would understand. He said in a friendly way: “OK” and smiled.

He used to study Chinese, and his current Chinese level is basic and allows him to have daily communication. He said that China’s eating culture is very interesting: “when eating in the United States, everyone can only order and eat their own dishes, but everyone in China share entrees. Westerners say that to own something privately is one’s freedom, whereas having to share is the opposite of freedom. But on eating specifically, China is more free.”

After dinner, he sat next to Biyuanlian ??? CTO James to answer a technical question. As he spoke, Vitalik took out a small red bag from his pocket and took out a pen from it. James found A4 paper and the two began writing the code on the table, completely ignoring the others.

Ling listening | "V God" is not God: Vitalik Hangzhou line 48 hours close-up observation, Vitalik Buterin in China about cryptocurrency and blockchain

The left one is the Ethereum founder Vitalik, the right one is the Biyuanlian ??? chief architect James.

Vitalik’s friend told me that it’s been his habit to take a pen with him for many years. Whether he is eating or on the plane, he is thinking, often jotting down a string of symbols. When he talks to you, although he doesn’t look directly at you, he is always listening, his head is always turning, and his ability to take in information is particularly strong, especially with numbers and words.

I asked him: “Is there anyone who said that you are a child prodigy?”

As soon as he heard that, he turned his head, appearing like a deflated ball with his hands covering his face, looking helpless.

These details are the Vitalik that I saw, cute and interesting, and when he talks about technical issues, he becomes really excited. When it comes to non-technical problems, he likes to respond with a “good” and a smile, so repetitive almost liken to an emoji.

Ethereum’s Inception

Vitalik’s father was a computer scientist and Vitalik received his first computer when he was 4 years old. Later, he immigrated to Canada from Russia. In the third grade of primary school, he was able to do mental arithmetic at twice the speed of his peers. At the age of 12, he wrote a small game in C++.

Before 16, Vitalik liked to play World of Warcraft (WoW) and he’s been a very high ranked player. But once, the parent company of WoW made a change to his beloved game character, canceling the “life siphon” skill of the character. Vitalik contacted Blizzard engineers many times, and finally, he got a reply: they couldn’t revert it.

“That time, I cried myself asleep.” From then on, Vitalik realized how centralized services could be so dangerous.

At the age of 17, he learned about Bitcoin. “Blockchain technology infinitely magnifies the concept of free and open-source; software allows you to work independently, and blockchain technology allows like-minded folks to work together and form a community”.

Vitalik Found his Lifeline in China

Today, although Ethereum has become a world-renowned blockchain, it was not so smooth in the early days. In 2015, Vitalik had alot of trouble raising money in China.

In a serendipitous encounter, he met Xiao Feng, the chairman of Wanxiang Blockchain Lab.

“When Ethereum was looking for funding, Wanxiang bought $500,000 worth of Ethereum. That was its lifeline.”

Vitalik told the writers that the $500,000 allowed him to have enough funds to pay developers, and the platform has grown considerably. In addition, Wanxiang also helped Ethereum build communities and help them communicate with Chinese regulators. It also introduced many Chinese companies to them, which greatly enriched the Ethereum ecosystem.

Ling listening | "V God" is not God: Vitalik Hangzhou line 48 hours close-up observation
Vitalik Buterin in China about cryptocurrency and blockchain

Vitalik spoke at the Wanxiang Blockchain Summit in Shanghai Last Week

The reporters thought that technical geeks would agree with this concept of “technology can changes the world”, but Vitalik doesn’t really.

Due to the world influence of Ethereum, Vitalik has communicated with many national leaders, including Russia, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Singapore, Thailand, etc.

“Most countries have a group of people interested in blockchain, and they all care about how we use this technology to do things,” He says.

However, after talking to these high-level executives, Vitalik did not think they were in any way more exceptional than ordinary people. “Part of the success comes from hard work, part comes from talent. Another comes from finding the right people. The world is not created by the most intelligent people, and that everyone can participate and change it.

People Issues

During the five years of Ethereum, Vitalik found that when encountering technical problems, he can usually find solutions, but people problems give him a headache.

Some founding members of Ethereum have left in the past over different interests, intentions and ideas. “It gives me a headache. It is really hard for everyone to be happy.”

At the moment, getting along with people is something that Vitalik is looking to learn.

Wherever he goes, he’s been always surrounded by people who like him. To get his autograph, to take a photo, to consult with him the various problems on Ethereum.

Today, he spends most of his time researching and traveling to different countries to promote Ethereum. “I have been running around outside. But I don’t like to talk to people all the time. When I want to be quiet, I will calm down and study, write code, and do other things with my time.”

Ling listening | "V God" is not God: Vitalik Hangzhou line 48 hours close-up observation, Vitalik Buterin in China about cryptocurrency and blockchain

I enjoy technical research more than financial freedom

Earlier this year, Vitalik announced his own cryptocurrency portfolio and other sources of investment income. At the age of 25, he had a huge fortune.

But for him, having a lot of wealth simply makes him feel financially secure safe and not having to worry about his future. “I don’t like to spend money. I have provided $5 million in grants to Stanford University and donated money to the Gates Foundation, research institutions, universities and other charities.”

I asked him, “If someone asked about ETH price, how would you answer?”

“I don’t answer…”

Vitalik has many dreams, and his biggest dream is to create a more open and fair world with the help of blockchain.

He said: Now is a very interesting moment in human civilization, and many things are changing at the same time. The tools we use to collaborate need to improve quickly as time goes by. “In this world, everyone has different ideas. I hope to use blockchain technology to provide new possibilities for human collaboration.”

“Think about it, what will you look like in ten years,” I asked.

He straightened up in the high chair, took a long breath, and once again his face changed.

He thought about it: “This depends on where Ethereum is then. If the future blockchain is not what I would like; what should I do? All I can do is to continue to make it better. I will definitely continue to participate in Ethereum in the future, but apart from the blockchain, I also want to do other things, such as in the economic field. If there was no Ethereum, I may become a mathematician or an economist.”

Ling listening | "V God" is not God: Vitalik Hangzhou line 48 hours close-up observation, Vitalik Buterin in China about cryptocurrency and blockchain

The greatest achievement and the greatest anxiety all come from Ethereum

In recent years, the most exciting thing for Vitalik has been the rapid development Ethereum. Three years ago, if something went wrong, it had to be solved by himself, and now, eight different teams are building the Ethereum 2.0 client.

They are distributed throughout the world, dispersed and independent, and ultimately achieve the same agreement, allowing Ethereum 2.0 clients to communicate with each other and accept each other’s blocks. They have a weekly conference call and a workshop is held approximately every two to three months.

“I think this kind of separate work and then merged together to keep things in sync is very successful.”

The thing that most frustrates Vitalik is that the direction of virtual currencies is still unclear. In 2015, although some members of the community were curious about Ethereum, the community of Bitcoin completely decided to break off with Ethereum.

At present, there is still a bubble in the digital currency market. The core developers of Ethereum and Vitalik always try to avoid making conversations with people who are trying to make money in the space. They are more inclined to exchange and explore in research and development, academics and technology.

Today, he is promoting Ethereum 2.0 around the world. 

Ling listening | "V God" is not God: Vitalik Hangzhou line 48 hours close-up observation, Vitalik Buterin in China about cryptocurrency and blockchain

Vitalik and the writers.

“You have been to China so many times, do you like China?” Finally, I asked.

“It’s alright. In the US and Europe, when people talk about blockchain, its more about ideology, about freedom, decentralization, and open source. In Asia, people prefer to discuss cryptocurrencies and projects that have tokens. In the blockchain ecosystem, many VC-invested projects have large amounts of capital. In Europe, such types of funds are less, and the European cultural and technological factors are stronger in motivating the community. Many people there do things for the project, but they do not expect to be rewarded handsomely.” After that, shrugged and spread his hands.

After his speech at Zhejiang University, he swiftly walked out of the building. There were several steps in front of the building to the playground. He suddenly jumped down, looking relieved. Then, quickly, he walk away from the crowd.

This was the most relaxing I’ve seen him in the last 2 days.

Regarding Ethereum 2.0, checkout Vitalik’s speech in Hangzhou: “When is Ethereum 2.0 coming? Is Boca an enemy or a friend? Vitalik scene said pro “

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