In a mine in the northern Chinese city of Ordos, some 3,000 employees work 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, without taking so much as a lunch break. But they don’t need one. Because these employees aren’t people, but computers. And the material they’re sifting through is data, not coal. They are mining the crypto-currency bitcoin, which has become a sizeable industry in China due to cheap computers, low electricity costs and entrepreneurial moxy.
The white factory building which houses the hard-working hard drives sticks out like a sore thumb in the middle of the desert. Its windows are covered with plastic wrap and the plaster is coming off the walls. The buzz of thousands of ventilators can be heard from far away. The factory’s superintendent, Liu Yunfeng, is standing in front of the entrance wearing a dark, washed-out jacket and black leather shoes covered in dust. A black and white terrier runs between his legs as he invites us inside.
It’s the first time a journalist has been allowed on the premises, which represents an industry as shrouded in mystery as the crypto-currency itself.