This summer, word started spreading over Chinese social media about a conference in Dali, a city nestled among 4,000-meter peaks in the country’s southwest.

The organizers expected fewer than 200 attendees, but ended up selling out the 1,000-person venue only to see more than double that number ultimately show up for the August event. The topic of the gathering: cryptocurrencies, a sector China’s government declared largely illegal a year ago.

Before the clampdown, China was emerging as the epicenter of the cryptocurrency world, spawning giant exchanges like Binance Holdings and the biggest bitcoin mining firms. Beijing’s move to banish cryptocurrency trading and mining, announced in September 2021, seemed poised to snuff out the entire domestic industry.