Bitcoin Reuters

China's official Xinhua news agency has compared the mania surrounding the digital currency bitcoin to the Dutch tulip bubble of the 17th century.

In a commentary, the press agency said the dramatic fluctuations in the price of bitcoin have generated a high level of interest among speculators, who invest in the digital currency for quick profits.

According to the report, the craze for bitcoin is even worse than that for tulip bulbs, whose price rocketed in 1637 before a sudden collapse. The tulip mania is considered the first known speculative bubble.

"The tulip speculation, although irrational, at least had a concrete target product with some value. In contrast, bitcoin may end up to be nothing but some digital symbols," Xinhua wrote.

"With no government, organisation or person claiming to be responsible for its security, the much-hyped bitcoin is simply a test field for the Greater Fool Theory, in which a participant assumes he or she can sell it later to a greater fool."

The news agency also cautioned it is time for speculators to "see through the illusions of bitcoin" and move away from fraud schemes set by others.

Official Warnings

The state media view on bitcoin reflects that of China's authorities. The People's Bank of China earlier warned consumers against the risk of bitcoins.

The central bank noted that bitcoin is not money or currency as it was not issued by a monetary authority, so it cannot and should not be used in circulation as a currency. It also barred financial institutions from handling bitcoin transactions.

The commentary comes as the digital currency had a good week in China, with a surge in trading volume at the Beijing-based, now the largest bitcoin trading platform in the world by volume.

Japan-based Mt Gox, which once hosted 80% of the world's bitcoin trades, collapsed earlier, after losing around 850,000 bitcoins to a hack. The company has filed for bankruptcy protection in Japan.

"The bad news should serve as solid evidence of the great risks associated with the so-called virtual currency and even the very survival of bitcoin is currently under the starkest of challenges," Xinhua wrote.