Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Selling Canned Fresh Air in Beijing

The latest must-have in China -- canned fresh air
The air in Beijing continues to be foul -- literally.

Today's air quality was so bad that over a dozen flights out of Beijing Capital International Airport were cancelled. The US embassy's air quality readings were at 336 and "hazardous" at 1pm; children and the elderly were advised to stay indoors.

This is the third consecutive day that the toxic air has hovered around the Chinese capital, reducing visibility to only 300 metres.

But we are amused to see one man poking fun at the environmental mess -- by selling canned fresh air.

Multimillionaire Chen Guangbiao, 44, who made money from the recycling business and is a well-known philanthropist, was handing out the soft drink-sized cans of air, apparently from as far as Xinjiang.

"I want to tell mayors, county chiefs and heads of big companies: don't just chase GDP growth, don't chase the biggest profits at the expense of our children and grandchildren and at the cost of sacrificing our ecological environment," Chen said.

"I go outside, walk for about 20 minutes, and my throat hurts and I feel dizzy," he told reporters in an interview on a Beijing sidewalk.

He handed out the green and orange cans of "Fresh Air" with a caricature of himself on it with the tagline, "Chen Guangbiao is a good man". Another sentence below says, "Be a good person, have a good heart, do good things."

This is not the first time Chen has done such a publicity stunt. After the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, he showered victims with 100 RMB notes and last year demolished a Mercedes Benz and gave away 5,000 bicycles to encourage more people to bike than drive.

"People say I am high profile or love to stage a show, but I don't think those who seek 'stability' and a low profile can do much for social progress," Chen said. "I am confident about what I do and I dare to put it under sunlight."

He admits the canned air is tongue-in-cheek, but says it's a way to educate people about the importance of environmental protection.

While Chen handed out the canned fresh air for free today, they are selling for 5 RMB ($0.80) with proceeds going to poor regions in China and places of historic revolutionary importance.

He says he has sold 8 million cans in the last 10 days.

We have to admit Chen's idea is refreshing to say the least, bringing some levity to a heavy, if not depressing issue.

The Chinese government knows air quality is a mess, but probably has no idea where to begin. However it needs to do something now or things are only going to get worse.

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