Entrepreneur Chen Guangbiao has a way with drawing attention to China’s bad environment while cheering up wheezing people. China's air pollution nightmare is still at crisis levels and people will go for anything that will send a message about their suffering. According to a Feb. 1 article in the Los Angeles Times, 44-year-old Chen is selling air gathered from remote areas of China. This is a tongue-in-cheek effort to highlight China’s push for profits at the expense at the nation's health. As he announced his plans to donate the proceeds to charity, he said,
"I want to tell majors, 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."
The canned air is sold in containers the size of soda cans and retails for 5 yuan, or about 80 cents per can. Chen enhanced his reputation for showmanship by putting his face on each can.
According to a Feb. 1 article in The Telegraph, China has been through a protracted period of pollution levels that far exceed harmful levels. A PM2.5 level of 20 is acceptable. Anything over 300 is a serious health hazard. Beijing's air frequently exceeds a level of 500. On Jan 12, the rate reached 755, the highest in memory.
According to a Jan 31 article in the UK Guardian, Chen is a natural showman, activist, philanthropist and billionaire who made his fortune in recycling. He has also earned a reputation for such wild stunts as smashing a Mercedes and having two cars drive over him. He intended to make a statement against having cars. His generosity showed in such acts as flying to Japan with goods and money to help the Japanese Tsunami victims. He arrived in Sichuan with a fleet of heavy machinery after the earthquake in 2008.
He grew up in such poverty that two of his siblings starved to death. His first earnings came from carrying water from a well to villagers one summer. Chen used some of the money to help a fellow villager get his schooling. A brief Oct. 31 biography in the Beijing Review says he had first major recycling project when officials invited him to recover and sell iron from a demolished stadium in Nanjing. He sold the used iron for 4 million yuan ($588,200) and earned 1.85 million yuan ($272,000).
While Chen is highly popular, detractors question his actual wealth and find a few things to complain about. The whole story about Chen Guangbiao is as compelling as his latest successful venture: selling cans of "fresh air" as an act of charity and a powerful environmental message.