Recently a Beijing artist auctioned off a jar of fresh air for $860. The bidders were a group of roughly a hundred Chinese artists and collectors.
Liang Kegang had returned from a southern France business trip where, he professed, that his lungs were rejuvenated. Knowing he would be returning to his home city's polluted air, he thought bottling the cleaner mountain air of Provence in a jar would be highly prized back in Beijing.
He went on to explain, "Air should be the most valueless commodity, free to breathe... This [creative idea] is my way to question China's foul air and express my dissatisfaction."
Indeed, his creative idea ranks amongst the recent surge of artistic protest-turned-entrepreneurial maneuvering that are bringing awareness to China's air quality. Just last month the World Health Organization, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, announced that "air pollution contributed to 7 million deaths worldwide...with 40 percent of those occurring in the Asia-Pacific region dominated by China." And, Business Insider even described China's air pollution as the 'world's largest single environmental health risk.'
China's leaders have vowed to exert more efforts in cleaning up their country's air -- and, many have ventured to say that these measures are in response to vocal citizen protests. Yet, China's leaders also recognize that these efforts have yet to be balanced with the country's economic plans for growth and stability.
Britain-based The Guardian revealed two months ago, in February, that "a group of 20 Beijing artists wearing dust masks [laid down] on the ground...in front of an altar at the city's Temple of Heaven park in a performance art protest."
Liang Kegang's contribution with his ordinary jar that preserves "Air in Provence, France" -- a label handwritten with French village Forcalquier's coordinates -- caused quite a media stir when it was auctioned off on March 30th.
The highest bidder Li Yongzheng, a Chengdu-based artist and entrepreneur, forked out 5,250 yuan (or $860 US dollars) for the jar of bottled fresh air.
When asked why he'd pay more for clean air than for a bottle of some French champagnes, Li said: "I have always been appreciative of Kegang's conceptual art, and this piece was very timely," Li continued, "This past year, whether it was Beijing, Chengdu, or most Chinese cities, air pollution has been a serious problem. This piece of work really suits the occasion."
It is no surprise then that even China's Guizhou province, located in the country's scenic southwestern region, has unveiled plans by its tourism bureau to "sell canned air as souvenirs for tourists."
Guizhou province's tourism director, Fu Yingchun, shared: "Canned air will force us to stay committed to environmental protection."
And, multimillionaire recycling tycoon Chen Guangbiao has, for the past couple of years, been at the forefront of selling fresh air. The self-billed "China Moral Leader"-- whom Slate satirized earlier this year for his "Most Influential Person of China" business card circulation as Chen attempted to purchase The New York Times -- is widely known across China as an eccentric philanthropist. Called "Brother Biao" by his fans, Chen has likewise turned his country's air pollution problem into an entrepreneurial venture by selling cans of fresh air online under his "Good Person" brand.
Chen has remarked in the past, "If we don't act in the next 10 years, our descendants will have to carry oxygen tanks and wear masks all the time."
Chen's cans-of-fresh-air enterprise has been in business since 2012 -- but none have reached the price that Liang Kegang's one jar of fresh French air brings in. Chen's products sell for less than $5 in US dollars, while Liang Kegang's one jar was snagged at the auction for $860 in US dollars.