On a trip to France, the artist Liang Kegang came up with a new idea for his next project. He opened a glass jar in Provence to ‘collect’ its air and brought it back to China. He then put it up for sale at an art auction. It fetched Rmb5,250 ($838).
“Air should be the most valueless commodity, free to breathe for any vagrant or beggar,” Liang told the UK’s Guardian newspaper. “This is my way to question China’s foul air and express my dissatisfaction.”
Then again, Liang’s not the first to come up with the idea of selling thin air. As we pointed out in WiC183, Chen Guangbiao, the philanthropist and entrepreneur, began selling cans of it in Beijing last year – again as a means to highlight China’s air quality problems. His product line features flavours that range from “pristine Tibet” to “post-industrial Taiwan”. Each can goes for Rmb5.
Inspired by the news coverage, other brands of canned air have started to crop up across the country. In April the provincial government of Guizhou told local media that it too is planning to sell cans of air (from June), in this case as souvenirs to boost the local tourism business. According to Guizhou officials, the idea was introduced by President Xi Jinping. During the annual National People’s Congress meeting in March, Xi told delegates from Guizhou that the province – which has lower density of harmful PM2.5 particles – should “sell air cans in the future”.
“Xi’s idea seemed humorous, but it represents our leadership’s respect for nature,” claimed Fu Yingchun, head of Guizhou’s tourism bureau, saying that he’s confident the campaign will succeed.
Fujian province is also selling canned air with a hint of “sweetness”. And if you are looking for something a bit more “crisp”, how about a can from Tianmu mountain in Zhejiang or Laojunshan mountain in Henan? The two local governments have both announced plans to release their own canned product line too, says China Economic Weekly.
In the past, the millionaire Chen has claimed that canned air is not merely a PR gimmick. “One only has to open the can, directly ‘drink’ it or put the nose close to the can to breathe deeply,” he told reporters.
But the restorative benefits look doubtful, to say the least. “From a consumption point of view, not many people can afford to buy canned air in large quantity,” says Liu Simin, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who has evidently given the matter some thought. “Instead of buying canned air they should just buy an oxygen tank,” he concludes.
What WiC finds most bizarre about the trend is that we predicted it, albeit as an April Fools’ Day joke in 2011 (see issue 101). Back then we wrote a prank article about a Beijing businessman importing Scottish air to the Chinese market. Unlike Xi Jinping (and his deep respect for nature), we thought that cans of fresh air were an absurd idea that nobody would take seriously. How wrong we were…
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