Beijing artist Liang Kegang returned from a business trip in southern France with well-rested lungs and a small item of protest against his home city’s choking pollution: a glass jar of clean, Provence air.
He put it up for auction before a group of about 100 Chinese artists and collectors late last month, and it fetched 5,250 yuan ($860).
Liang’s work is part of a gust of recent artistic protest – and entrepreneurial gimmickry – reflecting widespread dissatisfaction over air quality in China, where cities often are immersed for days on end in harmful pollutants at levels many times what is considered safe by the World Health Organization. The chronic problem has spurred brisk markets for dust masks and home air purifiers.
In March, independent artists in the southern city of Changsha held a mock funeral for what they imagined would be the death of the city’s last citizen because of smog.
Liang’s contribution is a short, ordinary glass preserves jar with a rubber seal and a flip-top. It has three small, handwritten paper labels: one with the name and coordinates of the French village, Forcalquier, where he closed the jar; one saying “Air in Provence, France” in French; and one with his signature in Chinese and the date – March 29.
Liang is not the only one to make money from China’s air-pollution angst. Entrepreneurs also see the potential, and so do tourism officials in parts of the country where skies are clear.
Chinese President Xi Jinping joked to Guizhou province delegates during last month’s National People’s Congress that the scenic southwestern province could put its air up for sale. Days later, the province’s tourism bureau announced plans to sell canned air as souvenirs for tourists.
In central Henan province, local tourism authorities promoting a resort scooped up mountain air and gave away bags of it in downtown Zhengzhou, the provincial capital. City dwellers greedily inhaled the air, and some said they planned to visit the mountain resort to get more than a lungful.
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