China: The desolation of smog

The officials of Guizhou are not the only ones to take advantage of smog-riddled northern skies. Chen Guangbiao, an oddball millionaire and philanthropist, took inspiration from a Japanese fad and made a ripple in the Chinese media in 2012 when he announced plans to sell canned air obtained from Taiwan and Jiangxi province’s Jinggang Mountain. The cans were printed with his smiling visage and the words “good person.” Each can was sold for ¥4. That’s about $0.60 for three whiffs.

More recently, in late March, a marketing campaign was hatched in Zhengzhou, the tenth most polluted city in China in 2013 according to Greenpeace. The campaign offered breaths of fresh mountain air to residents of the city, who lined up for their turns to strap on oxygen masks and suck in the contents of sealed blue bags. Additionally, 2,000 cans of air were packed on Laojun Mountain and handed out as a gimmick to boost tourism to the already popular location. That air was free, but it was gone in 20 minutes.

The smog in northern China has been linked to lowered life expectancy, increased instances of asthma, and has severely tarnished the image of the nation’s capital. Expat workers think twice before moving their families to Beijing, and might decide to leave their families in their home countries to go it alone, or even avoid the city altogether.