"Good man" Chen Guangbiao gives away cans containing fresh air from Xinjiang and Taiwan on Friday. (Photo/CNS)
With severe air pollution disrupting traffic and triggering respiratory diseases in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province this week, controversial philanthropist Chen Guangbiao has given away 230,000 cans of fresh air in Beijing, while internet users have called for restrictions on fireworks during the upcoming Spring Festival holidays.
Though the causes of the record pollution levels have not been nailed down beyond doubt, the Chinese Academy of Science has said the pollutants mainly came from vehicle emissions in Beijing and Tianjin and the burning of coal in Hebei. Over the past two weeks, air pollution levels in the capital have been hovering between "high" and "medium," according to Commercial Times, one of our Chinese-language affiliates.
The persistently poor air quality boosted the sales of the surgical mask n95 on Chinese online shopping websites, while the number of patients presenting with respiratory diseases has also surged. The haze closed 23 sections of freeways and a railway in Hebei province, increasing the burden on transport infrastructure ahead of the Spring Festival travel season, the world's largest-scale annual human migration.
At midday of Thursday, Chen Guangbiao distributed 230,000 cans for free which purported to contain fresh air from Xinjiang and Taiwan in six districts in Beijing. Though some internet users jeered at the latest charity stunt by the flamboyant philanthropist, many members of public requested a can and posed with Chen for photographs. The cans were printed with a cartoon figure of the billionaire and slogans including "Chen Guangbiao, good man" and "Be a good person, have a good heart and do good things."
"I want to tell the mayor, our leaders and business owners that GDP should not be our only goal. Don't sacrifice our children and the environment to pursuit the greatest profit," said the philanthropist, who has been selling the canned fresh air for 5 yuan (US$0.80) a time since September last year. The sale of the products had not been earth-shattering until the recent spate of poor air quality, when what was originally seen as a corny gimmick suddenly became popular. Chen has sold over 8 million cans over the past ten days and claims he has donated the profits to poor regions and people involved with "major historical revolutions."
Multinational businesses in Beijing have placed plants in their offices to boost oxygen levels, as well as providing their employees with masks and advice on avoiding health risks from the pollution. These companies may find recruiting talent in China increasingly difficult because of the air quality, according to headhunter Hays Plc, which has recruited talent for Barclays and JPMorgan Chase. "In the next few years, the quality of life in Beijing will influence salaries," said Simon Lance, chief of the recruitment service's Shanghai division.
The air pollution has had a profound influence on the general public. Popular actress Song Dandan, who will become a member of the national political consultative conference in March, said she has been living in Beijing for 50 years and until now nothing has enticed her to move away. But "today I kept thinking where I should spend my later years?" she recently said.
Some internet users have called for restrictions on the traditional Srping Festival fireworks since the levels of fine particles in the air soared on Chinese New Year's Eve last year, according to data from Beijing's environmental monitoring center. A netizen going by the name Blacksmile said that if people continue to enjoy fireworks as in the past, they will experience the atmosphere of Silent Hill, the popular video game set in a town shrouded in smoke from a fire that burns forever beneath its streets.
Other internet users said that fireworks are part of the fun and traditions of Spring Festival and that a ban would have a limited effect since the recent haze is more the result of long-term pollution, according to the Chinese-language Beijing News.
Chen Guangbiao 陳光標
Song Dandan 宋丹丹