Jar of French mountain air sells for $860 in China

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Broke? Maybe Just Sell A Jar Full Of Air In China


BEIJING (AP) - Beijing artist 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).

"Air should be the most valueless commodity, free to breathe for any vagrant or beggar," Liang said in an interview. "This is my way to question China's foul air and express my dissatisfaction."

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 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.

China's senior leaders have pledged to clean the air, partly in response to a citizenry increasingly vocal about environmental issues. But it is a daunting task that must be balanced with demands for economic development and employment crucial to maintaining stability.

In February, 20 artists wearing dust masks lay on the ground and played dead in front of an altar at the Temple of Heaven park in a performance art protest in Beijing.

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.

"If smog cannot be effectively cleaned up, what it will leave us is death and cities of death," artist Shao Jiajun said.

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.

The auction closed on the night of March 30, and Chengdu-based artist and entrepreneur Li Yongzheng was the highest bidder.

"I have always been appreciative of Kegang's conceptual art, and this piece was very timely," Li said in a telephone interview. "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."

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.

"Canned air will force us to stay committed to environmental protection," provincial tourism director Fu Yingchun said recently.

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.

Chen Guangbiao, a recycling tycoon who briefly made headlines with his abortive plan to purchase The New York Times, has been selling fresh air in cans under his "Good Person" brand.

Want one? They sell for $3 each on China's online bazaar of Taobao.

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Jar of French mountain air sells for $860 in China

People, some wearing face mask against pollution, follow performers during a re-enactment of an ancient Qing Dynasty ceremony as the Lunar New Year of the Rooster is celebrated at the temple fair at Ditan Park (the Temple of Earth), in Beijing, China January 28, 2017.

(REUTERS/Damir Sagolj)

Apartment buildings rise into the smog filled skyline June 30, 2015 in Chengdu, China. First inhabited more than 4 thousand years ago, Chengdu now has more than 14 million people living in its metropolitan area. It is China's 5th most populous city and the provincial capital of Sichuan Province in southwest China. The city is is struggling to maintain its ancient cultural identity, while becoming a modern major tech and industrial center.

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

A delegate wearing the mask walks to the Great Hall of the People during severe pollution before the opening of the 2nd session of the 12th Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) on March 3, 2014 in Beijing, China. Air pollution has become a big concern during the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. Over 2,000 members of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative, a political advisory body, are attending the annual session, during which they will discuss the development of China.

(Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

This picture taken on June 23, 2015 shows vehicles running in smog covered streets in Beijing. China's cities are often hit by heavy pollution, blamed on coal-burning by power stations and industry, as well as vehicle use. The issue has become a major source of popular discontent with the Communist Party, leading the government to vow to reduce the proportion of energy derived from fossil fuels.

(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

People wear face masks as they cross a street on a polluted day in Beijing, China January 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Buildings are seen in smog during a polluted day in Beijing, China, January 26, 2017.

(REUTERS/Stringer)

A woman sits on the back of a motorcycle in smog during a polluted day in Liaocheng, Shandong province, China, December 19, 2016.

(REUTERS/Stringer)

This picture taken on June 23, 2015 shows a cyclist wearing a mask in Beijing covered by heavy smog. China's cities are often hit by heavy pollution, blamed on coal-burning by power stations and industry, as well as vehicle use. The issue has become a major source of popular discontent with the Communist Party, leading the government to vow to reduce the proportion of energy derived from fossil fuels.

(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

A Chinese woman wearing a face mask walks in front of the Forbidden City on a hazy day in Beijing on June 23, 2015.

(FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

People exercise among heavy smog in Hefei, Anhui province, China, January 3, 2017.

(REUTERS/Stringer)

This picture taken on March 29, 2014 shows residents breathing 'mountain air' from blue bags in a square in Zhengzhou in central China's Henan province, reportedly brought in from 190 kms away by a Henan-based travel company as part of a promotional event. Premature deaths and health problems from air pollution cost China as much as 300 billion USD a year, an official joint report by the World Bank and the Development Research Center of the State Council said on March 25, calling for a new urbanization model for the world's second-largest economy.

(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

People with mask walk in Nanluoguxiang on April 9, 2014 in Beijing, China. China is vowing to amend its procedures to curb pollution as smog in some areas of China have registered over 20 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization (WHO)

(Photo by Xiao Lu Chu/Getty Images)

This picture taken on March 29, 2014 shows residents breathing 'mountain air' from blue bags in a square in Zhengzhou in central China's Henan province, reportedly brought in from 190 kms away by a Henan-based travel company as part of a promotional event. Premature deaths and health problems from air pollution cost China as much as 300 billion USD a year, an official joint report by the World Bank and the Development Research Center of the State Council said on March 25, calling for a new urbanization model for the world's second-largest economy.

(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

This picture taken on March 26, 2014 shows a girl wearing a mask in Beijing as environmental authorities issued a 'yellow' smog alert for the capital. Chinese companies have offered up a fresh idea to help pollution-weary travelers while cashing in on public concerns over dirty air at the same time -- smog insurance.

(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The people wear face mask walking on the road in smog in Beijing, China, on March 26, 2014. Chinese authorities suggest that old people and those who are sensitive should not get out from their house. Symbolic buildings of Beijing cannot seen due to the air pollution.

(Photo by Ali Ihsan Cam/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Citizens wearing breathe masks look at a smartphone in the heavy smog on January 9, 2017 in Zhengzhou, Henan Province of China. The Central Meteorological Observatory issued a yellow alert of smog in Zhengzhou on Sunday night. The visibility downs to below 50 meters at parts of Zhengzhou city on Monday morning.

(Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

A traffic police works among heavy smog during a polluted day in Bozhou, Anhui province, China, February 5, 2017.

(REUTERS/Stringer)

Passengers board a train among heavy smog during a polluted day in Bozhou, Anhui province, China, February 5, 2017.

(REUTERS/Stringer)

Masks are pictured on sculptures in a park during a hazy day in Puyang, Henan province, China January 4, 2017. 

(REUTERS/Stringer)

A woman wears a mask as she rides near the Bund during a polluted day in Shanghai, China, January 2, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aly Song)

A cyclist rides along a street in heavy smog during a polluted day in Liaocheng, Shandong province, December 20, 2016. 

(REUTERS/Stringer)

People take videos of a flag-raising ceremony during smog at Tiananmen Square after a red alert was issued for heavy air pollution in Beijing, China, December 20, 2016.

(REUTERS/Jason Lee)

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