Chinese citizens who aren’t wealthy enough to join the “It’s-too-polluted-so-I’m-moving-away” bandwagon just got another opportunity for fresh air — and this one comes in a convenient plastic bag.
An unnamed Chinese travel company this weekend reportedly brought large, bright blue bags of fresh air from a nearby mountain to city dwellers in Zhengzhou, one of the 10 most polluted cities in the country. According to reports and photos in both the Wall Street Journal and Daily Mail, residents clamored for a chance at the bags, which hooked up to people’s faces like oxygen masks.
Because of demand, locals were only allowed to breathe in the air — which came from Laojun Mountain — for a few minutes each, according to news reports.
“The air is really good, but the time is too short,” Feng Lin, 75, told the Daily Mail. “I had to stop too soon but it was really great until then.”
The constant news of China’s choking air pollution generally conjures up images of Beijing, the populous capital city. Smog levels there routinely amaze, last week rising to ten times what experts consider safe.
But Zhengzhou, a populated city nearly 500 miles south of the capital, has at times outranked Beijing in pollution levels. This can be partially attributed to nearby coal yards, many of which Chinese officials recently discovered were operating without devices to capture or otherwise prevent harmful particulate matter pollution.
China’s smog is mainly made up of a type of particulate matter called PM2.5, which is produced by burning fossil fuels like coal. Prolonged exposure to PM2.5 increases risks of cardiovascular disease, lung inflammation, asthma, and premature death, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Zhengzhou’s dysfunctional coal yards can’t take all the blame for the country’s pollution. A report released Tuesday by China government officials noted that only a tiny fraction of its cities fully complied with pollution standards in 2013. Those standards were supposed to require different cities and areas in the country to cut their air pollution by different amounts, and included a “name and shame” campaign near the end of 2013 to single out the cities that fell the furthest behind their required reductions.
So as China as a whole struggles to live up to its pollution-reduction expectations, Chinese citizens have been figuring out their own ways to deal with the problem in the short-term — including the parodic act of breathing fresh mountain air from big blue bags.
The blue bags of air, however, are far from the first time the idea of “portable air” has been introduced as a gimmick attempting to make a point. The idea can be traced back as far as 1997, when Britain relinquished control of Hong Kong and handed it over to China. Following the news, two businessmen from Hong Kong began producing $7 cans of “Colonial Air,” meant to memorialize the “last gasps” of British rule in the city.
Canned and bottled air has gone a bit more mainstream in recent months, too, and maybe not just for parody’s sake. Chen Guangbiao, a Chinese multimillionaire, says he sold 10 million cans of fresh air in the month of February alone — though for all we know, he could just be blowing smoke.