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 $860. The short, ordinary glass preserves jar has a rubber seal, a flip-top, and three small, handwritten paper labels: one with the name and coordinates of the French village, Forcalquier, where Liang closed the jar; one saying "Air in Provence, France" in French; and one with his signature in Chinese and the date—March 29.
Liang's work is part of a gust of recent artistic protest—and entrepreneurial gimmickry—reflecting widespread dissatisfaction over air quality in China:
- In February, a group of 20 Beijing artists wearing dust masks lay on the ground and played dead in front of an altar at the city's Temple of Heaven park in a performance art protest.
- 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.
- Chinese President Xi Jinping joked to Guizhou province delegates last month 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.
- Chen Guangbiao, a recycling tycoon, has been selling fresh air in cans under his "Good Person" brand for $3 each.