Father compiles guide to help children survive Beijing smog

By Zhang Yu Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-29 5:03:03

Children run around their playground wearing nose masks in a school in Shanghai in November 2014. Photo: CFP


Chen Yu. Photo: Courtesy of Chen Yu

It was last December, the worst airpocalypse in Beijing for years, and parents at a kindergarten in Beijing were debating if it was necessary for them to pool their money and buy an air purifier for their children's classroom. The debate dragged on: some thought this was completely necessary, some thought it wouldn't make a big difference, and those who thought it necessary couldn't agree on which model to buy.

One of the parents in favor of purifiers was Chen Yu, an entrepreneur and founder of a start-up mobile phone company, whose 3-year-old son had recently enrolled in the kindergarten. Chen, aged 40, has bought over 10 air purifiers for his home or office since smog became a tenacious problem in Beijing. "Adults only started to breathe smog in the past five to 10 years. For children, however, the effect of the smog starts right when they are born, and they will have to live under its influence for decades. This means they need more and better protection," he told the Global Times.

Chen had been observing the parents' debate in their online chat group, and felt many parents had little knowledge of how to choose an effective and efficient air purifier. As no conclusion was in sight for the debate, Chen felt he had to do something. As other parents were still arguing over its necessity, he bought and sent two air purifiers to his son's classroom, and wrote a long post entitled "Advice for surviving smog in Beijing," a comprehensive guide on how to choose air purifiers, fresh air systems, masks and indoor plants to minimize the impact of the smog in Beijing. "I wrote it mainly for these parents, hoping they could get a better understanding of the necessity of air purifiers and how to choose them," he said.

What was meant to be a guide for other parents at the kindergarten, however, soon became a hit on the Internet after he posted it on microblogging site Weibo. Over 4,000 people shared his post, and millions have read it via various platforms. On e-commerce site jd.com, in one week, the price of an air purifier that Chen recommended in his post soared from 3,999 yuan ($608) to 7,990 yuan. "It was completely unexpected," he said.

A passive response

Chen, who suffers from chronic rhinitis, started to buy different models of air purifiers for his and his parents' homes four or five years ago, and installed a fresh air system in his home. As a tech-savvy man, he finds it fun to explore and compare the different technologies that different air purifiers use and test their results.

When writing the article, he did some additional research on the Internet. "It actually didn't take much effort for me to write the article, since I've done most of the research in the past several years," he said.

In the first sentence of his post he wrote, "Publishing my own measures for the smog is a passive response [to the pollution]. The right thing to do is to call for a more severe curb on pollution in China, as Chai Jing did," referring to the journalist and activist who released an investigative documentary on China's air pollution last year called Under the Dome.

His "passive" advice, however, proved to be a practical and popular guide for ordinary people who are confused about the hundreds of air-purifying products that have flooded onto the booming Chinese market in recent years. To attract customers, many boast functions such as filtering out formaldehyde or humidifying the air, but Chen advises people to stick to several parameters such as a machine's CADR (Clean Air Delivery Rate) and if the filter uses HEPA technology.

After his post became a hit, the young father became the "air purifier guru." Several companies manufacturing air purifiers or masks reached out to him, asking him to test and review their products. A television station contacted Chen, hoping he could appear on a TV show about air purifiers. Hundreds of people message or mention Chen on Weibo each day, asking him if a specific model is worth buying or asking him to recommend a model for them.

Recommending specific models, however, is against Chen's philosophy. This is not just because he doesn't want to be suspected of secretly promoting for a particular brand. "It's difficult to recommend a model without knowing a house's size, if it's roughcast or decorated, and a family's budget. I always suggest they read my post and reach their own conclusion," he said.

Raising awareness

Online, anything that becomes popular has the risk of being attacked, and even something as innocuous as Chen's smog advice faced some backlash. Some said Chen is too finicky. "They say, China has so many people who have to breathe the same air, why do you make such a fuss of it? Some ask me why I don't just leave Beijing and emigrate to other countries," Chen said.

Chen said these criticisms are all pretty groundless, and said he finds it meaningful to raise people's awareness of the harm that smog could do and finding ways to face up to it. He said most of the people who shared or commented on his posts are from Beijing. "But Beijing is not the most severely polluted city in China. Many people in other parts of the country are still not aware of how harmful smog is to their health. In 20 or 30 years, that could pose a burden to China's healthcare system," he said.

Chen's efforts have already paid off. The parents of his son's classmates changed their mind after reading Chen's advice. Chen said they later gave him their share of the price of the air purifiers he bought.

Newspaper headline: The fresh air guru

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