China's 'most pompous millionaire' inhaled deadly gas while helping clear the Tianjin explosion site

Chen Guangbiao in New York City last year. Picture: Getty Images

Chen Guangbiao, arguably China’s most famous philanthropist, has been taken to hospital after inhaling poisoned air while helping clear rubble after the massive Tianjin explosion.

Chen, the founder of Jiangsu Huangpu Renewable Resources Limited Company whose net worth is estimated at anywhere between $US400 million and $US750 million, dubs himself the “most influential person of China”.

He has a habit for getting noticed, most recently last year when he claimed he would buy the New York Times for $US1 billion. And when he held a ridiculous fancy lunch for New York’s homeless people, showering them with $100 bills.

He brings a whole new meaning to the term “self-promoter”. If you don’t believe that, here’s his business card:

The line about “China earthquake rescue hero” is a reference to his appearance in Sichuan province in 2008, when he showed up with heavy machinery to help clean up following the earthquake disaster, only to be accused of seeking publicity.

But there’s no doubting his commitment to a cause now. On Thursday, he wrote on his Weibo account that he had arrived in Tianjin with rescuers and cranes and was personally digging in to help. There are reports his machinery is “more powerful than anything the government had provided”.

But 30 hours later, he was taken to hospital complaining of chest pain, where he was diagnosed with “moderate poisioning”, according to China media giant Sina. QZ notes that’s an alarmingly short timeframe which proves the site is extremely hazardous, especially given Chen was wearing a mask:

Picture: Chen Guangbiao

You might note the pics were provided by Chen himself. Here’s another one of him receiving treatment:

Picture: Chen Guangbiao

So that leaves the door open a tiny bit for his critics who claim everything he does is for publicity – perhaps even hospitalisation. Another such moment came last year when he claimed to have set an ALS Ice Bucket Challenge record after sitting in an ice bath for 30 minutes. (He ended up eating some of the ice to prove it was real.)

Regardless, he’s still helping, and still put himself into a known dangerous situation. Yesterday, it was confirmed by Chinese authorities that 700 tonnes of sodium cyanide had been detected at two locations of the Tianjin blast zone, about 70 times the amount factories are meant to hold.

A military team of 217 chemical and nuclear experts have been deployed to deal with the situation. Sodium cyanide reacts with water and there are fears a rainstorm could create a toxic cloud over the city.

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