Money can't buy sense: 5 strange things Chinese millionaire Chen Guangbiao has done

Canned air produced by Chen Guangbiao's company. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Canned air produced by Chen Guangbiao's company. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Chen posing in front of a wall of cash, a stunt the Chinese millionaire is famous for. -- PHOTO: HUFFINGTON POST
Mr Chen Guangbiao (centre), a Chinese recycling magnate worth approximately $400 million and the self-proclaimed most influential person of China, poses for a photo with two homeless men, who he gave $300 to during a lunch he hosted for approximately 200 homeless people, at The BoatHouse in Central Park, on June 25, 2014 in New York City. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Chinese billionaire Chen Guangbiao stands with men to whom he has given US$300 during a lunch he sponsored for hundreds of needy New Yorkers at The BoatHouse in New York's Central Park on June 25, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

Rich, generous and eccentric.

China's recycling tycoon Chen Guangbiao made headlines again when he hosted 250 homeless New Yorkers to a three-course lunch at the posh Boathouse in Central Park on Wednesday. The lunch outing degenerated into fury when guests were denied US$300 (S$375) cash handouts he initially promised in ads he took out in American newspapers to publicise the event.

The self-proclaimed China's "most influential person" made his fortune recycling construction materials, and he is estimated to be worth about US$825 million (S$1.03 billion). No stranger to controversy, the 46-year-old is famous for his high-profile publicity stunts and acts of philanthropy, from attempting to buy over the New York Times to posing in front of walls of money. He first made headlines when he mobilised 60 of his demolition machines and 120 workers to help rescue victims during the Sichuan earthquake in 2008.

We look at five of the strangest things this millionaire has done.

1. Who says there's no free lunch?
In his most recent over-the-top act, Mr Chen took 250 homeless New Yorkers out to a fancy lunch at the Boathouse in Central Park on Wednesday. Ahead of the event, he took out several ads in various American papers, promising a gift of US$300 to guests who attended the meal.

However, instead of giving the money as promised, he donated $90,000 to the welfare group, New York City Rescue Mission. This change was met with outrage by the attendees, who felt "used" by the tycoon for publicity. Over lunch, the eccentric businessman also performed a rendition of the 1985 charity single, We Are The World.

2. Great Wall of C...ash
When it comes to spending money generously, Mr Chen is one showy philanthropist. His trademark move, building a wall out of money, is often criticised. Just last year, for example, the tycoon decorated a temporary television studio in Nanjing with 16 tonnes of 100-yuan (S$20) notes built to resemble a wall. He has used money as a backdrop various times since 2010. He has also given out money in the streets of New York, and handed out fat red packets to the poor.

3. Buying Times
Despite having no experience in journalism or running a media company, he reportedly attempted to buy over the New York Times. The Times chairman responded firmly that the paper was not for sale.

4. Canned air, seriously
Chen isn't just eccentric when it comes to spending money. He makes money too. His company was responsible for selling canned air to the people of China. Taking advantage of the pollution levels, he canned air, purportedly from the less polluted regions of China, and sold them for 5 yuan each.

He sold 8 million cans of air in 10 days. According to Mr Chen, "I want to tell mayors, county chiefs and heads of big companies: don't just chase GDP growth, don't chase the biggest profits at the expense of our children and grandchildren and at the cost of sacrificing our ecological environment."

5. More than just a name
The things the businessman would do to prove his point are outrageous. To prove his commitment to being eco-friendly, Chen said that his entire family had changed their names, portal reported.
"I will now be known as Chen Ditan (low carbon), my wife is now Zhang Luse (green), and my daughters are Chen Huanbao (environmental protection) and Chen Huanjing (environment)," he said.

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