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Tempest in a coffee cup

Img_3313 I’m not a Starbucks person. Too expensive. I prefer tea. But I did take an interest earlier this year in the drive to boot Starbucks from the Forbidden City.

Starbucks closed down in July after seven years inside the crimson-walled Forbidden City. A state-owned coffee shop opened in late September in the exact location. You see it in the photo. It has no outdoor sign.

Img_3314 There was not a customer in sight when I stopped by on a weekend afternoon.

A Xinhua story said the coffee shop serves “not only coffee, but also traditional Chinese beverage such as tea.” (I thought Starbucks served tea, too!) It said the shop would feature pictures of Chinese culture.

It quoted a deputy curator of the Forbidden City, Li Wenru, who said: “We want to provide tourists with a package of products relating to imperial palace and Chinese culture.”

Frankly, the new coffee shop doesn’t look much different than the old one. A sign inside says it servers “China time-honored brand” products. Prices are the same as at a Starbucks, maybe even a little higher. An expresso is 30 renminbi, or just about $4 U.S.

Early this year, the television newscaster for CCTV, Rui Chenggang, drew about 500,000 signatures to his online petition demanding that Starbucks be kicked out of the Forbidden City. He said the presence of the huge U.S. coffee chain “trampled on Chinese culture” in a unique heritage site. Here’s a story I wrote and a BBC one.

While Starbucks is gone from the Forbidden City, another icon of U.S. capitalism is everywhere. American Express has rights to advertise on nearly every sign in the place.

Can it be long before the place is known as the Federal Express Forbidden City, like some sort of sports arena in the U.S.?  Or perhaps it will be called the Haier Forbidden City or the Lenovo Forbidden City, after a better known Chinese company.

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Comments

Jonathan

I don't think any other countries' style will be attracted by the tourists in such a Chinese traditional environment.
Actually, the reason the tourists visit an interest is to exprience the local culture and custom. In this case, I think
Starbucks or any foreign drink shop is as good as even a very normal but traditional tea shop. Though there are some types
of ads like American Express, the main theme of the Forbidden City is always the tradition of China.

Poldi

firstly, I personally agree with the idea of the author, as the place which is one of the most important toursit spot in China, such commercial shop shouldn't exist in this kind of place. It is no good for the development of third industry of China, although to get profit is important.

Glynis

Comment
To begin with, I really appreciate that you are focusing on Chinese business and opened a window and gave us the opportunity to discuss here, which is a great way.
Indeed, it might be argued that whether a Starbucks should in the Forbidden City and reflect some culture problem behind its phenomena.
I partly agree with you on the fact that the function of the new state-owned coffee shop is almost the same as Starbucks. Moreover, the coffee shop maintains the same level of price as Starbucks, which is also expensive.
However, as you mentioned above that you consider the new coffee shop doesn’t look much different than the old one. Admittedly, all the coffee shops are not differing from each others too far. At that point of view, why we cannot open a Chinese one instead of other countries, the action of signature has nothing to do with America; it was a behavior of loving our own country.
On the other hand, China is a country who really has a long history. Forbidden City is a magnificent witness of part of the history. We do not need the recognition of the whole world. What if there is a Chinese restaurant opened inside the White House and great amount of people eating there everyday, I figure that you prefer a place to sell some souvenirs that related to the White House.
There is no exact answer to the problem. Put it into a simple way, Starbucks just do not match the scene, it is indeed strange to put a popular modern thing around a calmly and quiet ancient building. Why not to save the space as a typical Chinese shop? And we have the right.
To sum up, Not only I, but also most of the Chinese are glad to see great changes have taken place in China, and several cities become more cosmopolitan. But in some vital places, we have the responsibility to preserve our culture seriously.

Cecilia Zhao

First, I have to say, with the development of economy, there are many multinational companies opening in other coutries. And I think there are two main reasons, one is that companies can promote the culture or interchange some knowledge between different countries with the help of their products, the other one is that companies can employ many inexpensive labours in order to get more profits.
In this post, I know that Starbucks opened in the Forbidden City before July. And everyone knew that the Forbidden City was a place of interest, moreover there would be so many people visiting during a day that Starbucks could attract more customers, and then got more profits. Furthermore, Starbucks also sold tea, which was the most popular drink in China. Consequently, it could be more adaptable to the environment of consumerism.
However, maybe it threatened the develpement of local industries. So Starbucks boot in July from the Forbidden City and a state-owned coffee shop opened in late September in the exact location. And according to the deputy curator of the Forbidden City, Li Wenru, I think they just wanted to develop the local industries, they thought Starbucks trampled on Chinese culture.
But I donot think so, in my opinion, they just used the excuse to make Starbucks close and developed their own business.
So, if we donnot want our local industries to out of business, we must try our best to sell some products, which have really cultural identity. And I believe Chinese industries will develop quickly.

Cecilia Zhao

First, I have to say, with the development of economy, there are many multinational companies opening in other coutries. And I think there are two main reasons, one is that companies can promote the culture or interchange some knowledge between different countries with the help of their products, the other one is that companies can employ many inexpensive labours in order to get more profits.
In this post, I know that Starbucks opened in the Forbidden City before July. And everyone knew that the Forbidden City was a place of interest, moreover there would be so many people visiting during a day that Starbucks could attract more customers, and then got more profits. Furthermore, Starbucks also sold tea, which was the most popular drink in China. Consequently, it could be more adaptable to the environment of consumerism.
However, maybe it threatened the develpement of local industries. So Starbucks boot in July from the Forbidden City and a state-owned coffee shop opened in late September in the exact location. And according to the deputy curator of the Forbidden City, Li Wenru, I think they just wanted to develop the local industries, they thought Starbucks trampled on Chinese culture.
But I donot think so, in my opinion, they just used the excuse to make Starbucks close and developed their own business.
So, if we donnot want our local industries to out of business, we must try our best to sell some products, which have really cultural identity. And I believe Chinese industries will develop quickly.

Jenn

I'm glad you mentioned the Amex sponsorship.

They do the same at the Tibetan Buddhist Temple in Beijing.

rio

there was a scene in shrek2 where a group of villagers run out of one Starbucks and into another one across the street; I laughed.
then the other day i was in downtown Hong Kong, when i turned the corner and say 4 separate Starbucks stores. Wasn't even funny anymore.

Liang

It is stupid to drive starbucks out of Forbidden City. It is the city management who invited S to the city years ago!
That Rui Chenggang guy, he just take advantage of the emerging nationalism in China. For what purpose? I don't know. Perhaps to boost his sagging popularity in the state televison.
Plus: I am a Chinese. I want Starbucks back!

nanheyangrouchuan

While I generally agree that national and global monuments are no place for crass consumerism, it is gov't officials that allowed these companies to set up shop in the first place and no one seemed to have much of a problem with it until a media personality lit the nationalist fuse. I'm surprise he didn't dress up as a Gansu regimental soldier (famous for their marksmanship) from the late Qing days and start waving war banners in front of the shop.

Oh, and tea is good for you as is coffee in small amounts. If the water is dirty you will absorb the pollution. If the beverage plant is grown in clean water and organically then you are set unless you are downing +3 cups a day just to "make it through".

Will

It all seems ironic at first glance, but it isn't really. Starbucks is a powerful icon of globalization and American cultural imperialism the very presence of which undermines the grandeur and historical value of the Forbidden City. American Express, as any fool can see, is simply a credit card.

OK, I hyperventilate, but it is true that the dark side of Starbucks success and ubiquity is that it is symbolic in a way that Amex (despite its name) is not. It's the new vanguard of homogeneity, replacing McDonald's. If Jose Bove was smashing up global icons today I'm sure Starbucks would get the first brick.

I certainly see Starbucks this way. I just got back from Rome, where I remarked to my wife on two things. 1) Not a single skyscraper. 2) Refreshingly, not one Starbucks. Not so surprising considering Italian coffee culture (a fine thing by the way, comments above notwithstanding), but remarkable to see in practice.

But I'm nevertheless appalled by the whole FC/Bux situation, which reeks of shallowness and cronyism dressed up as stern defense of culture. I henceforth devote myself tirelessly to the reinstatement of Starbucks in the Forbidden City.

On that note, @Marion: Of all the causes in the world, "caffeinism"? I live in a country where the tap water glows. Coffee is benign by comparison. In fact, I'm going to post this comment and go get some right now.

Pffefer

I think it was a right move to boot Starbucks out of the Forbidden City for one and one reason only: It is too out of place, with the not-too-big but very visible sign/logo. Not because it is American or western, but simply because it doesn't fit in. Imagine Starbucks in the middle of the Buckingham Place, Taj Mahal or Kyongbukgong. It just doesn't look right.

The Forbidden City should limit commercial and business operations from both Chinese and foreign companies. It is not the place to make money. I agree with AB on what he said.

A B

I wonder if Starbucks trampled on Chinese Culture as badly as the Red Guards and others during the 'cultural' 'revolution'.

The real sad part is I have pictures from the Forbidden City from the early 80s, and it is depressing to see how badly the place has deteriorated over time.

If the Government really cares about the monument, at a certain point, visitors to the site will have to be be sharply limited.

Things like their breath, the vibrations caused by visitors, air pollution, and plain normal wear and tear etc. all take a toll on the structure.

Perhaps the solution will be to have visitors come in in glass enclosed, air conditioned tunnels that are shock isolated.

Eliminating Starbucks is about as useful as tearing down the Bund because it is 'colonial' and a reminder of imperialism and its impact on China.

Something needs to be done!

Tim J

Who wants to drink decaffeinated tea? I prefer the leaded variety. More oomph in the morning!

Marion

Top 6 Reasons Not to Drink Tea

1- The chemicals used to remove caffeine from tea are carcinogenic as there is no swiss water method as with coffee.

2- The caffeine in tea takes twice as long to eliminate from the body.

3- Depletes the adrenal glands just like coffee

4- Decreases melatonin production = sleep disorders like insomnia

5- Caffeine acts as a diuretic (by the way, caffeine is a strong diuretic, which depletes the body of certain vitamins and minerals, such as “C”, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, and potassium

6- All teas contain flouride. Flouride is accumulative toxin. Only 50% of this poison is excreted from the body per day. The other half stays and accumulates, particualry in the brain & bones. Water contains lead & aluminium. Flouride attaches to lead & aluminum ions and heightens accumulation and increases these toxins metals to the brain. Aluminum flouride showed capacity to damage brain and kidneys in lab rats

Get the real scoop on caffeine at www.CaffeineAwareness.org

And if you drink decaf you wont want to miss this special free report on the Dangers of Decaf available at www.soyfee.com

Bobby

I'm traveling to China next summer and I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts! Please keep up the excellent journalism.

As for the removal of Starbucks from the Forbidden City, I loved your quip about the CCTV newscaster. He sounds like the Chinese version of Lou Dobbs!

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