Monday, July 16, 2007

'Forbidden City' Starbucks Closes

Starbucks closed its controversial Chinese coffee house last Friday, seven years after it opened inside the Imperial Palace in Beijing.

It was a small outlet, as we discovered a year ago last Spring, located in a rather drab corner of the Imperial Palace grounds. The coffee company has more than two hundred more scattered around China. The others, from what we have seen, are far more comfortably appointed.

Still, for some leaving the Imperial City can be a life-changing experience. Just ask P'u Yi.

All manner of garbled explanations have been appearing in the American press, but the People's Daily seems to have the straight scoop.
The Starbucks outlet in the Forbidden City downed its shutters on Friday after months of online protests by millions of people, saying its presence undermined the solemnity of the former imperial palace and trampled over Chinese culture.

The move follows the Forbidden City management's decision to allow shops to operate only under its brand name.
* * *
Vice-president of the palace management board Li Wenru said Starbucks was offered the option of operating under the Palace Museum brand name like the other outlets.

But Starbucks' Vice-President for Greater China Eden Woon didn't agree to that. Beijing Youth Daily quoted him as saying: "It is not our custom to have stores that have any other name, therefore we decided the choice would be to leave."

The outlet was opened in 2000, and the rent it paid was used for maintenance work. But this January, China Central Television (CCTV) anchorman Rui Chenggang initiated an online protest saying the coffee shop was ruining Chinese culture. Millions of people supported him.

Starbucks, however, denied any link between the protest and the closure. "It (the closure) is just out of respect for the palace's decision," Starbucks spokesman Sun Kejiang said.
The BBC adds this:
The palace is undergoing restoration that includes toning down the commercial aspect. The number of shops has already more than halved.
It is disconcerting to some visitors, and we were among them, to turn a corner in the Imperial City and come face to face with garish advertisements or signs hawking the wares of global commerce. Just imagine, if you can, the golden arches framing the Lincoln Memorial.

It'll happen some day. Bet on it.

1 comment:

xlpharmacy said...

This shop is an insult for our ancient culture! I hate star bucks so much!