Starbucks in Beijing

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In the sprawling grounds of China’s Forbidden City, once homes of the imperial palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties, one small shop is in the midst of a brewing controversy, Starbucks, that poster child for American mass marketing and a growing number of Chinese want to banish it. The Forbidden City should preserve its uniqueness, says this woman. Ever since it opened more than 6 years ago, Starbucks has been a contentious presence in one of China’s most revered historical icons. In some of these symbols of western culture influence, Starbucks is just a tip of the iceberg. Do rub up against China’s nationalistic sensibility. That’s what we are seeing. It’s that simple. Earlier this year, the trade mark green sign was removed to reduce the store’s visibility after Rui Chenggang, an anchor on state-run television, began an online campaign to have the coffee shop closed for good. You can still tell it is Starbucks and when you tour around the Forbidden City, you see hundreds of cups with the big Starbucks logo on it, you know, all around. To me, it spoils the fun. And now, complaints of latte and imperialism have reached National People’s Congress, the annual session of parliament. As long as it stays in the imperial palace, it poses a challenge to our traditional culture, says lawmaker Jiang Hongbing who submitted the motion to the congress to have Starbucks closed. This is more than a storm in a coffee cup, with almost 200 stores already in China’s big cities, Starbucks is aiming to make this country its largest market, and bad publicity is bad for business. The company says it’s aware of the complaints but adds, many tourists find our respectful presence a welcome place of rest. Over the years, the rent from stores like Starbucks has helped cover the cost of upkeep and renovations to the almost 600-year-old Forbidden City. But soon here, it could be one Starbucks to go. XX, CNN, in the Forbidden City.
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