The Forbidden Starbucks?

While the internet was being difficult, I managed to make a few posts at my mirror blog. This is one of them. (Originally posted on Going Native in China 17 January 2007)

The Forbidden Starbucks
The controversial Starbucks outlet located in the heart of Beijing’s Forbidden City, otherwise known as the Palace Museum.

Since the internet has been on the fritz, I’ve been reading a lot of the China Daily, the English language Chinese newspaper and website. Most of the stories seem quite sanitized for our reading pleasure, but when it is the only website that loads in less than 2 minutes, it’ll work.

I’ve noticed a few articles lately about the Starbucks outlet in the middle of the Forbidden City. It seems a popular TV host complained about it on his blog, and other Chinese took notice. Now there is a public debate happening about the shop. Some people say it is an insult to Chinese culture. They make a good point when they ask if Starbucks has plans to put an outlet in the Taj Mahal or the gardens of Versailles. On the other hand, some people say that Starbucks serves a purpose and hasn’t changed the overall look of the building it is housed in. In fact, it was the Palace Museum management that invited Starbucks in. There are lots of other vendors inside the grounds of the museum selling food, water, instant coffee & souvenirs.

I took this photo in January 2006 on my first visit to the City with the DH. At that time we had already been in China 5 months and the thought of a Starbucks coffee sounded pretty good to us. I think I got a Chai Latte and the DH an espresso. We sat on a bench in one of the courtyards, admired the architecture and enjoyed our drinks. I’ll admit we were both a bit shocked when we first saw it. It seemed ironic that in the heart of the “Forbidden City” a potent symbol of Americanization and capitalist culture thrived. Inside the tiny shop we saw a European family, a couple of backpacker types reading and a handful of Chinese tourists. An art shop is attached to the coffee shop selling University student artwork, original paintings and art books.

On my second trip to the Forbidden City, in June 2006, I got my latte-addicted sister-in-law giddy at the thought of a mid-morning Starbucks pick-me-up. But when we arrived at the area I remembered the store, it seemed to be closed. Evidently not, since the newspaper say it has been doing business there for 6 years. According to the news articles, the museum officials will decide by June 2007 if the store can continue in its present location. For better or worse, I’d bet they say yes.

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2 Responses to “The Forbidden Starbucks?”

  1. superkimbo Says:

    I have a tough time with this myself. On the one hand, I couldn’t be happier that we have so many American restaurants here – I mean I can choose from Starbucks, Coffe Bean, San Francisco Coffee and I’m sure there’s at least one more I can’t think of. But, when I have so many American options it often means that I’m missing out on the local choices. Malaysians love their coffee too – there are tons of Malaysian coffee shops, but we very rarely choose to visit those because we’re craving something specific like a Chai Latte… What does that mean for my cultural horizons? Even though I’m living in Asia, I live more like I did in the US than when I was in Germany. I’m pretty sure that’s not a good thing…

  2. global gal Says:

    I have to admit that I didn’t opine on this issue because it is too difficult for me to agree or disagree. I love experiencing local options, in fact, I will try to go local as much as possible. But sometimes I LOVE to indulge in some American or European brand, chain or franchise, whether that be for food or other products. Not all the time, of course, but every once in a while it is nice. For example, after spending several months in Linyi, I am really looking forward to visiting Shanghai so I can go to Sephora to buy beauty products. 😉

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