Starbucks To Go (From the Forbidden City)

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The saga of Starbucks in the Forbidden City seems to have come to an end, according to an AP report (h/t China Challenges):

    “The Starbucks opened in 2000 at the invitation of palace managers, who needed to raise money to maintain the 178-acre complex of villas and gardens. But critics said it was inappropriate. An anchor for Chinese state television led an online protest, saying the coffeehouse diminished Chinese culture.

    Starbucks was offered the option of becoming part of a combined outlet with other beverage brands all sold under the Palace Museum brand name, according to [Eden Woon, Starbucks’ vice president for Greater China] and Chinese news reports, which cited the palace’s vice president, Li Wenru.

    “There were several choices, one of which was to continue, but it would not carry the Starbucks name any more,” Woon said. “We decided at the end that it is not our custom worldwide to have stores that have any other name, so therefore we decided the choice would be to leave.””

While the change is presented as a result of the Forbidden City trying to re-brand itself, and offer visitors a more distinctive set of goods and services, the change is still overshadowed by the nationalist sentiment that originally sparked anti-Starbucks protests.

Foreign executives doing business in China can still enjoy a grande latte at one of the remaining 250-or-so Starbucks outlets in China, but they should be aware that local perceptions of their businesses are strongly coloured by cultural and nationalistic sentiments. And that consumer activists can be hot, strong, and whipped up very quickly. Not unlike a Starbucks coffee.

2 Responses to “Starbucks To Go (From the Forbidden City)”

  1. Silverwood Says:

    About time !
    I don’t care too much for Starbucks coffee anyway, but I don’t object to their commercial pursuits.
    But this outlet was way too “in your face” — in the centre of what is arguably one of China’s most sensitive cultural sites, it was patently wrong to have a “Starbucks” outlet brewing away!

  2. Jeremy Gordon Says:

    I agree that sites like the Forbidden City need to be managed with sensitivity, but there are plenty of historicsites in China that are overrun with commercial enterprises (mainly local ones). Just look at the Great Wall! Is there a wider debate about management of cultural icons, or was a foreign firm just being bullied? These sites also need services. Hopefully the private sector (local or foreign) can provide them in an approriate way.

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