Starbucks and the Forbidden City: Some Closure

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I was talking with the head of the Beijing Cultural Relics Bureau yesterday and, while wrapping up, it occurred to me to ask about the Starbucks in the Forbidden City controversy that briefly roiled the Chinese web a while back. You probably don’t remember this storm in a coffee cup during which a petition was circulated online by a Chinese TV news presenter asking for the removal of the Starbucks branch in the Forbidden City as an alien, jarring etc etc symbol. Kong Fanzhi, the genial, low key director of the Bureau (which calls itself the Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage in English but, more simply, 北京市文物局 in Chinese) said they didn’t have any plans to boot out the purveyors of overpriced frappa-slappa-chinno anytime soon. “We have free speech on the internet so anyone is entitled to express their opinion and we should not exert any administrative pressure on it,” he said, his words an demeanor indicating that he thought the whole issue pretty minor. The Starbucks is “a service facility for visitors. There are no advertisements allowed and if there was a big sign it would not be appropriate.” It was, Kong said, like choosing clothes, everybody has their own opnion. Actually, he’s right. This was always more about taste that national honor. That and self-promotion.