Try the new FT.com

January 18, 2007 2:23 pm

Starbucks faces Forbidden City ban

  • Share
  • Print
  • Clip
  • Gift Article
  • Comments

Starbucks could be banished from Beijing's fabled Forbidden City amid complaints that the presence of the ubiquitous US coffee shop chain in the former imperial palace constitutes an "affront to Chinese culture".

China’s official media said on Thursday that a low-key Starbucks outlet near the rear of the sprawling Palace Museum site might be removed following online protests sparked by a patriotic polemic published by a TV anchorman on his personal blog.

The controversy surrounding Starbucks' presence in the Forbidden City highlights the risks to foreign companies of offending Chinese nationalist sentiment.

State media said this week that a Russian TV commercial for Wrigley's chewing gum that used China's national anthem had "harmed the dignity" of the country, upset internet users and caused a drop in sales in at least one Chinese city.

Many of China's 123m internet users are sensitive to any perceived insult to their nation, and Starbucks' current troubles follow a tide of support from such "netizens" for anchorman Rui Chenggang's denunciation of its Forbidden City branch.

Mr Rui's comments revived a controversy that first flared when Starbucks moved into the Forbidden City six years ago, but which had lain largely dormant since.

It is unclear why Starbucks is drawing so much online ire now, given that US card company American Express actually has a bigger brand presence in the palace through its sponsorship of explanatory signs.

Starbucks’ Forbidden City branch has, by contrast, gradually lowered its profile in the palace in recent years, and its outlet – highly unusually – now has no external signage at all.

However, China's official Xinhua news agency on Thursday quoted a museum spokesman as raising the possibility that Starbucks could be forced out as part of a wider renovation.

"The museum is working with Starbucks to find a solution by this June in response to the protests," Xinhua quoted spokesman Feng Nai'en as saying. "Whether or not Starbucks remains depends on the entire design plan."

Starbucks declined to comment on any possible changes to its status in the museum.

"Starbucks appreciates the deep history and culture of the Forbidden City and has operated in a respectful manner that fits within the environment," the company said.

The coffee shop chain is only the latest foreign brand to be hit by a nationalist backlash in China.

Beijing in 2004 banned a Nike sports shoe commercial that featured a US basketball star battling and beating a kung-fu master and a dragon.

In the same year, criticism from internet users forced an apology from the creators of a Nippon Paint advert that featured a dragon slipping down a pillar, something also judged an insult to China's trademark mythological beast.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

  • Share
  • Print
  • Clip
  • Gift Article
  • Comments
SHARE THIS QUOTE