You may not know this, but there´s actually a Starbucks inside the Forbidden City. Personally, when I visit this amazing historical monument, I was shocked to see that this was the case. It seems that the Forbidden City is Forbidden to all….but Starbucks, as there are no other commercial establishments inside this architectural wonder.

Personally, other than the fact that Starbucks offers expensive WiFi and its coffee that pales in comparison to Lavazza, my favorite brand, I have nothing against Starbucks. But the Forbidden City is not the place to open one up and when I was there I wondered what kind of corrupt official allowed that to happened.

So I fully support my friend and Chinese blogger Rui Chenggang who started the Starbucks revolt in Beijing and may actually succeed in removing Starbucks from the most sacred place in secular China.

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Anonymous on January 17, 2007  · 

What is this forbidden city ????

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Chris Barchak on January 17, 2007  · 


I just visited the Forbidden City a few weeks ago, and even had a cup of the Imperialist Starbucks coffee. Actually the outside of the “Starbucks” no longer looks like the flickr photostream you linked to. It is a tiny part tucked into the side of a souvenir shop, and has almost no seating. All mention of Starbucks has been removed from the outside and even the menu doesn’t say Starbucks. The only clue is from the paper cups which retain the logo. To be honest, I think this is a tempest in a teacup. On a freezing cold December day, everyone there was happy to have a cup of coffee to break up their fascinating multi-hour visit to this one of a kind monument. With the obvious branding now removed, I don’t see how this is much different from having a cafe at the Louvre.


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Anirban on January 17, 2007  · 

There are for sure other more pressing issues that Chinese bloggers should address than keep experimenting to test the power of blogging in areas that are of lesser significance than respect for truth and justice.

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Martin Varsavsky on January 17, 2007  · 


I agree. And China has a long way to go to be a well functioning democracy. But the key here is how to bend without breaking the fragile Chinese system. To me the fact that the public mobilizes through blogs in itself is already a good thing. I agree that a Starbucks in the Forbidden City is just a symbol of a little thing gone wrong, but its a powerful symbol and a way to start. In any case I am not Chinese and it is not my intention to get involved in Chinese affairs. I just thought it was interesting that Rui Chenggang was mobilizing Chinese people through his blog.

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Anirban on January 17, 2007  · 

Yes indeed it is interesting although I must say that it is not the first time someone mobilized Chinese people through his blog. I have seen huge crowds on the streets of Beijing protesting against what they saw as Japanese denial of historic facts and most of these were mobilized through blogs and text messages. I just feel that the sort of mobilizing that you and I would like to see in support of freedom of expression and justice for all in China and elsewhere gets far less attention than what they deserve.

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David Oliver on January 18, 2007  · 

I first went to China in 1988 as a backpacker when KFC had just opened their first store in China at the south end of Tiananmen Square. At the time I found it amazing that such a prominent symbol of American culture had opened in the heard of communist China (having already been travelling around China for a month eating lots of dodgy food it was a sight for sore eyes!) but it seemed like the locals thought it was a sign of progress at the time.

I remember when Starbucks first opened at the Forbidden City there was an uproar but considering the number of places selling crappy souvenirs in the same location, and the fact that it is an open public area that you don’t need to buy a ticket for, then I don’t see the problem. Unfortunately many tourist attractions in China have “sold out” to commercialism or become unpleasant places to visit – awful music blaring from speakers mounted on poles everywhere, people offering rides on donkeys painted in black & white stripes to look like zebras etc.

While I am a little suspect about this guys motives for targeting Starbucks you are right that bloggers are becoming very influential and when the Chinese Internet masses get mobilized they are a very powerful force. There have been numerous examples in the past year where companies have ignored the blogsphere and BBS masses and ended up having to deal with PR debacles, such as Dell selling notebooks that had a slightly different processor from what they advertised and denying there was a problem until bloggers picked up on it.

Unfortunately Chinese bloggers know that while they can put the boot into foreign companies or the Japanese they can still get shutdown or thrown in jail if they dare to criticize the communist party. The Internet is helping to open up China and bring about change but some subjects are still not up for discussion.

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Patrick on January 18, 2007  · 

It seems everyone complains about China: the people that live there who can’t get decent rights of expression and political freedom, the foreign countries who get swamped by their cheap goods and the companies and employees that lose their jobs due to this (while trying to work 38 hour week or less mind you).

Ironically the rest of the word is also the first to go there to make cheap goods, sell them at high profit to the foreign countries.

This started at least but to the days of Marco Polo and is just the way people are. Profiteers in search of domination of the slower or less agile groups in their ever increasing community.

If you don’t like it you can always go to Uruguay which seems quite nice and tranquil…

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Anonymous on January 18, 2007  · 

Give me a break, living on the west coast the Chinese influence on our culture is way out of control. Sounds like the free trade thing does not work both ways. Why not remove all commercial activities out of the City? BYW while we are at it why not remove all of the Chinese trade barriers that hinder western goods coming into China!

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maolijiang on January 19, 2007  · 

Mr Rui Chenggang simply wants to raise a storm in a tea cup. He clearl does not seem to understand the important aspects of heritage conservation. Quesrion: Does the presence of Starbucks affect the cultural significance of the forbidden city? How does it trample on chinese culture? What if it was Xin Ya da Bao (a chinese fast food chain) would this trample on chinese culture? Seems chinese get sensitive about their culture and yet fail to respect other cultures. Example. There was big protests about the Le Bron James Nike commercial which was promptly removed…and what appeared next..was a Local Chinese Sports company with an advert which shows a chinese boy kicking asome Africans in some basketball…and end uo with the Africans crowning the Chinese their King…Chinese loved it….Come on now..Stop this..

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Talima on January 19, 2007  · 

You are all missing the point BUT Martin who wrote: “I wondered what kind of corrupt official allowed that to happened”.
I mean, the Chinese just didn’t wake up one morning, went to the Forbidden City and saw to thier amazement a Starbucks. Why did THEY let this happen? uh…money probably. So stop blaming the west for every Chinese culture stomping case you see. It blinds peoples eyes to see the real solution.

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Blair on January 19, 2007  · 

The point is that the tasteless management of said tacky American garbage food purveyors should not even consider such a locale. As for the pathetic rhetoric about human rights. What a load of toss coming from Americans. Why don’t you look at your own history before you start criticizing others. You butchered 1000000 Vietnamese men, women and children for no reason whatsoever. What about their rights, oh yes I remember, they weren’t people they were gooks. How about Iraq? WMD yeah right! History repeats itself. You shot your own students when they protested against your atrocities and you dare lecture others. What a nation of losers.

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California on January 20, 2007  · 

Kudos to a good post. I completely agree with you. There is nothing wrong with Starbucks, it just does not belong in the Forbidden City. As for the argument of historical preservation, preservation does not mean commercialization. You can get a starbucks in ANY block in China. Get the hell out of the Forbidden City and walk a little.

The internet is changing China dramatically. However, when the change does not coincide with what we think is “best” for China, we dismiss it as unreasonable patriotism, hypocracy, “infantile” because there are “greater” issues to address. Shut the fuck up. Just like how Palestinians voted Hamas into power – its not democracy until its our “kind” of democracy.

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Martin Varsavsky on January 21, 2007  · 


Well, I am in favor of that as well. That is not the point of my post. The point of my post is that the Forbidden City is a National Monument, a “sacred” place and a Starbucks inside it is just wrong. Of course I favor Starbucks to be in China.

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Olaf Henny on January 26, 2007  · 

I love Starbucks Coffee. I admire the marketing skills of Starbucks, and if I was in the Forbidden City today, I would probably have a cup there.
However I think letting Starbucks into such a dignified historic place was a big mistake. I do believe that any franchise of western commercialism just sullies the solemnity of the place. Put 100 Starbuck outlets into Beijing, but get this one out of the Forbidden City.

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Steve on February 6, 2007  · 

Starbucks should get out of the Forbidden City because that’s a sacred place. How does it trample Chinese culture you say? Well, its presence alone can do this. How about we let a Chinese become the president of the united states? That wouldn’t be aloud because of culture. I’ve walked pass this Starbucks numerous times and its presence disgust me. How can Starbucks even claim to respect Chinese culture when they are trampling with it?!

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apal on July 18, 2007  · 

The following section is from an article in The Economist that appeared today. It highlights the dangers of state-sponsored civic activism that I doubt if it has any positive value even in a place like China where there is no civic activism.


The most positive interpretation of Starbucks’s ousting from the Forbidden City is that it reflects the surprisingly rapid development of civil society in China. After all, anyone who has seen the opposition to opening a McDonald’s outlet in Hampstead or a Wal-Mart in Manhattan knows that resisting the pernicious spread of global brands is evidence of the existence of the most advanced phase of consumerism, based on refinement and superior tastes. Perhaps the fact that 500,000 Chinese people signed an online petition to throw out Starbucks from a site of immense historic importance represents the sort of cultural revolution of which New York’s and London’s elites should approve?

Well, maybe. But there is a more worrying interpretation doing the rounds. Mr Rui, it is noted, works for a state-run broadcaster. His campaign was widely reported—and supported—by official media outlets.

As a result, some American business people fear this indicates that the Chinese government is behind the campaign, and that forcing Starbucks out of the Forbidden City is the opening shot in what may become a long and broad attack on leading American brands operating in China, in reaction to the increasing amount of China-bashing taking place in America, especially in Congress. If so, it will add to a long list of reasons why American businesses—which are betting on China for much of their future growth—are increasingly unhappy about attitudes to China in Washington.

Ominously, Mr Rui has reportedly already lined up his next target: American Express sponsorship signs. “I really loathe them,” he told the Guardian newspaper earlier this year. “The introduction to every site says, ‘Made possible by American Express’. It is as if the Mona Lisa had a label saying, ‘Made possible by the People’s Bank of China’.”

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Martin Varsavsky on July 18, 2007  · 

I know Rui Chenggang pretty well and I think that he personally disliked the idea of a Starbucks inside the Forbidden City as much as any Spaniard could hate to see a Starbucks inside El Escorial.

Ironpen on March 12, 2009  · 

This is a great blog and I hope the Chinese are listening, their freedom depends upon open discussion over issues such as this. I believe we need to careful, Americans went through the sell out mind set, I believe it was even mentioned in this blog. This is a small minded mentality, branding is key to granting access to places like the Forbidden City, I thought most of have long figured it out. This is not the making of some ill-conceived culture bashing it is simply good buisness, if the people were offended they would go near the buisness and it would fail! I believe Starbucks has pulled the coffee shop out because they did not want to maket behind another name. If the Chinese want to be in the gloabl market this is a change that is coming, it will be bumpy but get ready China your future is now.

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