Peter Neville-Hadley fumed on the Oriental List (his listserv on tourism in China, on which he fumes all the time) about the opening of a new cafe on the spot of the Starbucks that closed in July. The opening was reported in China Daily on September 24:
Forbidden City cafe
A new coffee shop opened last week inside the Palace Museum, located
exactly at the same place where a controversial Starbucks coffee shop
was for seven years before shutting down. With wooden tables and
chairs, and pictures featuring Chinese culture, the “Forbidden City
Cafe” serves not only caffee, but also traditional Chinese beverages
such as tea.
“Unlike the Starbucks coffee shop, the Palace Museum is the
managerial authority of the cafe,” Beijing Daily quoted Li Wenru,
depute curator fo the Forbidden City, as saying.
End quoted text.
A few days later [writes Peter N-H] I visited the coffee shop while spending a day in
the Forbidden City. It does indeed serve much the same products as
Starbuck, less the sillier confections with sillier names, and for
much the same prices. It also serves assorted teas (but not silly
things like ‘chai lattes’) at much the same (and therefore vastly
inflated) prices as the coffees.
So it’s an ‘erosion of Chinese culture’ when the Forbidden City rents
space to a foreign company to provide a welcome service selling a
foreign drink, but not when the Forbidden City’s management simply
sells the same foreign drink directly. One courtyard across from the
Starbucks is a Japanese (or is it Korean, I don’t have my notes in
front of me) restaurant. This, apparently, is not ‘inappropriate for
the world’s impression of the Forbidden City.’
Peter N-H goes on to castigate Rui Chenggang and the other participants in the drama-comedy surrounding the Starbucks closure (see the chapter “Why Don’t They Make Some Foreigners Kneel”) as being interested only in their own popularity and in money, rather than in conservation. Well, to be fair, Rui did say that he was equally opposed to domestic companies “branding” the Forbidden City. Obviously, Western anti-Starbucks campaigners equally see nothing wrong when Cafe Einstein or Gloria Jean’s offers the same drinks. So Rui is not against commercialization but against multinationals. In that sense it is justifiable for the FC’s management to run its own cafe. So N-H is wrong to dismiss it as a specifically Chinese mixture of nationalism and greed. But the argument still doesn’t fly with me, just as I don’t see why, and for whom, Einstein is necessarily better with Starbucks.