Starbucks exits the Forbidden City

Now only a memory.
The Seattle Times, appropriately enough, reports that Starbuck has closed its Forbidden City outlet:

"[W]e have respectfully decided to end our lease agreement," the Seattle coffee chain said.

Wang Jinlong, president of Starbucks Greater China, said in a written statement: "We fully respect the decision of Forbidden City to transition to a new mode of concessions service to its museum visitors."
The issue seemed to have dissipated until this week, when Starbucks closed the store after learning from the Forbidden City that it wants to manage all stores inside the complex itself.

The Beijing News provides some additional details:

Under the new plan, the Starbucks location would be turned into a beverage station, and Starbucks would not be the sole brand sold. The Palace Museum said that if its partnership with Starbucks continued, Starbucks coffee could be one of the beverage brands sold, but it could no longer do business in the Forbidden City as an stand-alone storefront. [Vice-director] Li Wenru said that in the present circumstances, Starbucks still hopes to be present in a stand-alone format, so the chances of further cooperation between the two sides are not great.

The Palace doesn't just want to manage all the stores itself - it's also looking to accelerate brand growth. According to surveys it has performed of domestic and foreign tourists, tourists want to eat imperial-style delicacies while in the palace, and 60% of visitors are looking for memorabilia that costs 200 yuan or less.

By the May holiday next year, the palace aims to fill its restructured network of stores with more than 1000 items imprinted with its trademarks - "Imperial Palace" (故宫) and "Forbidden City" (紫禁城). Can we expect an Imperial Palace Latte to be among them?

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There are currently 23 Comments for Starbucks exits the Forbidden City.

Comments on Starbucks exits the Forbidden City

dang, just had a damn fine ice coffee in there last weekend. The shop had removed all Starbucks signage but the employees still had the chain's logo on their work aprons. And might i add that despite the lack of any signs on the exterior or interior, there was still a line out the door that featured a mix of laowais and locals.

This "no Starbucks in the Forbidden City" thing has always bugged me. Anyone visiting the world's largest (and arguably the dullest) empty museum prior to the arrival of Starbucks knows the place was rife with poorly mixed, pre-sweetened Nescafe instant coffee served lukewarm for 5 kuai for a hell of a long time. Why is Starbucks any worse?

It astonished me the way the Beijing News treats 故宫/Forbidden City as a brand name. Replacing one capitalist hegemony with another, hehe?

Also it should be made clear that all other independently-run stores within the Forbidden City are being closed down as well, to be brought back under Forbidden City management and with the FC's brand name.

Thanks for that clarification, Micah.

The Forbidden City and Palace Museum names were declared "famous trademarks" at the end of last year (BDM link); the palace seems to want to actively use the trademarks inside the palace and in other licensed shops rather than simply preventing other vendors from selling merchandise under the FC name.

Great! Perhaps now the F.C. management can start selling such venerable Chinese delicacies like cardboard filled baozis and bear bile. What an improvement over that evil imperialist/capitalist conglomerate Starbucks that dares to offer coffee with good service that is priced out of the reach of your average kiln slave from Hebei.

"The Seattle Times, appropriately enough, reports that Starbuck has closed its Forbidden City outlet: "---JOEL

What do you mean 'appropriately enough'? You agree with the Seattle Times reporting it or you agree with Starbuck's decision (albeit persuaded to do so) to close this location?

"Great! Perhaps now the F.C. management can start selling such venerable Chinese delicacies like cardboard filled baozis and bear bile. What an improvement over that evil imperialist/capitalist conglomerate Starbucks that dares to offer coffee with good service that is priced out of the reach of your average kiln slave from Hebei."---Hunxuer

Hilarious. Those boazi were tasty and I definitely ate then before...maybe that explains why I sh*t paper for a week.

If this happened in the great USA then everyone would cry "foul".

Anyway, why are we at all suprised? If that's the only way to beat Starbucks is to cheat than that's a compliment to Starbucks.

Fritz: Starbucks is headquartered in Seattle.

Well, gosh what can you say... and there won't be another coffee shop in there immediately whose owner is the friend of... I why do I bother saying it... why the hell don't investors just go elsewhere. Really.

It is a waste of time putting your money in China. Level playing field, it is the way here to exploit and appropriate foreign innovation, like such advanced innovation as SERVICE, and you won't print this because surprise suprise they will shut you down for saying so...

developing countries are developing countries because if this mentality.


I tell ya why brah... Greed. Mostly...

A meaty hook dangling in front of these salivating corporate monsters, in need of that eternal fix of profit driven quarterly earnings, how can they refuse? Globalization is a two way street brah.

How about this, you get these corporations to stop their bullshit and I get these developing bitches to stop their's.

LOL. If the world wasn't driven by greed then things may be different, but until that day, yawn...

The closure of the Starbucks in the Palace Museum is one of those "only in China" events that serves only to highlight the insecurity of people towards their own culture. Nothing riles the Chinese more than a perceived insult on a culture that they themselves worked extremely hard to eradicate. It is good that the current generations are concerned enough to protect, preserve and cherish their heritage, but there is a risk that it develops into a one-dimensional and inward-looking perception of Chinese society and history. The reality is that in China, the only people trampling on Chinese culture are the Chinese themselves. Only intense diplomatic pressure prevents nearly all of China's World Heritage sites being put on the 'In Danger' list or being removed from the list altogether.

It wasn't foreign companies that developed toboggans and piped music in fake concrete pebbles at various stretches of the Great Wall, nor was it foreigners who built a massive bank of elevators at Wulingyuan, destroyed original Great Wall near the Hanging Great Wall at Jiayuguan in Spring last year, nor who built a shopping complex overlooking the Shenyang Imperial Palace. Indeed it is amusing that one of the most prominent photos of Rui Chenggang on the CCTV website shows him filming on the Xi'an City Wall: much of this wall has been built from the ground up during the last twenty years, with the latest stretch of "ancient wall" being built (in the area by the railway station) in the last two years. At the Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan, the joke is that the oldest parts of the complex are the room attendants.

It really doesn't take a great deal of Googling to discover the appalling damage that has been done (and is being done) to Chinese cultural heritage through lack of funding, poor planning, lack of legal enforcement, and a lack of training for provincial and local Cultural Heritage Bureau staff. Most provincial museums are an absolute disgrace; some are closed - others ought to be.

The Starbucks fiasco (and I guess that the Amex-funded explanatory plaques will be next to go) is absurd. Starbucks **are** in many of the world's main heritage sites (including, for example, the outer precinct of St Paul's Cathedral in London). They have contributed substantially to the coffers of the Museum and one wonders how the shortfall will be made up. The authorities at most sites across China have shown themselves utterly unable to develop adequate funding models other than unmanaged, unstructured restaurant and shop concessions (almost all of them loss-making. When there is no balanced model for managing heritage, the only solution is to increase gate fees and in China, local people are already priced out of much of their own heritage.

The Starbucks outlet in the Palace Museum was discrete. When I accompanied two large groups through the museum several years ago, not a single person noticed it, but everyone wanted to go back when told about it later. Interestingly nearly everyone wanted to get a drink there, including every Chinese person in the groups. I do hope that now that refreshments have been handed to those well-known purveyors of good food and god customer service - the Chinese government - that visitors will feel happier. One of the most important things to remember when campaigning for something is that you may get exactly what you wanted.

I have great respect for Rui Chenggang's talents which clearly go beyond news-reading; it is, after all, characterised mainly by the ability to read out loud from a teleprompter while sitting in a chair. I just feel it is a great shame that he did not focus his attention on the far wider, far greater threats to Chinese culture. Starbucks in the Forbidden City is no more a specific symbol of American or global culture than the presence of American sneakers on tourists' feet, nor Japanese cameras and cellphones in visitors' hands.

Starbucks was useful there for the same reason that Starbucks, KFC and McDonalds are useful in Beijing's and other airports: they don't engage in collusion. The other traders do, which is what eg jacked up all the prices for food + drink in Beijing airport for so long.

You could theoretically solve the problem by enforcing some of the laws on unfair competition instead, but so far nobody seems to have been able to do this consistently.

Monopoly provision of food & drinks in the Forbidden City? You can see what's going to happen...

That was a pretty damn good comment, Disenchanted, with some good points. But I still don't think Starbucks should be in the Forbidden City. Thanks for telling us that Starbucks has a concession in St Paul's Cathedral - I'm just as offended by that news as I was when I saw KFC in Beihai. Or I would be, but of course Starbucks is not inside St Paul's Cathedral - it's outside.

You're right that we need to look past the superficial and seek real solutions to funding problems. I just don't think that Starbucks is the right one, just as I wasn't impressed when I saw the classroom desks of two blind kids in a village school in Inner Mongolia. The desks were marked as being sponsored by the economic cult Amway. Yes, we need to go beyond knee-jerk reactions, but is bribery the answer?

there is a starbucks inside the louvre. inside. big deal. same big deal that I feel for forbidden city, which is an overrated mess of commercialism anyway.

plus kfc in behai park once near saved my life some five years ago. long story. it will always have a place in my heart. and I don't even eat the crap they make.

Fritz: Starbucks is headquartered in Seattle.

JOEL: I am aware of this....It is unclear what you meant by "appropriate enough"...

No way!! ...

That was the one place I wanted to really visit in Beijing. So sad.

Fritz: He said "appropriately enough" because A) Starbucks is a Seattle based company and B) A Seattle based newspaper reported the story. Hence it is appropriate that a Seattle newspaper reported a story on one of its own hometown companies being attacked in a Cultural Revolution-like way all the way across the Pacific in China. Get it?

I can't wait for "Star Luck Coffee" to open in that space in a few weeks. Owned by the daughter of Li Peng and partnered with the son or cousin of (insert Beijing official here) as an "advisor".

Amway helps out poor blind kids. So what? What is the local government there doing besides allowing continued pollution and what Chinese company is sponsoring anything? Why is it any "civil society" effort must be led by such organizations as Habitat for Humanity? Is it because the Chinese DO NOT TRUST Chinese "charities" for the same reason their pension funds have been gambled away?? I'll wager the sum of all charity coin collecting points at 7-11s or elsewhere in China end up in official Macau junkets...

What gets me about all this fuss is... well, why now? That Starbucks has been in there for years, why wait until a few months ago to get angry about it?

Tom, it was because a celebrity finally expressed outrage on his blog. Naturally the sheep collectively bleated loudly until they were heard...

Cat, may I ask why you are offended by the presence of Starbucks in the Purple Forbidden Fortress? Do you consider it morally reprehensible for a public company to somehow legitimize such a prominent symbol of institutionalized gross inequality, overt oppression and greed, constructed specifically to self-aggrandize one of the most violent, repressive and aggressively expansionist mafias in the history of the world, and then co-opted by its equally grisly and venal successor for precisely the same purpose? (Here I'm referring to the Ming & Qing, for anyone thinking otherwise....)

In case anyone here maintained any delusions as to what the Purple "abode of the Celestial Emperor" in fact represents, the power play mentioned in Joel's article above should have disabused any but the willfully ignorant. Note that the PRC government is not opposed to commercial ventures per se - on the contrary(!).

If you assume the highly contingent position that the Purple Private Palace in fact represents the creative power and cultural heritage of the Chinese people (I'm thinking of footbinding as I write this), then why not give the people what they want - a decent cafe, under an established global brand - which arguably symbolizes their transition into modernity, as full-fledged members of the international community?

I do agree that opening a Starbucks (or other food concession) at St Paul's is equivalent to opening one at the 毛主席纪念堂. The only substantive difference between the two I can see is that the former enshrines its mythology with rather fancier architecture.

I must confess to a suspicion that the main objection of certain parties to the presence of foreign businesses in the Purple Forbidden We Built A Wall To Keep You Yokels Out is a perpetuation of the medieval cosmology it was built to substantiate - of its own divine and inviolate position as the center of the world. In your (Cat's) case, it seems to be a conviction that "old" buildings are somehow tainted by the presence of foreign corporations (old stuff = good, corporations = bad), which I personally find entirely unconvincing.

I fail to see how keeping Starbucks out of either the Divine Centre Of All Under Heaven Has Moved North Because The Mongols Built Their Capitol Here or Better Than Rome We Have Our Own Church So Our King Can Sire An Heir is a gesture of respect to anything, on any level, at all - with the exception of the benighted ideas mentioned above.

Finally, on a slightly different topic, to conflate corporate social responsibility with bribery (cf your July 15 comment above) is simply reductionist. I challenge you to identify a single aid agency or charity operating in a developing country that does not collude with local officials, warlords, etc.


"Fritz: He said "appropriately enough" because A) Starbucks is a Seattle based company and B) A Seattle based newspaper reported the story. Hence it is appropriate that a Seattle newspaper reported a story on one of its own hometown companies being attacked in a Cultural Revolution-like way all the way across the Pacific in China. Get it?"---HUNXUER

The fact that the paper is from Seattle and Starbucks is from Seattle has no significance on saying appropriate enough...of course they are going to have an article on this story because the corporate office probably made a phone call for them to do so.
Why does the damn phrase bother me?
Because "appropriately enough" means what?
You have NOT answered WHY??????
Yes, Starbucks is from Seattle as is Amazon and Boeing...who doesn't F-ing know this?
And, yes like all other cities in the US there is a newspaper...If Zippo from my home state has an article about it in the newspaper about all the knockoffs in China why does someone need to say "appropriately enough"...
IT'S NEWSWORTHY!!!!!!!!!!!!! It doesn't matter if there is a geographic similarity.
I don't know the motivation for using that phrasing "appropriately enough".
I like JOEL'S writing...I think he is very sharp but I absolutely dislike the phrasing, "appropriately enough"...
It's read at first glance like he agress with the closure. It's confusing...and if it means something as simple as the geographic sameness than WHY MENTION IT? It has NO RELEVANCE WHATSOEVER.

I'm not really all that offended, to be honest. My last comment contained a fair amount of beer-induced exaggeration. I'm mildly in favor of Starbucks leaving the Forbidden City, whereas a Chinese colleague I was talking to about it was mildly in favor of Starbucks staying. But neither of us are particularly bothered either way. Amway, on the other hand... but that's another subject.

Cat---"Amway, on the other hand... but that's another subject."


How are YOU any better than AMWAY?
I have always loved hearing people there complain about the "evil corporations" and their loose morals...WHY? Is it because you can't complain about the place itself? All this development there has nothing to do with corporations? Is all the growth a product of government policy or because of business? Or a cooperation of the both?

AMWAY was kind of a joke here and I was unaware until I went to China about 5 years ago that they still existed.

Anyway, you live in China pal. Yes, I believe you are a moralistic person BUT you also know that business there is not business in a moralistically-sound environment.

So I ask you...Whose economy are YOU supporting by living there? How are you any better than corporations there also trying to make a buck.

Get off your high horse drunk or not and recognize that while AMWAY may be blatant in their pyramid schemes you too---as well as all foreigners there---have to turn away from many unpleasant things in order to stay there, work there, exist there. That's a fact of life there...the old adage of "you can't fight city hall".

Regardless of AMWAY's intentions they are providing materials for children to use according to your comment many children have you yourself helped?

Stop being so cynical.

Hey, flipping through the channels I saw a show on CCTV9 that was talking about this. So their propa..I mean story is that Star Bucks was given the chance to stay, except that their employees have to wear standard F.City uniforms. Starbucks opted not to. The hostess also mentioned something about other "Foreign" products being sold there blah blah blah.

Good nite everyone.

Why does the "Starbucks exits shopping mall X" story never get published?

Because everyone accepts that there could be a variety of commercial, social, or "business tone" reasons why the shopping mall chose not to lease that space to Starbucks.

It's the same here. Storm in a china teacup.

FC has decided, for a range of commercial, social, and buiness tone reasons, that they're not renewing Starbucks. So what?!

Move on. Nothing to see here.

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