You remember how Starbucks was exiled from the forbidden city, right?

The story here is that, for Starbucks — one of the most iconic brands in the known universe — to lose the Forbidden City — one of China’s singular historic icons — well, that’s gotta smart. Even given the store’s low-key presence in the 600 year old Imperial Palace, it was an important symbol for Starbucks, and for China.

For Starbucks this landmark location was an anchor in the shifting tides of modern Chinese culture and a (relatively) safe harbor against China’s deep-seated ambivalence to Western-style capitalism. Quite simply the Forbidden City was an icon for an icon, a touchstone of Starbucks’ international ambitions.

For China, Starbucks’ presence was symbolic of nationalist China’s embrace — however adolescent and awkward — of Western commercial interests. It was a sign of the times seven years ago. It is — ominously — a sign of the times again, today.

So, now that China has taken over the space formerly occupied by Starbucks it has replaced that awful stain of Western capitalism with… another coffee shop.1

“With wooden tables and chairs and pictures featuring Chinese culture, the Forbidden City Cafe serves not only coffee but also traditional Chinese beverages such as tea,” the China Daily said…

“Unlike the Starbucks coffee shop, the Palace Museum is the managerial authority of the cafe,” Li Wenru, deputy curator of the Forbidden City was quoted as saying.”

Well. That’s alright, then. It was all about how the place was managed.

  1. Yeah, I know… having happened a month ago it’s not exactly news, but it’s news to me. []

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