Starbucks Cafe in Forbidden City Under Fire

Two round tables, several wooden chairs and one counter -- is all that's in a mini-cafe which has stirred a mighty uproar in Beijing, the Chinese capital.

The reason for the uproar is due to the cafe's location: the Forbidden City, the world's largest imperial palace inscribed on the World Heritage List by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1987.

No outdoor signs indicate there is a cafe amid souvenirs of fans, paper clippings and jade ware. But tourists are reminded of and naturally attracted by coffee as its smell lingers under rooftops and among ancient Chinese paintings.

First constructed in 1406, the Forbidden City is China's best preserved ancient architecture encircled by a rampart of three kilometers.

The cafe, named Starbucks, is situated in the southeastern corner of the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian), one of the three most impressive buildings on the palace ground. The hall used to be the venue to hold feasts by emperors and nobles of ethnic groups on New Year's Eve of China's lunar calendar.

The mini-cafe, which opened on September 18, receives several hundreds of Chinese and foreign visitors a day.

Debates over the mini-cafe took place first on web. A survey by showed that over 70 percent of nearly 60,000 people surveyed were opposed to the cafe's entry into the Forbidden City, the main reason being the damaging effects to Chinese cultural heritage and its atmosphere.

A foreign visitor to the Forbidden City was puzzled by what he

saw, saying "why not a tea house here instead?" He believed that

everything should be put in their right places.

A Chinese tourist from northeast China's Dalian City did not agree. "The cafe is not big, and it is hidden from view," he argued, "it would not affect the Forbidden City."

The Starbucks cafe debate has also created discussion about the Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) chain store that is to be withdrawn from Beihai Park located to the northwest of the Forbidden City.

The 500-year-old park is one of the few imperial parks that remains intact in the world.

At a proposal put forward by some top advisors of the Municipal Government, the Parks and Woods Bureau of Beijing decided to let go of the American fast-food restaurant when the contract expires

in 2002.

The administrators of the Forbidden Palace, however, was poised for the controversy. The cafe was part of their efforts to improve services, they said. Different opinions will be good and of help to the protection-based development of the ancient architecture, they added.

Liu Lei, a staff member with the marketing section of Beijing Agriculture-Industry-Commerce Corporation, the Chinese partner of the Starbucks, said that the Starbucks cafe is different from the KFC restaurant in Beihai Park.

"The cafe does not ruin the atmosphere of the Forbidden City because all the signs and brands are placed in the room," Liu said.

Starbucks Coffee, a US coffee chain, has set up 16 coffee shops in Beijing since it first opened in January 1998.

Fan Qiangming, a bookstore manager, once rented a place in the Imperial Garden of the Forbidden City to sell books. But he withdrew the bookstore from the garden soon because selling books there does not well match the environment of the Forbidden City, he said. However, the 48-year-old manager refused to make any comment on the existence of the Starbucks there, saying "I have never been to a cafe," so "I'm not in the right position to air views on the matter."

People's Daily Online ---