There are 9,999 rooms in Beijing’s Forbidden City but a plan to turn one of them into a Starbucks in 2007 ran into intense opposition. Much of the fury was stoked by Rui Chenggang, a news anchor, who termed the plan as an insult to Chinese culture and started a campaign to kick the coffee chain out of the Forbidden City. He got what he wanted after winning the backing of half a million internet users on Sina Weibo.
More than a decade on and an attempt to bring coffee to another of China’s most iconic buildings is underway. A coffee shop called Corner Tower Cafe opened in the Palace Museum this month. Most of its beverages showcase aspects of Chinese civilisation, with many named after emperors. Visitors can enjoy “Kangxi’s Favourite Hot Chocolate” (ironic, really, as a kind of cocoa drink was presented to Kangxi in 1706 but the Qing emperor didn’t like it). And a tea is on offer that was apparently “favoured by all the 3,000 concubines”, presumably indicating it is good for women’s health.
The Palace Museum has developed more than 10,000 ‘cultural and creative products’, Xinhua says, and now makes more than $150 million in revenue every year. So don’t bet against another Corner Tower Cafe popping up in the Forbidden City. And this time Rui won’t be able to stop it: he is serving a six-year jail sentence for graft (see WiC246).