BEIJING – Starbucks has closed a coffeehouse in China’s former imperial palace, the company said Saturday, ending a presence that sparked protests by Chinese critics who said it damaged a key historical site.
The controversy over Starbucks at Beijing’s 587-year-old Forbidden City has highlighted Chinese sensitivity about cultural symbols and unease over an influx of foreign pop culture.
Starbucks closed the 200-square-foot outlet Friday after Forbidden City managers decided they wanted all shops on its grounds to operate under the palace’s brand name.
“It was a very congenial decision,” said Eden Woon, Starbucks’ vice president for Greater China. “We respect what they are doing.”
The Starbucks opened in 2000 at the invitation of palace managers, who needed to raise money to maintain the 178-acre complex of villas and gardens. But critics said it was inappropriate. An anchor for Chinese state television led an online protest, saying the coffeehouse diminished Chinese culture.
The Forbidden City was home to 24 emperors before the end of imperial rule in 1911. It is China’s top tourist attraction, drawing some 7 million visitors a year.
Seattle-based Starbucks Corp. opened its first coffeehouse in China in 1999 and now has 250 mainland outlets.