It always seemed an incongruous juxtaposition: raspberry mocha Frappuccino®s for sale inside the historic home of the Chinese emperors. Well, fans of weird cultural dialectic were deprived last week when the management (supposedly in response to an online petition that attracted 500,000 signatures, but presumably acting on advice from higher up) ordered the closure of the Starbucks outlet in Beijing’s Forbidden City.
For the last three decades, the People’s Republic has been following three apparently contradictory policies: pursuing economic growth on a capitalist model; paying lip service to the memory of Mao Zedong and his neo-Stalinist doctrines; and promoting a brand of sabre-rattling Chinese nationalism that looks back to the glories of an imperial past. The result of this volatile recipe is what Deng Xiaoping called socialism with Chinese characteristics.
As a result, China responds to globalisation at two different levels. Markets are increasingly open to those foreign products that don’t ruffle the feathers of a very conservative culture; at the same time, movies, music, books, the internet and other potential transmitters of unhealthy ideas are still strictly controlled, and often subject to censorship.