Even though we’ve long put our public relations days behind us, we can’t help but think what a day in the life of a PR executive at Starbucks must be like. They must all have been working overtime lately with the Seattle-based coffee company hitting the headlines like crazy lately. First it was the landmark victory against Shanghai Xingbake, then there was the trans fat issue.
This week, little known CCTV-9 news anchor Rui Chenggang provoked a massive outcry by urging Starbucks to vacate the Forbidden City. His blog attracted over half a million hits within two days. OK, so we told you about this briefly, but the story begs to be fleshed out in greater detail. It has gone round and round the world, with newspapers from The Guardian to Baltimore Sun picking up the story.
According to Rui, 29, having a Starbucks in the Forbidden City, “is not globalising, but trampling Chinese culture”. The coffee chain is “a symbol of low-end US food culture presence” which “undermines the Forbidden City’s solemnity’ and is ‘an insult to Chinese civilisation”.
In an interview with the Straits Times, Rui says that a campaign “to ignite nationalistic furore against foreign brands” was the last thing on his mind:
I am not a hot-headed nationalistic jerk. I am not against Starbucks, I am just against its presence in the Forbidden City… Why? Because the French would never allow a Chinese teahouse in the Louvre, nor would the Indians allow one in the Taj Mahal…
While Rui’s argument does hold some water, we are inclined to agree with our fellow blogger Imagethief on how the whole thing just plays on “cheap, nationalist sentiment” and can’t get over how easy it is to raise an emotional outcry from Chinese netizens. Just wave your 5,000 years of Chinese civilisation and pit it against any symbol of “Western capitalism”, and voila.
We dug deeper into Rui’s blog (in Chinese) and found that despite being a Yale World Fellow (2005), his worldview is really founded upon a very simplistic East/West, Us/Them dichotomy. In his latest post, Rui quotes Rudyard Kipling’s “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet”. We particularly loved the post entitled “Don’t let Western trash feel too good about themselves in China” (“别让西方的垃圾们在中国自我感觉太好”) (dated 8 Jan), where Rui related an incident on the ski slopes of Nanshan of a “white-skinned man” ranting raucously against China and its systems after being told by staff he was not to let his child play on the beginner slopes. To cut the long story short, Rui emerged victorious after screaming at the man, “As a Chinese, I will use what I know to help you understand Chinese regulations. Any foreigner who does not respect China will not get the respect of the Chinese!” (“作为一个中国人，我会动用我所有的能量让你学会遵守中国的规则。一个不尊重中国的外国人也得不到中国人的尊重！”) and staff soon threw the man and his child out of the ski slopes. Rui continues in his post about the “foreign trash” who are “losers at home” unable to find partners back home, who are here in China making a living with their white faces, teaching English, working as chefs or as security guards, getting themselves Chinese girlfriends, etc. Just the sort of quality writing and selective use of words you would expect of any newsman from a respectable TV station!
1. Why an English news anchor on CCTV-9 is not writing an English blog instead. After all, he must have hordes of international fans across the globe who are dying to hear what he has to say about contemporary China.
2. If CCTV has any policy of moderating blogs written by its hosts and celebrities, especially when they start posting racist material. Or does nobody care, because presumably none of the foreigners will be able to understand what is being written anyway?