22 January, 2007

Colonising CHINA:
STARBUCKS gets luckier than the VATICAN.

The Starbucks Coffee franchise inside Beijing’s Forbidden City.
Xing Ba Ke = ‘Starbucks’ in Chinese (Xing = star, and Ba Ke is pronounced
like ‘bu-ck’). The familiar Green logo is visible inside, but not from outside.

The astute observer will not only find the presence of a Starbucks Cafe in Beijing’s Forbidden city somewhat incongruent, but may also notice the area's distinct lack of a catholic cathedral - an obvious inconsistency in Chinese foreign policy. By the end of this article I will have proposed a simple solution.

First up, let me be frank: I neither like nor buy Starbucks’ coffee. I don’t respect what they stand for. I reject the use of the Artificial Growth Hormones they feed to the cattle which produce their milk. OK cool, I’ve shown my hand: now I can proceed.

Starbucks Coffee has finally achieved what the East India Company, Colonialism, and even the British Empire’s greedy Opium Wars never fully managed throughout 19th century: it has actually succeeded at infiltrating China. Not only that, they’ve recently managed to sneak one franchise right into the heart of Beijing’s sacred “Forbidden City”!

Tourist guidebooks routinely note the paradox that such an American cultural icon should spring up not only inside a crowning glory of Chinese civilisation, but in what was for centuries the place where emperors did their best to shut out the outside world. The Forbidden City was so called because no commoners (let alone foreigners) were allowed into the palace unless they were officials or concubines.

So, is this just a storm in a coffee cup? Not at all - at long last there is a deep stirring within China. One brave Chinese–language blog-site has attracted an avalanche of half a million hits in support of removing Starbucks from the Forbidden City. Nationalist sentiment has whipped up a froth and forced authorities to re-consider its embarrassing symbolic presence, especially in the run-up to the Olympics. Everything’s different now that China is coming to grips with the realities of “Market Economy”...and has a growing community of netizens. Sovereignty and Pride, they are saying, are being sacrificed on the Altar of Money.

Speaking of altars, another sinister repetition of Chinese history is simultaneously underway. Roman catholicism, rejected by China’s communist government after WW2, is seeking to make a comeback. But that’s hardly news - the latest pope has always been hell-bent on ‘spreading the word’ among Chinese in order to save their poor endangered souls (The wise cardinals all knew that full well when they elected him with a puff of ambiguous grey-ish smoke.) Benedict is annoyed that the catholic faith in China is state-controlled, electing its own bishops against Rome’s will. Learn more here. (As far as I’m concerned, they have a sovereign right to do that: dogma, rules and rituals vary even among western catholic countries.)

The pope, in disguise on his symbolic mobile pulpit, tries to look
as Asian as possible as he pedals off to rescue Lost Souls.

I need to be frank at this point, too: I cannot agree with any country’s culture being infiltrated and deliberately trampled by another, be it by coffee dregs or catholic dogma. That’s rude cultural colonisation, callous and disrespectful. Just because we’ve become accustomed to those attitudes doesn’t mean they're somehow OK. Evangelical christian missionaries here in Thailand, for instance, have done more harm than they will ever comprehend to the fragile Buddhist under-pinning of Thai culture, as I once expressed in a letter to the Nation newspaper in Bangkok:

Dear Sir,
To you Pious Preachers who smugly hand out Christian leaflets here in Chiangmai: Have you learned nothing from the catastrophic lessons of Colonial History? Have you considered that the consequences of your actions might be devastating for those same people whose souls you are seeking to save? The very fabric of this accepting and gentle Thai society is mainly spun from the silken threads of Buddhism. Unravel those and Thailand will fray at the edges. Thailand has grimly clung onto its integrity and culture, whereas many countries in Asia have imploded from insensitive assault (and even attempted invasion) by the West, ie, you. Might you not feel rather affronted if Buddhists descended on your own country and tried to convert you to the Dhamma? Might not such feelings of resentment be fuelling anti-Western sentiment?
Wrong Way - Go Back. Please, Love Thy Neighbours enough to cease interfering and disrupting. Breaking free of your Christian herd mentality might be the hardest (and the most caring) thing you’ll ever achieve.

However, we in the West still continue to stick our uninvited fingers into other people’s pies. The parallels and close co-operation between Colonial/secular invasions and Religious invasions of the past are obvious to those with open eyes. Like it or not, british (and especially american) values arose out of the various christian faiths and became the bedrock of modern political thinking - on both sides of the Atlantic. Indeed, un-invited interference in other countries' affairs has found its ultinmate expression in Bush's policy of Pre-Emption.

As historical evidence of the close link between Secular and Sacred, check out the prominence of the Cross of St George in the original Charter of the ‘Honourable’ East India Company (set out by England’s William and Mary) in the year 1600:

… then compare it to an early version of the flag of the East India Company:

You can draw your own conclusions as to the significance of the stripes (read more here). The St George Cross is now integrated into England’s better-known flag, the Union Jack (but nevertheless persists to this day as a tribal icon of British soccer hooligan face-paint).

This intimate symbiotic link between Colonialism, Commerce, and the Church is clear enough if you choose to look. Missionaries, in their simplistic passion and occasional naivety, were often used by those in power as persuasive puppets of commercial insurgency, 'innocent' flag-bearers of colonial infiltration. The process was – and still is – a constant re-run of the Crusades with an ever-new cast. The very motto of the East India Company was Auspicio Regis et Senatus Angliae which means "By command of the King and Parliament of England". You may recall that England’s Monarch was also the head of its own Anglican Church, just like the early Portuguese royalty bankrolled the catholic church in China’s Macao district.

In logical conclusion, FunkyPix2 suggests that ALL would-be Colonialists should be treated consistently in today’s globalised world. With this in mind, the Chinese government could:

1. Permit christians to build cathedrals inside Beijing's 'Forbidden City'

2. Replace Starbucks with a Chinese-owned Tea shop.

Whew, solved at last. Jeez, I need a coffee . . .

Be watching FunkyPix2 for next week’s exciting instalment...

“The Burgers that Ate Beijing”

The Scene of the Crime at the start of the movie:
McWontons Nightclub, Beijing.

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