Backlash After Starbucks Criticized Based on a Rumor

Starbucks was caught in a backlash of online comments and criticism after a Weibo user described an incident in which a policeman eating his lunch  in front of a Starbucks store in the Ciqikou neighborhood in southwestern China’s Chongqing city on Feb. 13. was driven off by Starbuck’s staff claiming that the policeman eating in front of the store damaged Starbucks’ image. In the next three days, Starbucks related posts were listed as the hottest topics on Chinese social media platforms, with most of the comments that Chinese media and netizens left being negative. People’s Daily led the trend. “[What Starbucks did] deviated from human affairs, and was purely a provocation,” People’s Daily commented on Feb. 14. An employee behind a shelf of up-turned mugs in a Starbucks coffee shop in Chongqing, China on Dec. 18, 2007. (China Photos/Getty Images) The state-run China News Service financial channel echoed the People’s Daily on Feb. 15, and quoted a netizen: “China can [operate] without Starbucks, but cannot [operate] without policemen.” On Feb. 15, Starbucks China clarified the event on its official Weibo account, and revealed a different story. “There was no driving a policeman away nor complaining about a policeman,” Starbucks China said. It explained that four policemen visited the store at about 5:00 p.m. on Feb. 13, and they sat at the outdoor table. After a while, a group of customers arrived at the store and asked to sit at the table occupied by the officers. When Starbucks staff asked the police  to change tables, “there was a misunderstanding because of improper words,” Starbucks China explained. The company apologized for the mis-communication. However, Chinese media didn’t accept the explanation or the apology, nor did some of the netizens. And the related topics stayed on the hottest topic list on Weibo, which attracted more netizens to read and comment. On Feb. 16, some Chinese people left broken eggs, white flowers (a Chinese symbol of death), and joss (incense) paper in front of the coffee shop to express their hatred. The Chinese censors didn’t filter the related information, and Chinese people are free to post, share, and comment on it. Visitors wait for their coffee at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery outlet in Shanghai, China on Dec. 6, 2017. (AFP via Getty Images) Former editor-in-chief of state-run tabloid Global Times warned that continuing to criticize Starbucks would scare foreign companies from investing in China. “[China’s propaganda system] should resolutely avoid handing [American and Western elites] the evidence that ‘Chinese society is hostile to Western enterprises,’ or ‘the Chinese market is no longer suitable for the development of Western enterprises,’” Hu Xijin posted on Weibo, a Chinese twitter-like social media platform, on Feb. 14. “The Chinese regime likes to encourage its people to boycott foreign companies, when the company’s homeland angers Beijing,” China analyst Heng He commented in April 2008 when China boycotted French supermarket chain Carrefour for allegedly supporting the Dalai Lama and after the Beijing Summer Olympics torch relay was interfered with  in France.  The most recent example of such tactics was Beijing’s implementation of trade and diplomatic sanctions on Lithuania after the Baltic country allowed Taiwan to open a de facto consulate in its capital city of Vilnius in 2021. Since then, Lithuanian products can’t be cleared through Chinese customs, and the companies who have factories in Lithuania or use Lithuania-made parts are forced to cut ties with Lithuania if they want to continue their businesses in China. Follow Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.

Backlash After Starbucks Criticized Based on a Rumor

Starbucks was caught in a backlash of online comments and criticism after a Weibo user described an incident in which a policeman eating his lunch  in front of a Starbucks store in the Ciqikou neighborhood in southwestern China’s Chongqing city on Feb. 13. was driven off by Starbuck’s staff claiming that the policeman eating in front of the store damaged Starbucks’ image.

In the next three days, Starbucks related posts were listed as the hottest topics on Chinese social media platforms, with most of the comments that Chinese media and netizens left being negative. People’s Daily led the trend.

“[What Starbucks did] deviated from human affairs, and was purely a provocation,” People’s Daily commented on Feb. 14.

Epoch Times Photo
An employee behind a shelf of up-turned mugs in a Starbucks coffee shop in Chongqing, China on Dec. 18, 2007. (China Photos/Getty Images)

The state-run China News Service financial channel echoed the People’s Daily on Feb. 15, and quoted a netizen: “China can [operate] without Starbucks, but cannot [operate] without policemen.”

On Feb. 15, Starbucks China clarified the event on its official Weibo account, and revealed a different story.

“There was no driving a policeman away nor complaining about a policeman,” Starbucks China said. It explained that four policemen visited the store at about 5:00 p.m. on Feb. 13, and they sat at the outdoor table.

After a while, a group of customers arrived at the store and asked to sit at the table occupied by the officers. When Starbucks staff asked the police  to change tables, “there was a misunderstanding because of improper words,” Starbucks China explained.

The company apologized for the mis-communication.

However, Chinese media didn’t accept the explanation or the apology, nor did some of the netizens. And the related topics stayed on the hottest topic list on Weibo, which attracted more netizens to read and comment.

On Feb. 16, some Chinese people left broken eggs, white flowers (a Chinese symbol of death), and joss (incense) paper in front of the coffee shop to express their hatred. The Chinese censors didn’t filter the related information, and Chinese people are free to post, share, and comment on it.

Epoch Times Photo
Visitors wait for their coffee at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery outlet in Shanghai, China on Dec. 6, 2017. (AFP via Getty Images)

Former editor-in-chief of state-run tabloid Global Times warned that continuing to criticize Starbucks would scare foreign companies from investing in China.

“[China’s propaganda system] should resolutely avoid handing [American and Western elites] the evidence that ‘Chinese society is hostile to Western enterprises,’ or ‘the Chinese market is no longer suitable for the development of Western enterprises,’” Hu Xijin posted on Weibo, a Chinese twitter-like social media platform, on Feb. 14.

“The Chinese regime likes to encourage its people to boycott foreign companies, when the company’s homeland angers Beijing,” China analyst Heng He commented in April 2008 when China boycotted French supermarket chain Carrefour for allegedly supporting the Dalai Lama and after the Beijing Summer Olympics torch relay was interfered with  in France. 

The most recent example of such tactics was Beijing’s implementation of trade and diplomatic sanctions on Lithuania after the Baltic country allowed Taiwan to open a de facto consulate in its capital city of Vilnius in 2021. Since then, Lithuanian products can’t be cleared through Chinese customs, and the companies who have factories in Lithuania or use Lithuania-made parts are forced to cut ties with Lithuania if they want to continue their businesses in China.


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Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.