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China's growing blogosphere turns on US coffee icon

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Starbucks' boss baristas must have known trouble was brewing when they first hung their forest-green logo outside a crimson pavilion in the Forbidden City.

And sure enough, when the arch-symbol of globalization set up shop in the heart of China's most famed historic monument six years ago, Chinese "internauts" did indeed spread their injured dignity all over the Web in a flood of protest.

The world's largest purveyor of "frappuccinos" weathered that PR storm by the tactical expedient of taking down its sign and adopting a more discreet way of doing business. But that was then.

Now another Web-launched tide of criticism is washing over the small cafe tucked in beside the Hall of Preserving Harmony. And with the Chinese blogosphere more than 30 times bigger today than it was last time the latte hit the fan, Starbucks has a much tougher problem on its hands.

"Some things can be changed by public opinion in Chinese cyberspace" says Hu Yong, a TV editor who writes a blog himself. "There are precedents."

The current flap began last week, when a well-known anchorman on Chinese state TV, Rui Chenggang, posted an entry on his personal blog calling for Starbucks to be evicted from its corner of the Forbidden City. The coffee shop's presence "tramples on Chinese culture," he fulminated, and constitutes "an insult to Chinese civilization."

Since that post went up, Mr. Rui's site has registered more than half a million hits and collected thousands of messages of support for his position, the TV personality says.

One, signed Shi Ershao, gives a flavor of the bitter dregs the site serves to America's favorite coffee roaster: "What a humiliation for China," the message reads. "Once it was military invasion, now it is economic invasion. Why can't they just drink tea?"

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