Despite the Thatcherite revolution of the ‘eighties that promoted privatisation and put nationalised industries to the sword, there is still much ideological discussion about exactly how and where the private and public sectors should operate, about where each sector should draw the line. Nowhere is this perhaps more true than in China as it continues its global economic advance; but evidence that some people there are still having trouble trying to understand the respective roles of government and enterprise is revealed in this news story reporting that the branch of Starbucks in Beijing’s Forbidden City has been closed down following an online campaign.
The leader of the protests, Chinese television star Rui Chenggang, complained that the existence of the coffee shop “undermined the solemnity of the Forbidden City and trampled on Chinese culture”, and you can understand his concerns. After all, the Forbidden City is over 500 years old, its historic pagodas form a world-famous UNESCO heritage site, and traditionally in Communist China if anybody was going to indulge in a spot of culture-trampling then it was going to be the state, not big business. It is no wonder then that the campaigners feel baffled and confused, not to say a bit peeved.
China’s emergence into the modern world has been haphazard to say the least, and stories like this illustrate just how far they have yet to go. But I have every confidence that in time they will continue to allow the state to withdraw while giving private companies the freedom to expand into the vacuum, so to bugger things up in ways only the government has hitherto been able to. Because in the end it isn’t the speed you travel, but your direction that is all-important.