Outrage Greets McCafé Opening In Historic Chinese Villa

Open Jaw

It’s an incongruous sight: the familiar Golden Arch of McDonalds set on a historic villa in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou. It also might be the most controversial McDonald's outlet in the world.

The fast food chain recently opened a McCafé franchise in an 84 yr. old villa that once housed a former Taiwan leader.

Public opinion has framed the opening as a classic example of Western culture invading China and business owners desecrating old villas. It mirrors similar controversy that erupted in 2000 when Starbucks opened a branch in Beijing's ancient Forbidden City - only to close it in 2007.

Chiang Ching-kuo, former Taiwan leader and son of former Kuomintang (KMT) leader Chiang Kai-shek, stayed at the 2 story wood and brick villa for nearly a month in the 1940s before the KMT lost the Civil War to the Chinese Communist Party and receded to Taiwan.

When the Communist Party entered Hangzhou in 1949, the government seized the building and used it as an employee residence until 2004, when it was declared a cultural relic. Local authorities then sublet it to a real estate company that ran it as a private club until 2014.

Hangzhou businessman Shen Chunlei took the lease over, renovated the villa and opened the McCafé on 15NOV. Public anger was sparked back in January when the plans were announced, with locals decrying it as an act of Western cultural desecration.

Shen, who rented the villa from the government in 2014, defended his actions to CNN. "I paid to renovate and manage an old, poorly maintained building that barely had been laid eyes on, and everybody found fault with me," he told CNN.

He says he doled out $800,000 to fix up the villa, on top of which he must pay rent to the local government. Shen says he now regrets embarking on such a challenging venture only to be accused of being a greedy, money-driven businessman. "I spent all that money maintaining and managing the property, of course I would hope for it to generate revenues," he said.

While the building's exterior remains unchanged, inside the McCafé is decorated with posters about Chiang's life, as required by the local Cultural Relics Bureau. To Shen, it is a way to pay respect to the building, while complying with regulations on using historic properties in Hangzhou - a popular tourist destination that has been home to hundreds of famous Chinese over the centuries.

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