Judge has a case against Starbucks coffee mugs

Updated: 2011-08-11 14:37


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HEFEI - Starbucks recently drew protest over its latest marketing efforts in China - this time upsetting the descendants of one of the country's most renowned judges after seeing his face plastered on the chain's coffee mugs.

The Seattle-based coffee chain ran into trouble after opening its first branch in the city of Hefei, capital of Central China's Anhui province. The branch sells coffee mugs and bottles featuring an image of an 11th-century judge named Bao Zheng, more commonly known as "Bao Gong."

The mugs, priced at 90 yuan ($14) each, were immensely popular, with more than 100 sold in less than two hours after the store opened on August 7, said a sales representative from the store.

The mug features a stern-faced Bao clad in traditional official attire sitting on a judge's chair under large text proclaiming "Hefei, Starbucks Coffee."

Bao Zheng (999-1062), who was born in present-day Feidong county near the city of Hefei, was a senior official of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). He was highly esteemed for his strictness in upholding justice and opposing corruption, no matter how powerful the offending party was.

Bao Xun'an, a 36th-generation descendent of Bao and head of an association that studies and promotes Bao's spirit of integrity, said he was "shocked" to see his ancestor's face on the mug.

"He has a foreigner's face! It looks really absurd!" he declared.

Bao Xun'an said that the company's marketing strategy is disrespectful and might even be a violation of intellectual property rights (IPR).

Bao said his association has a patent for "Bao Gong" logos.

"Does anybody think that Starbucks should refrain from cashing in on China's most famous upright official? Shall we act to protect our culture?" Bao asked.

Starbucks did not give a response to the complaints when contacted by Xinhua. One of the company's publicity officials said that the company is "closely monitoring the situation."

Starbucks was forced to shut down a branch in Beijing's Forbidden City in 2007 after people complained that it was not appropriate for the popular American coffee chain to set up a store in such a culturally historic area.

However, the company is continuing to expand its reach in China, with plans to open 1,500 new cafes by 2015. The company also hopes to deepen its cooperation with China's coffee-growing province of Yunnan, according to Starbucks officials.