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Kentucky Fried in Beijing

December 23, 1987

I admit it. I ate at the Beijing Kentucky Fried Chicken--but I won't go back.

An American English teacher in China for the year, I recently received a clipping of your article "Finger-Lickin' Good Comes to Beijing" (Part I, Nov. 13) and this has caused me to consider again and again the impact of Western culture on China.

I was drawn partly by curiosity, partly to say, "I've eaten there," to friends in the United States, and partly to have some chicken. I do like the chicken. That has nothing to do with the cultural issues I think Kentucky Fried Chicken's presence in China raises.

China wants many Western advancements in science and technology to help it grow into a modern state. Is it possible for Western countries to aid China in these areas without also influencing China with developmentally unnecessary Western culture? Just because China needs help with computers and advanced agricultural techniques, does that also mean it needs a machine which can fry over 2,000 pieces of chicken an hour?

I have only been in China for three months and don't claim to be any sort of an expert, but one thing I have been overwhelmed with is a tremendous fascination with Western culture, especially American. I can't help wondering--do the Chinese eat at the Colonel's for the food, or is it the pictures of San Francisco and New York on the walls, the English menu, the possible opportunity to practice their English skills with a foreigner, and the typically Western-style fast-food restaurant that attracts them?

You quote a Danish tourist as saying, "I think it ruins a little bit of the atmosphere around the most important national monuments of China." I would rank that somewhere in the top five understatements of the decade. If I can spend the day walking through the Forbidden City, the Great Hall of the People, and see Chairman Mao, I don't want to exit his mausoleum, turn a little to the right, and see the Colonel staring back at me. Some things just don't seem right.

Kentucky Fried Chicken will make a fortune. Does profit justify putting nonessential aspects of one culture in the midst of another? Where does helping a country end and culturally invading a country begin?

I don't pretend to have the answers, but I do know that I am experiencing a culturally beautiful country that doesn't need many aspects of our society. I, as one young American, hope that Kentucky Fried Chicken will reinvest its profits in Fresno, not Shanghai.


Taiyuan, China

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