When Kentucky Fried Chicken decided to make a long-dead national hero the star of their latest TV commercial in China, they expected it to help them in their battle for supremacy in the burgeoning Western-style fast food market in China. Instead, KFC became the latest foreign company to be accused of showing a lack of respect for Chinese culture in its eagerness to push its products in the world's fastest-growing economy.
The controversy over the ad, which features an aged Taoist monkproclaiming a chickenburger to be a "masterpiece", is the latest example of a growing backlash against Western influences.
In the past two months, hit films such as The Da Vinci Code and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest have been pulled from release or banned. There is increasing disquiet too over the changes to Beijing's skyline wrought by foreign architects hired to transform the capital before the 2008 Olympics. And in March the authorities suspended the licence of the Chinese edition of Rolling Stone magazine just three weeks after its first issue appeared.
At the same time, China vigorously promotes its own language and heritage. It plans to build 100 Confucius Institutes - launched in 2004 to spread Chinese culture overseas - by 2010.
KFC's monk drew particular anger as he is based on Fu Qingzhu, who helped defend China against invaders in the early 17th century.
Zhao Shu, vice-chairman of the Chinese Folk Literature and Art Society, said whenever companies enter foreign markets, they must never forget one principle: "to respect the target customer's cultural traditions".
Taoists have ridiculed the KFC commercial, as most Taoists are vegetarians.Reuse content