McDonald's Mystery

A McDonald’s restaurant might seem a curious place to stage a national revolt, but one has to wonder if the mysterious backers of a Jasmine Revolution in China knew their modern Beijing history well.

The McDonald’s meant to be the site of failed demonstrations over the past two weekends was once the center of China’s hottest corruption scandal – one that involved the death of the capital’s deputy mayor.

In the mid-1990s, city officials became enmeshed in a corrupt deal in which they undercut a McDonald’s near Tiananmen Square, agreeing to the cut short a 20-year lease and evict the Wangfujing district restaurant to make way for a massive $1.5 billion shopping mall development. The move tarnished China’s reputation for international business at a time when it was desperate to regain global credibility and foreign investment. Of course those days are long gone and might seem hard to remember.

McDonald’s raised a stink, and the web of corruption partly unraveled. Resignations and rumors of arrests followed, and in the end, the restaurant was allowed to remain the center of the gigantic mall development.

In April of 1995, Beijing Deputy Mayor Wang Baosen shot himself to death amid the scandal and web of mystery opened over his death, including rumors he was murdered in a cover-up. After conviction on corruption charges that reached far beyond the McDonald's Mayor Chen Xitong was jailed for 16 years. In the end, the malls and offices of Oriental Plaza went forward but the McDonald’s was allowed to stay, right in middle. Perhaps a symbol of survival amid rampant corruption to those who might remember?