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February 27, 2012

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Pizza chain apology after outrage at 'French Concession' address

A DOWNTOWN restaurant has apologized for giving its location as "the French Concession," after angry locals branded this "a colonial expression."

Shanghai residents were infuriated by the wording on promotional leaflets at the recently opened Pizza Marzano branch on Yongjia Road in Xuhui District.

Yesterday, the United Kingdom pizza chain - known as PizzaExpress in the UK - issued a statement saying no offence had been meant.

"Pizza Marzano is a British company and its management are British people who are not familiar with Chinese culture. We never intended to offend Chinese people," the statement said.

And the Yongjia Road branch manager, who gave his name as Robie, said the phrase had only been used to make it easier for foreigners to locate the restaurant.

He said the controversial promotional material had been removed after the launch, before the furore.

The controversy began when a local resident, surnamed Yuan, took his family to the restaurant and was surprised to see leaflets boasting - in Chinese and English - that it was a "French Concession restaurant."

Yuan said he was angry to see the eatery using a "colonial term" to promote itself in the modern age and walked out.

On his microblog he asked: "How can the restaurant use terms relating to Shanghai's past under colonial powers to hurt the Chinese people's self-esteem?"

Many web users agreed with Yuan's sentiments.

A netizen called Amoy asked: "Is Pizza Marzano suggesting that the Chinese did not have enough dark days under colonial control? Do they want to prolong that control?"

"It's hard to believe a restaurant in Shanghai is taking pride in the city's old shameful days and cashing in on bitter memories," wrote another web user.

Restaurant manager Robie said the term was widely used by expats to describe Xuhui and part of Huangpu District.

"Foreigners don't know street names well, but may have a clear idea if we say it's in the French Concession," he said.

While stressing that no offence had been meant, Robie said he could not understand why some locals were so angry that they made abusive calls to the restaurant yesterday.

However, Gu Xiaoming, a history professor with the Cultural Heritage Protection Department of Fudan University, said outrage was understandable.

"Locals are angry because the term symbolizes a shameful period in history when China was invaded by foreign countries," Gu said.

"Such advertisements, published out of ignorance of history, should be banned without consideration," according to Gu.

Gu also urged expats to learn more about the history of Shanghai and stop calling the area "the French Concession".

"The French Concession" was a foreign concession from 1849 to 1943, covering Xuhui and former Luwan districts.

In 2001, a real estate company was fined 64,500 yuan (US$10,237) for stating in a leaflet that an estate "retains the romantic atmosphere of the French Concession days."


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