The case about Starbucks leaving the forbidden city has been portrayed as a case of Chinese cultural chauvinism or pride (although why there are so many Starbucks in China is not explained).
What is important is that a petition of 500,000 was started on the internet against a government policy.
There’s a similar story about a cat rescue co-ordinated over the internet, citizen activism is a real story in at least some parts of China. This may be a sign of greater freedom, or it may be seen as a threat to the regime.
Although the internet is by no means as free as in the West, it is still free in comparison to what people imagine the Chinese internet to be.