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Dig Treasures -- Antique Markets

Liulichang--Beijing Curio City--Panjiayuan Antiques Market--The Silk Market--Hongqiao Market


Liulichang--Dig Treasures -- Antique MarketsLiulichang is a small street lined with shops facades bearing Ming and Qing dynasty architectural features. With brightly painted doors and eaves and gracefully curved black-tiled-roofs buildings, a little of old Beijing’s lifestyle is retained here.

The China Bookstore, Rongbaozhai, and Jiguge are the most famous antique stores in Liulichang. The China Bookstore located at the back of a courtyard of the first complex on the north, sells second-hand foreign language books. A used bookstore in China, particularly one that has foreign-language offerings, was once a rare thing, but this one also has a curious organizational style. All the foreign-language materials are mixed together. English-language works stand spine-to-spine with Russian and German works. Literature shares shelf space with psychology and history. Some of the books are stamped with university library and church seals. Antiques like this, worth a fair amount anywhere, go for no small sum in Liulichang. Good deals may be found among the Chinese books, however, if you are patient and know what you want.

Along the street, peddlers hawk snacks, groceries, toys and copper coins, all kind of small commodities. Merchants race to their doors with a welcoming “Hello, hello” for all their customers, but they all rack their brains to attract foreigners” attention. Some offer free seal-carving services and they even can find a perfect Chinese name for you if you like. Some shop owners invite folk artists to their shops such as an 80-year-old heir to the Qing Dynasty’s royal embroidery tradition. It is amazing to watch this elderly man embroider a pair of little shoes for a pair of tiny feet.

Scholars who once came to the capital to sit for the imperial examination started this ancient market. Sometimes, they ran out of money and sold antiques, paintings and calligraphy to cover their journeys home. The cultural market gradually emerged here at the end of the Ming Dynasty (1644-1911).

Old and new, real and fake, moral and immoral, it was all to be found on Liulichang Street, it is really a visitor's treat.

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Beijing Curio City

Beijing Curio City--Dig Treasures -- Antique MarketsBeijing Curio City is the first nationally supervised second-hand market in China, and the biggest Asian center of the curio trade.

With more than 250 curio shops under one roof, the market specializes in antique pottery, paintings from China and foreign countries, jadeware, bone carvings, antique furniture, antique carpets, antique timepieces, pearls and jade.

The hotels, meeting halls and dining halls at this site provide visitors with an ideal shopping, accommodation and office environment.

This city periodically organizes unique curio exhibitions, sales and seminars. Every January, May and October, a Folk Culture Festival, Auction Week, and Beijing Chinese Curio Fair are held.

Many of the dealers are themselves connoisseurs and curio collectors. Antiques that date to before 1795 are forbidden for sale or export from China. Those dated between 1796 and 1949 should bear a small red seal and a Relics Export certificate from the Beijing Culture Relics Bureau (BCRB), to allow them to be taken out of China. The seal also proves the genuineness of the items. A word of caution: keep receipts, which should indicate the name, the age of the antiques, and whether these items were bought in BCRB designated stores.

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Panjiayuan Antiques Market

Panjiayuan Antiques Market--Dig Treasures -- Antique MarketsAnother large antiques market can be found at Panjiayuan. This is a multi-sectioned covered shopping area, which is full of antiques, art, books and general kitsch.

From works of Chinese calligraphy and paintings, the four treasures of the study, old watches and clocks, jewelry, ivory and wood carvings, carpets, to antiques from Tibet, there are definitely treasures to be found here, but it is hard to tell genuine antiques from worthless fakes. Real antiques are supposed to bear a red official seal that proves their authenticity, but, sometimes, real items are not marked and faked items are. Do not worry if an item is fake or not. Many of the things on sale are not real antiques. On the other hand, recently a 50,000-year-old fossil was confiscated from one of the sellers there. The fossil was on sale for about US$150, so you never know. Here it is best to bargain down a price to a figure you can accept and go for it. Small jade articles and silver trinkets make great presents for people at home and they are easy to take on an airplane.

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The Silk Market

The Silk Market--Dig Treasures -- Antique MarketsOn the eastern side of the Embassy of the United States, you will find a couple of narrow lanes jammed with human traffic. That is the Silk Market, which is also known as “Silk Alley” or “OK Street,” but it has much more than just silk to offer. Shops along the narrow lanes are filled with silk products and other export-quality clothing at low, low prices. Cashmere garments, down jackets, leather goods, shoes, hats, watches and some handicrafts and trinkets can be found here.

Eastern European buyers are regulars at the Silk Market. They come with cash, big empty bags, hand calculators, and enough bartering English to get by. They leave with bags stuffed full of silk shirts, scarves, jackets, and lingerie. Jeans and denim products are also popular and profitable commodities for this crew.

Many newcomers to Beijing lose all common sense in the Silk Market. You may notice quite a few famous name-brand items, and you may wonder how a Timberland down jacket can sell for US$20. The answer is not clear. Sometimes the goods are counterfeit, but more often the merchant has a relative in a clothing factory that can get excess products or slightly imperfect products for super cheap prices. At least that is one theory. No matter what the case may be, it is a place for bargain shopping.

Silk and cashmere goods are also much cheaper than they would be in other stores or in other countries. These items make great gifts for friends back home, especially Silk Mickey Mouse boxer shorts which are a must-buy.

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Hongqiao Market

Hongqiao Market--Dig Treasures -- Antique MarketsInternational and domestic shoppers mix in equal numbers at the Hongqiao Market.

Unlike other antique markets, prices are much lower here. If you are crazy about a little newfangled gadget, and if you do not have much money in your pocket, Hongqiao is your best bet. Hongbao books (Quotations from Chairman Mao), small jade articles with a history of less than 100 years are available, without an antique’s high price. An experienced connoisseur may find many surprises here.

In addition to antiques, you can find articles of everyday use everywhere in Hongqiao. Silk scarves, plastic toys, imported cigarettes, stone balls for improving health are all arranged colorfully and the possibilities are endless.

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---From "Beijing This Month" Issue 82


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