Whether you’re a diehard shopaholic or a casual browser, you’ll be spoiled for choice in Běijīng. Join the locals in their favourite pastime at any number of shiny shopping malls, markets and specialist shopping streets. Then there are the pavement vendors and itinerant hawkers. All ensure that keeping your cash in your pocket is increasingly difficult.
Arts, Crafts & Antiques
Běijīng is a great place to pick up curios such as embroidered purses, paper cuttings, wooden and bronze Buddhas, paper lanterns, Chinese musical instruments and kites. Carpets, jade and pearls of varying quality can be found in abundance too.
Remember it's not just DVDs and clothes that are pirated in China: antiques, ceramics and carpets get the facsimile treatment too, so be wary before paying for that supposed Ming dynasty vase. Be aware, too, that technically items dating from before 1795 cannot be exported from China.
Traditional Clay Figurines
Clay figurines are popular souvenirs in China, and you'll find them in gift shops across Běijīng. Try Jīngchéng Bǎixìng near the Lama Temple.
Here are the three best-known types of figures you'll find:
- Běijīng Rabbit Lord (兔儿爷; tù ér yé) These tall-eared rabbit figures have been around since the late Ming dynasty (17th century) and are supposed to represent the Rabbit Lord who was sent down to Běijīng by Chang'e (the Moon God) to protect the city from a deadly plague. The figurines now represent good health.
- Tiānjīn Clay People (天津泥人; Tiānjīn ní rén) Characterised by plump, playful childlike figures, these originated in the city of Tiānjīn around 180 years ago, and were first created by a famous sculptor named Zhang Mingshen (1826–1906).
- Shāndōng Roaring Tiger (山东泥叫虎; Shāndōng ní jiào hǔ) Originating from the town of Gāomì in Shāndōng province, these clay tigers have a piece of sheep skin connecting their front and hind legs, which makes a roaring sound when squeezed (young kids love these).
Sīchóu (silk) is an important commodity in Běijīng and excellent prices for both silk fabrics and clothing can be found. If you have the time, there are excellent tailors who will turn your silk into made-to-measure clothing, such as traditional Chinese gowns (qípáo, or cheongsam in Cantonese). Yángróngshān (cashmere) from Inner Mongolia is also a good buy in Běijīng.
With Chinese contemporary art still in demand from collectors around the world, artwork can be a great investment. If you're here in June, the annual SURGE Art Fair is a fine place to find reasonably priced work. Otherwise, visit reputable galleries such as Red Gate Gallery. Realistically, you'll need to spend at least $1000 for a piece from an up-and-coming artist that is likely to increase in value.
You can pick up any of China's huge variety of teas in Běijīng, as well as the tea sets you'll need to sample them in the proper local fashion. Prices range dramatically, depending on the type of tea, or the design of the tea set. But no matter your budget, you'll be able to find a brew to sip long after you've returned home.
Need to Know
Most shops in Běijīng open earlier than in the West and close later; they usually open between 8am and 8.30am and shut between 9pm and 10pm. Open-air markets generally run from dawn to around sunset, but might open later and close earlier.
Always remember that foreigners are likely to be quoted an inflated price in Běijīng. Prices in malls are fixed, but haggling is standard practice in markets. It’s always best to bargain with a smile on your face. Remember, the point of the process is to achieve a mutually acceptable price, not to screw the vendor into the ground.
Most large department stores take Western credit cards, but many smaller ones only accept Chinese ones. Markets deal in cash only.