Beijing, the shopper’s paradise

Aleta Fimbres 02/04/2012

Xiu Shui Market, Beijiing

Beijing is a shopper’s paradise, with more than a hundred large and medium-sized shopping complexes.

Whether one is looking for antiques, souvenirs or bargains, there is plenty to explore. Throughout nearly all markets in Beijing, bargaining is essential, especially in large, "touristy" shopping areas, do not put it beneath your dignity to start bargaining at 20% to 40% of the vendor’s initial asking price, depending on what that is. After spending some time haggling, never hesitate to walk away, as this is often the quickest way to hear a vendor lower his or her prices to a reasonable level.

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Beijing is also home of the finest arts and crafts in China, especially for four major varieties: cloisonné ware, ivory carving, jade ware, and lacquer ware. There are real values to be had, including epigraphic seals, traditional stationery, antiques, calligraphy and painting, traditional musical instruments, silks and embroidery, jewelry and precious stones, antique furniture, and cashmere sweaters.

Major shopping destinations

Xidan Commercial centre
With the newly built Xidan Cultural Plaza on its southern parts, west of Tiananmen square, (running north of Xidan subway station), is Xidan Street, yet another prosperous shopping zone. Besides such "giants" as Huawei Shopping Mall, Xidan Shopping Center, Zhongyou Department Store and Xidan Emporium, there are many specialty stores selling brand-name commodities as well. Look out for the markets, they are good, bargaining is a must! There’s a series of restaurants and fast food outlets with various cuisines, so Xidan is also an epicurean paradise. Check out the huge Xidan Bookstore to the east of the sculpture garden and subway, where you can enter the exquisitely labyrinthine underground shopping malls. Further, across Chang’An Avenue from the sculpture garden, on the south side, is the Times Square shopping Center, with a beautiful multi-colored glass dome above the atrium.

GuWanCheng (Curio City)
On the third ring road, just beyond Pan Jia Yuan, this 4-storey white building houses the more up market variety of Chinese antiques, with prices to match. The management have been making determined efforts to stamp out fakes and low quality items in recent years, and to some extent they have succeeded, but the rule that applies to all antique shopping in China still remains in force: let the buyer beware.

Hong Qiao
This market is not far from the Temple of Heaven (main east gate), and worth visiting for the state-run silk market, but more especially for the pearl market in the building opposite. The top two floors of this market are filled with jewelry, and this may be the best place in China to buy pearls, coral, turquoise, amber and other semi-precious stones. The presence of a large number of stalls keeps the prices fairly keen, but shop around, keep a smile on your face and bargain hard.

Wangfujing Street

Wangfujing Street (above)
This pedestrianised high street runs from the western end of the Oriental Plaza shopping center next to Wangfujing subway, north to SunDong’An Plaza, another huge indoor shopping center. This high street has many outdoor places to sit under an umbrella with a cold beer, coffee or ice cream during the summer, and there are often exhibitions and events taking place there too. Also notable is the huge Wangfujing Bookstore (east side, southern end), the equally large Arts and Crafts Store nearby (to the left of the McDonalds), and the also huge basement food court (entrance is just to the left of the Art and Craft store entrance). Politely decline the ‘art students’ you are sure to meet here. For a huge selection of original art, head for the upper floors of the Arts and Crafts Store, which has good prices, and no bargaining.

Xi Zhi Men Area
The true clothing market, where many Chinese buy, is located near Xi Zhi Men, next to the Beijing Zoo. In front of the zoo there is a new huge building, which is just another big market; behind it, there is the wholesale market, with the best prices, almost no need to bargain, and a lot of genuine goods (clothing).

Jianguomenwai Street
It gained it’s first reputation as a diplomatic mission zone, Jianguomenwai Street has since developed a series of shopping facilities known for their clean and graceful environments. The famed Friendship Store, SciTech Shopping Center, Guiyou Tower, Henderson Shopping Center and COFCO Plaza are all in here. The Xiu Shui Street Bazaar (top image) and the Yabaolu Market are favorites with visitors from overseas.

If you are looking for export clothing, then you must not miss Xiu Shui Street and Yaxiu Clothing Wholesale Market. Buying some special local product and souvenirs will enhance the joy of traveling. Jingtailan cloisonné, jade, silk embroidery etc., and are very ancient treasures. Native handicrafts such as clay figurines, Peking opera mask, kites, paper-cuttings etc are inexpensive and make excellent gifts for family and friends. The Xiu Shui market reopened for business in a shiny new air-conditioned five-storey shopping mall in 2005, replacing the original outdoor market that had become far too small for the number of visitors it attracted. Now bigger and better, it has become the inner city’s one-stop tourist shopping paradise. Aimed mainly at foreign visitors. You can find luggage, leather bags, clothing and Chinese artwork among others.

Pan Jia Yuan
Also called the ‘weekend market’. This is China’s largest and possibly its most entertaining flea market. It operates all week, but most people visit there Saturdays and Sundays. It is located near Pan Jia Yuan Bridge, on the eastern third ring road. It begins early, around 7am in summer and 8am in winter (4:00 am at the weekend!). This market includes antiques (plenty of both genuine and fake varieties) and large sections selling modern porcelain, jade, carved stone and wood, paintings, furniture and other decorative items, used books, maps and even Cultural Revolution artifacts (though some are copies made in recent years). There are also sections selling Tibetan goods, ethnic textiles from Yunnan and Guizhou provinces, etc. Well worth a visit, unless you are allergic to crowds. Remember to bargain hard! Many of the merchants can provide a shipping service for large items to main ports around the world.

To learn some interesting things about China, just visit Jia’s website to find more.

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