In modern Beijing, middle-class Chinese prefer strolling through malls and comparing price tags rather than haggling in crowded markets, but seasoned expats say that markets are still the best places to shop. The term ‘market’ is flexible in Beijing. It can apply to vendors selling virtually the same thing all under one roof, or in one open section of space. Unlike the Western sense of local competition, the Chinese believe that if everybody is selling the same thing in one area, it will draw more customers. There is seemingly a market for everything, from tailored suits and dresses to antique furniture to pearls. Most of these markets will be a different experience than anything at home, offering expats who take part in this ancient Chinese shopping tradition a rich cultural experience. Take your time in a market, scanning all of the stalls and chatting with merchants before making any purchases. Bring your bargaining skills and plenty of small denomination cash, as you these vendors don’t deal in plastic. Crowded markets are prime hunting grounds for pickpockets so keep all your valuables in a concealed pouch or money belt. Also be sure and use a bathroom before you enmesh yourself in any of these commercial labyrinths. Large markets are generally open from 9am to 9pm.
The word ‘antique’ is loosely applied here – you may or may not find anything that’s actually old among the ceramics, pocket watches, laughing Buddha statuettes and other curios you’ll see that are marketed as antiques, but patient shoppers can find treasures among the trinkets. Rather than pretend to seek out buried treasure, find items that you like and buy them for what they are. Antiques over 100 years old require authentication from the Antiques and Relics Bureau and should be purchased from reputable stores.
Tucked away in an interesting hutong, Sattva houses an authentic treasure trove of Tibetan crafts, including yak wool rugs and furniture. Tibetan embroidered silk paintings, or Thankas, are gorgeously done and expensive, but the prices are justified.
60 Wudaoying Hutong Yonghegong/Lama Temple
138 1116 9101
Panjiayuan Antiques Market
Every day, thousands of people make the pilgrimage to Panjiayuan to peruse the curios and antiques peddled by the more than 3,000 vendors. The bounty includes scrolls, watercolors, Buddhist statues, opera costumes, Tibetan jewelry, jade dragons and old rotary telephones. Be prepared to bargain intensely, as these merchants have seen more than a few foreigners.
Mon-Fri 8:30am-6pm; Sat-Sun 4:30am-6pm
West of Panjiayuan Bridge, Third Ring Road, Chaoyang
Liangma Antique Market
This market is relatively small, but less rummaged than the big ones. It specializes in furniture, such as chairs armoires and lamps, as well as carpets and porcelain. Liangma may even contain a few real antiques for those who have the eye for them.
27 Liangmaqiao Lu, Chaoyang
Clothing & Fabric Markets
Most clothing markets are full of cheap throwaways in petite sizes and fake designer sneakers too small for most Western feet, although there are exceptions. The clothing markets are frequented by younger, local clientele, and there is a far wider selection of clothing for women than for men. They can be a great bargain for children’s clothing, where adult sizes and style are less of an issue.
Fabric markets, on the other hand, are one of Beijing’s greatest assets for expats. The fabrics are high quality, cheap, and best of all, most markets have on-site tailors that can fit and fashion almost any article of clothing for you within a week for a fraction of what it would cost at home. In most cases, you simply need to provide a photo of the style from a magazine to get fitted.
Silk Alley Market
This is more of mall/market fusion that specializes in flouting poorly enforced international copyright laws, with hundreds of stalls throughout its six floors selling fake designer labels. There are also fabric stalls and tailoring, and a huge toy market on the third floor. Be prepared for crowds and furious haggling. There’s
8 Xiushui Dongjie, Jianguomenwai Dajie, Chaoyang
(010) 5169 8800
Sanlitun Yaxiu (Yashow) Market
Extremely popular with younger expats, Yaxiu is another indoor market arena crammed with knockoff clothing and shoes. Besides offering premade designer clothes, Yaxiu has plenty of good tailors on-site as well that can fashion just about anything in three to five days. Be prepared to bargain relentlessly. Alice My Tailor at No. 3186 and Tailor Ma on the third floor are highly recommended.
58 Gongti Bei Lu, Chaoyang
Wudaokuo Clothing Market
This trendy market is lined with small and stylish boutiques that sell skirts, T-shirts, jeans and accessories cheaper than in Xidan or other brand-name malls. The market is crowded in the evenings with local teens and 20-somethings perusing the latest Korean styles. Bargaining is essential although the merchants are refreshingly less aggressive than at Yashow or Silk Street.
261 Beisihuan Zhong Lu
Maliandao Tea Street & Teajoy Market
Tea Street itself overwhelms with its pleasant perfumes. Halfway down this mile-long strip is the Teajoy Market, which it to tea what Silk Alley is to fabrics. It’s best to stop in on a few tea parties as you pass through, where vendors will invite you to sit down in old chairs, nibble on seeds and sample their selections of oolong, jasmine, white, black and chrysanthemum teas. Teas are sold loose by weight or are pressed into disks and wrapped. Tea Street is also the place to stock up on teapots and services sets, although the locals prefer to sip theirs out of used jars.
11 Maliandao Road, Xuanwe
Hongqiao Market (Pearl Market)
Let fantasy guide you through this jewelry wonderland. Like most markets, Hongqiao vends knockoff handbags and watches. Skip all of this and head directly to the three stories of pearls. Hundreds of stalls sell freshwater, seawater, black, pink, and white pearls, although quality and prices vary stall to stall. Fanghua Pearls (Stall No. 4318 on the fourth floor) offers high quality necklaces and earrings and is internationally renown: photos of Hillary Clinton and Margaret Thatcher are on display to prove it. These merchants can be pushy, but it’s best to have fun with the bargaining here and get a great deal.
36 Tiantan Donglu, Chongwen
Read more about the best expat markets in Beijing on our Listly list: