Hidden treasures in Beijing’s favorite antique market
For five days a week, Panjiayuan is a sleepy shopping spot with a handful of calligraphy stalls and jewelry stores dotted around the perimeter of a forgotten square. But come the break of dawn on Saturday until early Sunday evening, people arrive from all corners of China, it seems, and head to this famous marketplace to pore over its curios and obscure objects of desire. You can easily spend a day sifting your way through the trinkets and “antiques,” and get a glimpse into one of Beijing’s oldest and best-known cornerstones.
Located along the south side of Panjiayuan is a row of book dealers that stretches the entire length of the market. Tucked in between the dog-eared copies of forgotten Chinese-language classics you’ll find a few gems: For art lovers, there are numerous books covering the works of great masters; for photo enthusiasts, there are plenty of books on landscapes or city scenes. You can find encyclopedias on birds or rock and roll, science fiction or comics, and a selection of old magazines available at reasonable prices (RMB 10-15). Book prices vary depending on type and quality.
They may look cute enough, but when a dexterous hand is inserted into one of these Peking Opera-style puppets they become transformed into awesome fighting machines! With each one wearing the traditional operatic dress, they also hold a small spear or sword in their hand. Like a lot of the things in Panjiayuan, they are perfect for decorating the mantle piece. Find them at stall D35.
There’s rarely a Beijing day that isn’t blustery enough to fly a kite, and the ones on offer here are far more aesthetically pleasing than the plastic factory-made ones available at most supermarkets. At his stall, Song Jie offers a cornucopia of ornithological delights, including eagles, falcons and other winged wonders. No fixed location but call Song Jie on 136 5134 5499 (no English spoken).
Although some of the artwork available is a little on the risqué side, there are still some excellent deals to be had from the line of stalls located along Panjiayuan’s Row 2. Copies of old posters featuring Shanghai sing-song girls or reproductions of communist propaganda posters are definitely cool enough to adorn a teenager’s bedroom walls. Those with an interest in contemporary Chinese art are also well catered for, though the authenticity of the works can be questionable. If you’re looking for work by original artists, however, check the stalls housed in the buildings by the walls of the market.
Calligraphy and Chops
Solidify your time in China by getting your name written in Chinese on a scroll or carved into a stone stamp, or chop. There are plenty of stalls in Panjiayuan that can help you do this for around RMB 30.
It’s astonishing to find a representation of 1950s Americana in a Chinese antique market, but the tin toys found at Jin Changqing’s stall (Stall 26, Row 1, Area 3) will send those who remember a time before electronic games into a nostalgic rapture. These replicas and reproductions look fantastic, and every wind-up toy is in working order. The toys make for great gifts for older family members and youngsters with a good sense of kitsch. Small toys like clockwork robots start from RMB 35 (depending on your haggling ability) while larger toys like the windup table tennis match figures cost around RMB 70.
You can find almost anything you want jewelry-wise at Panjiayuan. The Tibetan folk sporting hefty fur hats peddle their local wares and can be found throughout the market on weekends. From these stalls, expect to find silver bracelets and beads in a rainbow of colors. Careful examination is needed to find the real gems, and don’t be afraid to go off in search of the same product elsewhere if the price doesn’t suit you. Many of the items can be found at the various stalls, so patience can save you having to pay over the odds.