Although malls and shopping centers are becoming more popular, the majority of Beijing residents still shop in markets. Whether indoors or out, these markets are inexpensive, chaotic, and, for the visitor, tremendously interesting. Payment is in cash, bargaining is essential, and pickpockets are plentiful. Perhaps the most common item you'll find in the markets these days is not silk, souvenirs, or crafts, but designer-label clothing, much of it knockoffs with the upscale labels sewn in, although some items are factory seconds or overruns (sometimes smuggled out of legitimate brand-name factories). Before you stock up on too many fake items, however, check the customs website of your home country to see what you are allowed to bring home. Many countries, including the U.S., ban knockoff goods.
The most popular market is Yaxiu Fuzhuang Shichang, the best for jewelry is Hong Qiao Shichang, and the most interesting is Panjiayuan Jiuhuo Shichang; but there are others worth browsing.
Hong Qiao Shichang -- Also called the Pearl Market, Hong Qiao Shichang is located at Tian Tan Lu 9 (tel. 010/6713-3354;, just northeast of Tian Tan Gongyuan (Temple of Heaven Park) and north of Tiyuguan Lu. Hong Qiao began life as a fascinating curio market outside Tian Tan Gongyuan, but like most outdoor markets it was forced indoors and now sits above a malodorous wet market. Popular purchases include reproductions of 1920s Shanghai advertisements for "cow soap." Also popular is Cultural Revolution kitsch: Look out for flamethrower-like cigarette lighters that play "The East is Red" ("Dongfang Hong") when you light up. Elsewhere in the store, you'll need to bargain hard for brand-name clothing, footwear, luggage, watches, and pearls , which attract swarms of bottle-blonde Russian women. The toy market (wanju shichang), housed in a separate building at the back, is overlooked by visitors, so starting prices are more reasonable; there are candles, incense, and stationery. A post office is on the fourth floor. From Chongwen Men metro, take bus no. 807 to Hong Qiao, and cross the footbridge. Open daily from 8:30am to 7pm.
Panjiayuan Jiuhuo Shichang -- Eureka! This is the Chinese shopping experience of dreams: row upon crowded row of calligraphy, jewelry, ceramics, teapots, ethnic clothing, Buddha statues, paper lanterns, Cultural Revolution memorabilia, PLA belts, little wooden boxes, Ming- and Qing-style furniture, old pipes, opium scales, and painted human skulls. The market is also known as the Dirt or Ghost Market. There are some real antiques scattered among the junk, but you'd have to be an expert to pick them out. Locals arrive Saturday and Sunday mornings at dawn or shortly after (hence the "ghost" label) to find the best stuff; vendors start to leave around 4pm. Initial prices given to foreigners are always absurdly high -- Mao clocks, for instance, should cost less than ¥40 rather than the ¥400 you'll likely be asked to pay. Handily located just south of Panjiayuan on the west side of Huawei Qiao, Curio City (Guwan Cheng; tel. 010/6774-7711) has four floors of jewelry (including diamonds and jade), old clocks, cloisonné, furniture, and porcelain, as well as curios and the odd genuine antique. International shipping is provided. Curio City is open daily from 10am to 6:30pm. Panjiayuan market is located on the south side of Panjiayuan Lu, just inside the southeast corner of the Third Ring Road. It's open Saturday and Sunday from noon to about 4pm.
Silk Alley (Xiushui Jie) -- Herded indoors in 2005, Beijing's most famous market among foreign visitors is a crowded maze of stalls with a large selection of shoes and clothing (and very little silk). Vendors formerly enjoyed so much trade they could afford to be rude, but the knockoff boot is now firmly on the shopper's foot, as Silk Alley now sees only a fraction of the business of Yaxiu . Most of the original vendors are gone, unwilling (or unable) to pay the new steep rental fees. Good riddance. Under no circumstances should you pay more than ¥150 for a North Face (or "North Fake," as the expats call it) jacket, ¥50 for a business shirt, or ¥100 for a pair of jeans. Stores which sport a red flag are purported to "subscribe to higher ethics." Spot the ethical pirates. Corner of Jianguo Men Wai Dajie and Xiushui Dong Jie, above the Yong'anli metro stop.
Yaxiu Fuzhuang Shichang -- Whatever you may think of their business practices, Beijing's clothing vendors are nimble: Here you'll find refugees from two now-extinct outdoor markets, Yabao Lu and Sanlitun. Opened in 2002, the market occupies the old Kylin Plaza building (Qilin Dasha) and retains at least one feature of the old Kylin: excellent tailors can be found on the third floor. The fourth floor is a fine hunting ground for souvenirs and gifts -- there are kites from Weifang in Shandong, calligraphy materials, army surplus gear, tea sets, and farmers' paintings from Xi'an (laughably claiming to be originals by Pan Xiaoling, the most frequently copied artist). You can even treat yourself to a ¥20 manicure. The basement and the first two floors house a predictable but comprehensive collection of imitation and pilfered brand-name clothing, shoes, and luggage. The market has been "discovered" by fashion-conscious locals, and starting prices are often ridiculous. Note: Be especially aware of pickpockets in this market; we know of friends who have had their cellphones stolen while shopping. The market is just west of Sanlitun Jiuba Jie, at Gongti Bei Lu 58 (tel. 010/6415-1726). Metro: Tuanjiehu.
Shopping With The Locals
These markets are unknown to visitors and most expatriates. Asking prices are more reasonable than at the markets listed above, and the quality of goods is often superior. Tianyi Xiaoshangpin Pifa Shichang is the ultimate "Made in China" shopping experience. You'll find it 4 blocks west of the Fucheng Men metro stop at Fucheng Men Wai Dajie 259 (tel. 010/6832-7529;), on the north side of the road. Everything is here, crammed into hundreds of stalls in a spanking-new five-story building tucked behind the old market. The range of toys, sporting equipment, electronic appliances, and luggage is eye-popping. Open daily from 7:30am to 5:30pm.
Jin Wuxing Baihuo Pifa Cheng (tel. 010/6222-6827;), a single-story wholesale market just south of Da Zhong Si metro, is even more comprehensive and more chaotic. They have every item imaginable, including the kitchen sink! Open 8:30am to 7pm. Baoguo Si Wenhua Gongyipin Shichang (Guanganmennei Dajie; tel. 010/6303-0976; see map p. ###), Panjiayuan in miniature, is more relaxing. This delightful market has been a site of commerce since the Qing dynasty, and is set in the leafy grounds of a Liao dynasty (930-1122) temple. It offers mostly bric-a-brac, but vendors aren't pushy, and asking prices are reasonable. Coins, antiquarian books, and Cultural Revolution memorabilia abound. The market is liveliest on Thursday and Saturday mornings. From Changchun Jie metro, walk south along Changchun Jie and take the third right onto a tree-lined avenue that ends at the east gate of Xuanwu Yiyuan. Turn left and follow your nose southwest through the hutong to Baoguo Si. It's open daily from 9am to 4pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.