Antiques & Curios
The Panjiayuan Jiuhuo Shichang market was once the place to look for antiques, and it still is for bric-a-brac and oddities. If you're not in town on the weekend, visit Baoguo Si Wenhua Gongyipin Shichang market , which has similar curiosities in a more pleasant setting. Any cracked and dusty treasure you find is almost certainly fake, but you won't have trouble taking it home. Genuine antiques are not allowed out of the country without bearing an official red wax seal, and pieces made prior to 1795 cannot be exported at all. "Certified" antiques are available at astronomical prices in the Friendship Store, at a few hotel gift shops, and in some of the nicer malls. But determined antiques lovers should look elsewhere.
Liulichang has many small shops and stalls selling calligraphy brushes, brush racks, chops, fans, ink stones, paper, and other art supplies. The best bargains are found in the stalls toward the far-west end. The most famous outlet is Rongbao Zhai, Liulichang Xi Jie 19 (tel. 010/6303-6090; metro: Hepingmen), although its prices are pushed ever higher by tour groups. Even if you can't afford the prices, take a peek at the gallery on the second floor. It's open daily 8am to 6pm. Many art-supply shops cluster around the National Gallery, just opposite the north end of Wangfujing shopping street. Baihua Meishu Yongpin, located diagonally across from the gallery at Wusi Dajie 10-12 (tel. 010/6525-9701), stocks a wide range of modern art supplies and also has a reliable framing service. It's open daily 9am to 6:30pm. The largest art store in Beijing is Gongmei Dasha at Wangfujing Dajie 200 (tel. 010/6528-8866), although its prices are high. Metro: Wangfujing.
Maps of any place in China can be found on the first floor of Wangfujing Bookstore, Wangfujing Dajie 218 (tel. 010/6527-7787). The finest library of English-language books and magazines can be found at The Bookworm.
Cameras & Film
Color film and processing are readily arranged, but you're probably better off waiting until you return home or pass through Hong Kong. For black-and-white processing (the only choice for depicting Beijing in winter), try Aitumei Caise Kuoyin Zhongxin, Xinjiekou Nan Dajie 87 (tel. 010/6616-0718). Beijing is not the place to buy new cameras and accessories, but those looking for secondhand parts for their old SLR camera, or wanting to experiment with ancient Russian swing lens cameras, have the two excellent markets listed in this guide.
Coins & Stamps
Coin collectors and philatelists rub shoulders in Beijing. The largest market is Malian Dao You Bi Ka Shichang at Malian Dao 15 (daily 8:30am-5pm), tucked away behind the tea shops, just south of yet another Carrefour supermarket. Housed in a half-empty building that resembles an aircraft hangar, you'll find stamps and envelopes commemorating great moments in Chinese diplomacy (more than you'd expect), coins and notes of all imaginable vintages, phone cards (popular with locals -- there's even a Phone Card Museum), and a large range of Cultural Revolution memorabilia. To get here, take bus no. 719 from the Fucheng Men metro stop to Wanzi, cross the road, and walk south for 5 minutes. Larger post offices also have special sections offering limited-issue stamps. Coin collectors should make the trip to the Ancient Coin Market (Gudai Qianbi Jiaoyi Shichang; tel. 010/6201-8073; daily 9am-4pm) at Desheng Men.
In a recent local soap opera, Zhongguan Cun (touted as China's Silicon Valley), to the northwest of Beijing, was depicted as innovative, dynamic, and even sexy. Alas, with an education system that stifles creativity and a legal system incapable of enforcing intellectual property laws, copying software remains China's forte. (And software engineers are seldom sexy.) Don't rely on pirated software, but computer games usually work and computer whizzes have been known to build a computer from scratch here. Take bus no. 808 from Xi Zhi Men.
Fashion is a baby industry in Beijing. For the most part, the city is not known for being fashion-forward. However, there are interesting independent ateliers emerging at Factory 798, and you can find funky stores with original designs.
Carrefours dot the city, but the most convenient supermarkets for travelers to stock up on snacks are found in the malls above the metro stops, including Olé (at China World Shopping Mall) at Guomao metro, Oriental Plaza at Wangfujing metro, and Oriental Kenzo at Dong Zhi Men metro), Parksons (Fuxing Men metro), and Sogo (Xuanwu Men metro).
The Hong Qiao Shichang, also known as the Pearl Market, has dozens of jewelry stalls (mostly pearls and jade) on its third and fourth floors. Unless you're an expert, this is not a place to make large purchases.
Buying Pearls -- Most of the pearls on sale at Hong Qiao Shichang are genuine, although of too low quality to be sold in Western jewelry shops. However, some fakes are floating around. To test if the pearls you want to buy are real, try any one of the following:
Oddly, vendors are generally willing to let you carry out these tests, and may even help, albeit with bemused faces. If you'd rather not bother (most don't), assume the worst, shop for fun, and spend modestly.
Malls & Shopping Plazas
China's new generation of leaders would love nothing better than to wake up and find a more populous version of Singapore outside the gates of Zhong Nan Hai. With the increasingly growing middle class and the arrival of swanky malls like The Place and Shin Kong Place, this may be a reality sooner than any of us had ever imagined.
Many branches of traditional Chinese art have been on the wane since the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-907). So rather than encourage the 5,000-year-old tradition of regurgitation, look for something different. It's a much better investment.
798 (Dashanzi or simply 798 in Chinese, Qi Jiu Ba) -- This art district (www.798space.com) has become a bit less arty and more youth-culture driven these days, but it's still a worthwhile place to visit, if just to soak up the local vibes of Beijing's "bo-co" (bohemian-commercial) culture. A few worthwhile galleries in this former factory district turned art hub include Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art (tel. 010/8459-9269), Long March Space (tel. 010/5978-9768), Farschou (tel. 010/5978-9316), and 798 Photo (tel. 010/6438-1784). Get a map of the area at Timezone 8 Bookstore and Café (tel. 010/8456/0336), 500m (1,640 ft.) east of 798's south entrance (no. 4 gate).
Caochangdi -- This blossoming art district has become a destination for serious art collectors. Even if you don't have millions of yuan to blow, it's worthwhile to check it out to see pieces by China's new up-and-coming artists. Rent a car and driver for half a day to make it convenient to get in between the galleries. Visit Three Shadows Photography Art Centre (tel. 010/6432-2663), Chambers Fine Arts (tel. 010/5127-3298), Pekin Fine Arts (tel. 010/5127-3220), ShanghART(tel. 010/6432-3202), and White Space (tel. 010/8456-2054).
"Hello, I'm an Art Student" -- Be leery of any English-speaking youngsters who claim to be art students and offer to take you to a special exhibit of their work. This is a scam. The art, which you will be compelled to buy, almost always consists of assembly-line reproductions of famous (or not so famous) paintings offered at prices several dozen times higher than their actual value. You are almost sure to encounter this nonsense in the Wangfujing and Liulichang areas.
Despite numerous well-publicized and photogenic police crackdowns, pirated (daoban) CDs and DVDs are readily available in Beijing, and with the proliferation of illegal music download sites, even the pirates are having it rough. If you want to support local music, go to a concert and buy the music directly from the band. The second floor of the Foreign Language Bookstore has a wide range of Chinese music. There's maddening cross-talk (xiangsheng), bland mandopop, and even a small alternative (fei zhuliu) music section featuring local bands such as Thin Man and Second Hand Rose. The alternative philosophy doesn't extend to the Western music section, which relies on Richard Clayderman, Kenny G, and Avril Lavigne.
Silk, Fabric & Tailors
The third floor of Yashow Market (Yaxiu Fuzhuang Shichang) is a fine place to look for a tailor.
Mass-produced toys can be found at the toy market (wanju shichang) behind Hong Qiao Shichang, or at Alien's Street Market. Check carefully before you purchase: There are no warranties or safety guarantees.
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.