Important: Do not buy ivory in China. It is illegal to export ivory across international borders, and immoral in the case of China, since so many of the ivory objects you'll encounter in country come from the lawless slaughter of elephants in many parts of Africa. The sale of black market ivory not only is inexorably leading to the extinction of many species of elephant (some 25,000 are being killed yearly) but it also supports such terrorist organisations as Boko Haram, which is funding its organization by hunting elephants and smuggling ivory.
On a less serious note: pearls, antiques, jade, jewelry in general, and objets d'art are fakes or are not worth the asking price (usually both). Unless you are an expert or are happy to have a fake, do not buy these things.
- Factory 798 (Beijing): We were sure that an ad hoc gathering of designers, painters, and sculptors selling avant-garde art in a former military complex wasn't something the regime would tolerate for long. We were wrong. Market rents are now charged, so don't expect to pick up a bargain, but the Dashanzi art district makes for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon of gallery- and cafe-hopping.
- Ba Xian An (Xi'an): There are fakes aplenty, as everywhere else, but this bustling antiques market, fed by continuous new discoveries in the surrounding plain, is too atmospheric to miss.
- Chen Lu (Shanxi): Seventeen small factories turn out different styles of pottery, and their showrooms have starting prices so low you'll volunteer to pay more. You can also buy original works in the houses of individual artisans.
- Qipao: Tailors in Beijing and Shanghai will cut a custom-fit qipao, the tight-fitting traditional dress better known by its Cantonese name cheongsam, sometimes for hundreds of dollars less than in Hong Kong and the West. A quality tailored dress, lined with silk and finished with handmade buttons, typically costs between $100 and $200. Slightly less fancy versions go for as little as $50.
- Bamboo: The ecologically minded will be impressed and amazed at the versatility of this wondrous plant. Apart from the usual carvings, look for bamboo fiber that has been made into everything from socks to bath towels and the delicious Anji Science Bamboo Beer.
- Minority Fabrics & Costumes (Yunnan & Guizhou): While all of the popular tourist destinations have shops selling silver Miao headdresses, those willing to venture out to the lands of the more obscure minorities will be justly rewarded.
- Jatson School (Lhasa): High-quality Tibetan handicrafts, including traditional Tibetan clothing, paper, incense, mandala thangkas, yak-hide boots, ceramic dolls, door hangings, bags, and cowboy hats, are all made on-site and sold at very fair prices. Your money goes to support Tibetan poor, orphaned, and children with disabilities.
- Khawachen Carpet and Wool Handicraft Co. Ltd (Lhasa): This U.S.-Tibetan factory's carpets have rich but tasteful shades woven into delightful traditional patterns. Carpets can also be made to order. You'll pay much less here than in New York or even Beijing.
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.