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Panjiayuan Antique Market

By china tour on 12/17/2009 5:18:00 PM | Beijing Tours

Just a couple "rings" away from the center of Beijing is Panjiayuan, an outdoor flea market where you can find every souvenir you could ever want, including ones you never even knew you couldn't live without: alarm clocks featuring cartoon portraits of Chairman Mao, whose outstretched hands point to the present time; golden lighters which when triggered play classic Communist tunes; amber, coral, and jade necklaces; silk chopstick holders emblazoned with Mongolian motifs; and your very own copies of someone else's tomb offerings, including desktop replicas of the Xi'an warriors. Don't miss the row of vendors with "one-of-a-kind" terracotta and wooden statues of the Buddha, horses, camels, chariots, and the like, where - if you have an expert eye, a lot of luck, and even better bargaining skills - you may actually pick up the "real deal." Of course, don't be disappointed if you return the next day to find the identical piece for sale again. Bear in mind that bargaining in Beijing is something of a cultural art form. If you don’t speak the language, bring a calculator to communicate; be polite but firm, and most importantly, only engage someone in such banter if you ultimately intend on buying the item.
Established initially as a flea market run by small traders in a Chaoyang hutong in 1980, it moved to its present location in 1995. Situated west of Panjiayuan Bridge and south of the East Third Ring Road, the Panjiayuan Antiques Market is very accessible. The market deals mainly in antiques and arts and crafts. It also has the reputation of being the most inexpensive antiques market in Beijing, attracting foreign and domestic tourists. Whether you want to sightsee, window-shop or buy collectors' items, there really is something for everyone. Even Hilary Clinton has famously shopped at Panjiayuan. With so many stalls selling similar items, this is a great place for bargain hunters. And although there are genuine articles to be found here, it is hard to tell the real deal from the fake, particularly if you aren't an expert. Panjiayuan market covers an area of 4.85 hectares of land and accommodates over 3,000 stalls. It is the largest antiques market of its kind both in China and Asia. It used to be a weekend-only market. But, after some refurbishment work, it is now open for business seven days a week. However, Saturdays and Sundays are still the best days to go.

Secondhand goods, arts and crafts and antiquities are the main transactions in the market. Also on offer are antique furniture imitations, what is known to the Chinese as the "Four Treasures of the Study" (writing brush, ink stick, paper and ink slab), old books and paintings, agate, jadeite, ceramics, ancient Chinese and foreign coins, bamboo and animal bone sculptures, leather puppets for shadow play and a wide range of Chinese opera masks. Buddhist relics, costumes of ethnic minorities, apparels, "Cultural Revolution" (1966-76) articles and daily necessities can also be found here. Traders from 24 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions in China have stalls in the market, as do several ethnic minorities.  Panjiayuan market is truly a market packed with Chinese traditional culture.
Beijingers in need of money in the 1980s were the first to take artworks from their family collections to the market to sell at the weekends. Such trading among individuals was forbidden at the time, and everyone kept a watchful eye out for police at all times. In the early days, the open-air market would open for only a few hours every day. It was also called "ghost market," which means black market. The market for rare artwork developed fast. By 1990, the narrow hutong lanes were so crowded at the weekends that traders moved their "stalls" to a small patch of woods beside the Panjiayuan Bridge. Hiding in the woods, hawkers spread out antiques in the shadows of boulders. Many of them were farmers from suburban Beijing or nearby provinces who sold items they had scraped together from their villages. It was only in 1994 that trade in art and auctions were legalized. Countless art markets have sprouted around the city ever since. Local authorities wanted to put an end to this business in the woods but failed. They then decided to build a proper market and have the hawkers pay rent. And so the Panjiayuan Antiques Market came into being in 1995, the first legal antiques market in Beijing. Stall space is so sought after here that many stall holders sub-let their stalls to others at daily rates much higher than theirs, making themselves a nice little profit without actually having to sell anything.