By Ashley Johnson , eChinacities.com

Beijing Panjiayuan Antique Market
Photo: members.virtualtourist.com

Market shopping is a favorite pastime for many locals and visitors in Beijing and one incredible market in the city is Panjiayuan.  Each of Beijing’s markets has unique characteristics and this one is no exception with its many appealing factors, starting with its great outdoor location and shopping style.  While the market area itself is outside, it is well covered so you can conveniently shop for hidden treasures, rain or shine. 

Panjiayuan is also known as the Dirt Market because initially, vendors carted in their goods and displayed them on the dirt floor to sell to local customers.  While these goods were nothing more than junk for some of the locals, they were valuable, collectable antiques for others. The word began to spread and in the early to mid 1990’s, local and foreign collectors came to the Dirt Market to sift through the masses of junk at the market. As for the actual name, Panjiayuan, Beijing historical records reveal that the market’s land was originally a clan village that belonged to the Pan family. And while it used to be known for its textiles, prints and even food manufacturing, today it is a place for junk, antiques and souvenirs. Many true antiques can be found if you know what you are looking for, otherwise, there are dozens of fabricated antique pieces, art, jewelry and decorations to be found in the market’s many stores and outside vendors.

Best time to shop at Panjiayuan Market

On weekends, this place is chaos with thousands of people in the shopping mood.  It’s a fantastic experience to witness the crowds and a full house of vendors but if you had rather skip the hassles, go during the week.  The number of shoppers is much less and while many of the vendors don’t open until around mid-day, the surrounding village stores are open early and the floor vendors are usually there by 08:30, depending on the weather.  It’s a good chance to see what it has to offer without having to fight the crowds.    

Beijing Panjiayuan Antique Market
Photo: moonee.cn

What you’ll find at Panjiayuan Market

Dirt VendorsAisles of floor vendors, which literally have their items placed on blankets, tarps or cardboard boxes on the ground. A lot of what you find here is rubbish or fakes; however, looks can also be deceiving as some of the items have a lot of history. While some of the goods come from manufacturers, other items appear to be collected bits and pieces from their homes. Very similar to a western yard-sale or flea market, you walk up and down the aisles, looking through random antiques. You can find jade, silver jewelry, ceramic vases, porcelain, old clocks, envelope openers, fancy chopstick holders and the list continues. It is absolutely impossible for one to judge whether or not some of the pieces are in fact antique and much like other markets, they will start with a high asking price but you can walk away with the item in your hand for a fraction of the price.

Stall Vendors

Another area for shopping is just beside the dirt vendors in a covered, barn-like atmosphere. Still outside and still covered, this area is a little more shopper friendly in terms of layout, with proper stands, but they have very similar things as the dirt vendors. Aisle after aisle of jade, bead bracelets and necklaces, pottery, bags, books and scrolls, coins, porcelain, Tibetan trunks and random bits and pieces of antique collectables can be found in here. You can also design your own jewelry and the vendors will construct it for you.

Village Stores

The surrounding shops of the old village have a certain resemblance to the towns of the Wild West. What is actually a traditional Hutong type housing village holds a similar presence of the John Wayne-esque days of riding horseback, gun slinging and boozing in brothels; in truth, it was probably similar in its own Chinese way.  Now converted into shops, the village stores offer a variety of antiques, modern art, hand crafted goods, finer jewelry, traditional furniture, unique trinkets and more.

There is a tiny rug shop with the most beautiful hand woven rugs and throws from Afghanistan. Their quality is easy to determine at first glance and touch as they are made of thick woolen materials and the ever so slight flaws are testament to the hand woven structure. The shop vendor is a little on the expensive side and there is little room for bargaining because she knows the rarity and quality of each piece. A few shops down is a canvas paint shop and the talent of the artist is truly wonderful. Paintings vary in price but are actually reasonable considering their uniqueness and quality.

There are some antique furniture shops in the outer stores too and while they are most likely fabricated versions of antique pieces, they are good quality and really nice. You can find chairs, tables, bed frames, chests of drawers and more, all in traditional Chinese-style. And all the way at the back of the village street aisles is a huge stone and pottery farm, where you can find potting vases, Buddha statues and even terracotta warriors.

Remember to look upstairs as well. They have the cutest items for decorating your garden and many lovely gifts to carry home. There is a mix of traditional and more modern pieces of art, made by local artists and they really have character and tell a story of their own.  And there is a fantastic bead shop with every shape, size and color bead for making bracelets, prayer beads, necklaces, key chains and more.

Beijing Panjiayuan Antique Market
Photo: msnbcmedia3.msn.com

Tips and useful information for the Panjiayuan Market

There are a few food vendors and little shops that sell great snacks. Especially on cold and rainy days, the warm bowls of noodles are perfect for carrying around to warm you up while you shop. The goods in the village stores are mostly of higher quality than the goods found at the rug and barn vendors. The hidden treasures however, could be anywhere, which is why you must search everywhere in the market.
The best way to determine if the goods are in fact antique collector pieces is to be knowledgeable about the pieces yourself or carry a collectables buff with you. Otherwise, it is best to negotiate for any piece as if it were not a real antique. Then you won’t be as upset if you find out it was actually manufactured in 2006 and not really passed down from the Ming Dynasty.

A good trick to use for the silver jewelry is to rub it against your skin, most of it will leave a mark or rub some black colored residue on your skin, indicating its fakeness. Over time, fake jewelry turns color and while not all of it at the market is old enough to do so, it is pretty easy to tell if it isn’t genuine. However, the vendors aren’t necessarily trying to trick you with its value or in asking price, it’s just important to know in case you are looking to start a family heirloom with it; if it’s for costume type jewelry (i.e. going out on Saturday night), then by all means, pick up several because they are cute and cheap.

Jade is another thing that isn’t going to be genuine here, for the most part. You can hold jade to the light and if it shines through, you’ve got a winner. Another trick is to rub it together with another piece of jade. Most of the jade here is going to be made of glass and thus easily breakable or will grind together with another piece of jade creating a mark and a mess. Ask the vendor to test this for you though because if you break it, you might have to buy it. Don’t pay more than 30-50 RMB for jade pieces here and as a rule of thumb, bargain hard for everything!

Opening hours often depend on the weather and the individual motivation of the vendors. Some are in fact there at 08:30 during the week and at 05:00 on weekends but for the most part anytime in between is a good time to go.

Panjiayuan潘家园View In Map

Add:18 Huaweili, Chaoyang District, Beijing
地址:北京市朝阳区华威里18号
Tel:01051204699
Opening hours: Mon-Fri, 8:30-18:30; Sat-Sun 4:30-18:30

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