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Shopping in China made easy

Stall at Stanley Market in Hong Kong
Image courtesy: Lonely Planet Images/Greg Elms

China’s virtually limitless possibilities for shopping can be as awe inspiring as its sightseeing. Pack light on your way in because your luggage is sure to multiply by the time you are on your way out.


Visit Beijing’s Zhonguancun area for a battalion of multistoried shopping malls devoted exclusively to consumer electronics. You will find floor after floor jam-packed with a dizzy array of cameras, video recorders, mobile phones, laptops, computer software and every other electronic device you could ever desire. You may need to engage in some hard bargaining, but prices here are amongst the cheapest in the world.

Since language is usually a barrier haggling is usually done with the help of a calculator. The salesperson will tap in the asking price for a product and then hand over the calculator to the customer for a counter offer. You will almost certainly be dragged back to continue bargaining. It’s best to make up your own mind about what an item is worth to you and stick to it. You may lose some, but you’ll also be sure to come away with a few fabulous steals.

Bags at Suzhou Cobblers in Shanghai
Image courtesy: Lonely Planet Images/Greg Elms

Clothes and Textiles

No shopping trip to Beijing is complete without a visit to either Ya Xiu or the Silk Street Market. Here you’ll find a wide selection of both, Chinese and Western-style clothes, shoes and bags. There are even expert tailors who make custom-fitted clothes in a short period of time. The prices are low and the choice is wide.

Silk Street in Beijing has a huge variety of silk.
Image courtesy: Lonely Planet Images/Greg Elms

If you fancy some Chinese silks, head to wholesale fabric markets like Silk Street in Beijing or the South Bund fabric market in Shanghai. Until a few years ago the main trade in these garments and textiles markets was centered around branded fakes with ‘Louis Vuitton’ and ‘Gucci’ thrust on you at every step by vendors. Chinese regulations have tightened up the market since then. While fakes are still available, they are no longer as widespread.

Pearls and Jade

Pearls and jade are both good buys in China. At markets like Hongqiao in Beijing, customers can choose from a staggering selection of sea and freshwater pearls to be made up into jewellery on the spot. Quality and price varies widely. In Shanghai, First Asia Jewellery Plaza in the Yu Garden Bazaar area is a good bet.

Antiques and Curios

Wading through China’s lively flea markets like Beijing’s Panjiayuan Sunday crafts market or Shanghai’s Dongtai market is a fabulous way to spend a morning (or two). Teeming with bric-a-brac ranging from calligraphy sets, to porcelain, and Cultural Revolution memorabilia, genuine antiques are no longer easy to come by in these bazaars. But rise early to make the trip and it is still possible on occasion to steal a genuine bargain.

Shoe on display at Taikang Road Art Centre in Shanghai's French Concession.
Image courtesy: Lonely Planet Images/Greg Elms

International Brands

For devotees of brand names, China’s glistening new malls are temples worthy of worship. From mid-range, high street brands like Gap, to the haute couture of Louis Vuitton, it’s all available in the middle kingdom, at a price. Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong are where the most impressive malls are found.

For more grab a copy of our China travel guide.