Well, there are certainly plenty of great souvenirs to buy in Beijing which isn’t surprising as China today produces nine out of the ten souvenirs sold all around the world! There are just so many traditional things to buy including Chinese opera masks, calligraphy, cloth shoes (Neilionsheng), lacquerware and kites. There are ‘foodie’ gifts including Sichuan pepper and snacks such as vegetarian wei long and Taro fish. There are stores, traditional shops, and numerous colorful markets to explore – the only problem is fitting everything that you buy in your suitcase!
1. Enjoy some beautiful Chinese tea
It is said that tea was first discovered accidentally by Emperor Shennong when a leaf fell in his cup of hot water in 2730 BC. Today the Chinese take their tea drinking very seriously and always enjoy some at the end of each meal as it is regarded as being a healthy drink. Whilst in Beijing it is a good idea to buy some tea that cannot be bought anywhere else. Chinese tea is categorized into four types – white, green, black and Oolong and there are more than 500 different varieties – but only a fraction of these are exported worldwide.
2. Buy A Yixing clay teapot to treasure
These traditionally styled teapots are considered the very best and are primarily used for black teas but can be used for green or white teas too. The most important point is that because the clay absorbs flavors, the teapot should only be used for one type of tea and this is also the reason why it should be cleaned only using water without any soaps or detergent.
3. Wear a beautiful piece of jade jewelry
Jade is the most highly prized stone in China. Jade is said to have come from heaven and is valued for its smooth, cool texture and its translucent colors. Jade is used for a variety of different pieces of jewelry – most commonly with silver, but gold is widely available too. Jade jewelry is worn by both men and women in China as a sign of wealth and many pieces are decorated with the motif of a dragon meaning ’emperor’ or a phoenix meaning ’empress’. Jade is extremely difficult to carve but there are some truly beautiful ornaments available too.
4. Or a string of freshwater pearls
The Hongqiao Pearl Market is definitely worth exploring as there are traders with clothes spread on the ground which are covered by piles of beautiful freshwater pearls! The pearls can be bought in single colored strings of varying lengths or in any color combination you would like and there are stalls selling strings of beautiful cultured pearls as well as bracelets and earrings. When you have chosen what you would like to buy, your pearls will be slipped into a beautifully decorated silk pocket to protect them.
5. Buy a traditional Chinese lantern for your home
Everyone is familiar with the six-sided lanterns with long red tassels and painted silk or glass panels. At one time they could be found in nearly every Chinese home but today many people are favoring modern designs. Colored lanterns were hung outside homes to ward away evil spirits.
6. Search for a decorative snuff bottle
These small and intricately decorated containers were once commonplace as they were used for storing powdered tobacco. In antique shops, you can still pick up some beautiful old ones, but in many places, new snuff bottles are on sale as decorations. The bottles are made from a variety of materials including glass, porcelain, jade, ivory, and ceramic. The really intriguing ones are the bottles made from the clear glass where the decoration has been painted on the inside of the glass. If you would like to look for an antique snuff bottle, Liulichang and Panjayuan markets are good hunting grounds!
7. Admire colorful selections of Cloisonne
Cloisonne is an ancient technique for decorating metal objects that were first used in the Yuan dynasty in Beijing during the 13th century. Brightly colored enamel, glass or gemstones are separated by thin strips of flattened metal which create the design. Copper is the most popular metal used. There is an extensive range of Cloisonne available in the city including vases, boxes, ornaments, and jewelry.
8. Pack a Lord Rabbit for luck!
This popular character can only be found in Beijing and was first created in the Ming dynasty when clay rabbits were made. Later, Lord Rabbit became a popular children’s toy. Today, Lord Rabbit can be bought in all shapes and sizes and is said to bring good luck and happiness to its owner.
9. Give a wish for health and happiness
Decorative Chinese knots – zhongsuo jio – were first made in the Tang dynasty (10th century) and were very popular until the 1920s when they went completely out of fashion. They are currently enjoying a renaissance and are a popular souvenir as they are easy to pack! The knots are made in bold colors – especially red. At the top of the decoration is the decorative knot and this can be in various sizes and complexities. Below this the strings are held together by some binding – usually done in gold thread – and below this, the strings form a long tassel. Chinese knots come in a variety of qualities and some incorporate semi-precious stones. Importantly, they all have the same wishes for health and happiness when they are given as a gift.
10. Decorate your home with some Beijing paper cuts
Paper cut decorations first appeared in the city in the 7th century, not long after paper had been invented. At first the designs – which are always cut by hand – were religious but today they are purely decorative designs. Beijing paper cuts are perfect for your suitcase as they take up almost no room and weigh very little! They are available in a range of colors in both matt and glossy paper and are a popular way to decorate doors, windows, walls, and mirrors.