As the memory of a more thrifty age fades like a Mao slogan on a grey hutong wall, a new mantra has taken root: shop till you drop. Upwardly mobile Beijingers, their pockets full of renminbi, are splashing the cash at mega malls that seem to mushroom up every week in districts like Xidan and Chaoyang. Of course, trad souvenirs like silks, ceramics and jade are as hot as ever. To get in on the grab, take out a wad of notes; credit cards are not universally accepted.
The Village at Sanlitun, home to China’s first Apple Store, is where you’ll find those comfortingly familiar, high-end brands at prices similar to home, as well as Beijing’s best western restaurants. Increasingly, local designers are opening snazzy boutiques in the area – check out Approx for jewellery, D-SATA for eco-conscious accessories and Non Season for chic knitwear.
Wangfujing Avenue beside the Forbidden City surrendered any period charm it might have had when Nike and co. moved in, but dig about and you’ll uncover a few time-honoured emporia selling traditional hats, loose tea, jade jewellery, paper kites, cloth shoes and silks. If you’re short of reading material, pop into the Foreign Languages Bookstore. And be sure to wander up Wangfujing Snack Street for the obligatory scorpion-on-a-stick photo op.
Luxury brands you say? Well, the shopping arcades beneath both The Peninsula Hotel in Wangfujing and China World in the CBD have all your Gucci, Prada and Armani at international prices … what? Oh, I see. I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t know anything about that. [Meet me round the corner in two minutes]…
Ok, what’ll it be … North Face jacket? Gucci bag? Ugg boots? Paul Smith shirt? For all this and more, the Sanlitun Yashow Market is a better bet than the more (in)famous Silk Market, though both are regular stops on the tour group circuit. These temples of counterfeit retail contain acres of big brand labels, and the feisty, multi-lingual stallholders – all young women – will harass, flirt and even manhandle you into a sale. Haggle furiously: most prices can be slashed by a factor of 10. Quality varies enormously of course, and be warned: you may have to pay more than you bargained for at Her Majesty’s Customs.
With a bit more time on your hands, it's possible to bag bargain fashions at wholesale prices without the haggling. Read Rachel Platt's community guide A day at the Zoo: the pleasures of shopping in Beijing.
For knick-knacks, ornaments and “antiques”, the sprawling Panjiayuan Market is a curio-shopper’s paradise. Pick it over for Communist-era kitsch like Mao statuettes and Little Red Books, plus Buddha statues, ceramic lions, pocket watches and other articles of dubious origin. Be advised you’re extremely unlikely to snap-up anything worthy of a slot on Antiques Roadshow, but you’ll certainly find a memento for your mantelpiece.
For souvenir shopping in statelier surrounds, the ersatz, Qing Dynasty Liulichang area south west of Tiananmen Square will have you elbows deep in silk scroll paintings, carved name seals and mah-jong sets, though you’ll need serious cash to pick up any genuine antiques here. The original branch of Quanjude, Beijing’s most famous roast duck restaurant (though not its best), is a short walk north.
Quirky Nanluogu Xiang, with its ever-changing cluster of free-spirited boutiques, bars and coffee shops, is the home of hipster shopping in Beijing. Come for designer T-shirts, “serve the people” shoulder bags, period postcards and cappuccinos, though if you prefer things a little less gentrified, find your way north to Gulou Dongdajie’s vintage clothing stores and guitar shops. Mega Mega Vintage is the best spot in town for retro leathers, whilst Good Goods Commune has a souvenir-worthy mix of clobber from hip local designers.