Chinese culture in a nutshell

By Xu Lin and Kurt Nagl ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-08-16 08:34:05

Although China's animal protection laws prohibit the trade in ivory, the 24-year-old stallholder says he's allowed to deal in ivory from mammoths because the animals became extinct more than 4,000 years ago.

Yang says his stall is visited by customers of all ages; younger people are attracted by the interesting and unique designs, while older folk prefer traditional designs such as those depicting the Buddha.

He showed us some of the artifacts on offer, including one bearing an intricate carving of chained skulls and skeletons. Each piece fits in the palm of the hand and weighs less than a half a kilo. The customized carved skeletons cost about 6,000 yuan ($975), but the more common designs are priced as low as a couple hundred yuan.

Chinese culture in a nutshell

Located to the west of Panjiayuan Bridge, the Panjiayuan Antiques Market is the largest and most famous of its kind in the capital. It covers an area of 48,500 square meters and is less than 2 kilometers from Shilihe.

The market offers a wide variety of antique goods, such as statues of terracotta warriors, porcelain vases and jewelry from a number of dynasties. The best time to visit is early on a Saturday or Sunday morning, when several thousand vendors crowd under the canopy of the outdoor market and prepare for a day of wheeling and dealing.

However, as in any antiques market, the biggest problem lies in distinguishing the genuine article from the fake.

"Insiders all know that many 'antiques' in the market are counterfeit, having been produced on an assembly line. You have to think over and over before you buy," says Yang, as he guides us around.

You can haggle with the vendor, but there is an unwritten law that if another customer is holding an item and scrutinizing it, you are not allowed to ask about the price until they have relinquished the piece.

Chinese culture in a nutshell

Each aisle took about 10 minutes to peruse. We walked quite quickly, and even though we visited less than a quarter of the booths over a period of more than two hours, we saw an enormous number of goods and artifacts.

After a short walk, you will come across the flea market and the antique books market. Non-professional vendors occasionally go to the flea market at weekends to display their goods, but their status as amateur sellers means you may not see them and their antiques the next time you visit.

If you would prefer not to visit the market in the summer heat, you can browse its official Chinese-language e-commerce website, which offers as diverse a range of goods as the market itself.

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