China’s economic reforms and open door policy have laid the foundations for greater market freedom and growing privatisation in the past few years. There are still the state-run shops and department stores but these face increasing competition from the many small businesses that have sprung up free from the constraints of central control.
The best place to get local arts and crafts and other typical Chinese products are the state-run Friendship Stores (youyi shangdian) found in all the major cities. The main store in Beijing and its branches in Shanghai and Canton offer a particularly wide variety of items ranging from silk, porcelain, tea, and traditional Chinese remedies to furniture and carpets, as well as foodstuffs and consumer goods imported from the West.
The Arts and Crafts department stores specialise in offering for sale the work of local craftspeople.
The small hotel shops carry more or less everything a foreign tourist is likely to need.
It is still possible to purchase genuine antiques in some cities (see Antiques).
A great many shops specialise in particular items such as tea, calligraphy and artists’ materials, paper-cuts, and products typical of the place or the region such as articles from bamboo or woven straw.
The main shops in the big cities listed below give some indication ofthe different tastes and requirements they’ cater for as well as the typical products of their particular region.
China’s capital offers a broad range of goods for sale, from the particularly well-stocked Friendship Store at 21 Jianguomenwai Dajie to the busy shopping streets of Chang’an Jie, Wangfujing, Xidan and Dongdan and Underground City, a former air-raid shelter full of many small shops. The best silk is to be found near Qianmen (the Front Gate) at 5 Dazhalan Huton and in the department store north of the Temple of Heaven; Dazhalan Hutong also has Tongrentang at no. 24, famous for centuries for its herbal medicines. For furniture try Dongsi Bei or Nan Dajie. Lovers of the Beijing Opera and their magnificent costumes should make their way to the Arts and Crafts Store Trust Company in Chongwenmennei.
Liulichang, the street south-west of Qianmen, holds several shops specialising in antiques and objets d’art. For household goods of all kinds and presents, including cloisonne enamelwares, a Beijing speciality, try the various Arts and Crafts Stores andthe Marco Polo Shop at 10 Jianguomenwai Dajie.
Other very popular stores include the Beijing branch of the Japanese Yaohan chain, selling international wares on several floors, and the Friendship Store in the Beijing Lufthansa Center in the north-east ofthe city.