Shopping for antiques can be difficult, especially with the large number of fakes on the market in Beijing. If you’ve come to China with the intent of buying antiques you’ll need to do a bit of research on the export laws for antiques.
Antiques cannot be taken out of the country if older than 1797. A wax seal should adorn all legitimate antiques and this seal makes it possible to export the item. Antiquities to be taken out of China must will bear a wax seal that is certified and stamped by the National Administration for the Preservation of Cultural Relics, or you can secure a license for exit transport if the item is younger than 1797 (the reign of Emperor Jia Qing). If this sounds tricky to you, don’t worry– there are guards stationed at most malls to verify the authenticity of items and help process the paperwork. Most state sponsored antique stores will carry the wax seal and licensing paperwork. Any item of any merit, worth or historical value should be in one of the state stores anyway, and not a market or street vendor.
Panjiayuan is the most famous antiques market in Beijing. Covering an impressive area and housing over a thousand stalls, this is simply the best place to go to look for antiques in Beijing. On the downside, there are loads of fakes mixed in with some genuine gems. If you don’t know Chinese antiques or how to asses an item for its worth and age, then you are better off assuming everything is fake and bargaining on that assumption for a price you can live with for a replica piece. Art, furniture and books as well as trinket collectables are on sale here.
Liu Li Chang culture street houses an impressive array of antiques. Two government sponsored stores on the south side of this east-west alley sell impressive antiques with authentication materials to boot. The basement and attics, for serious shoppers only, house impressive items that you may need to be a mild expert to value or assess. There is, famously, a picture of Bill Clinton shopping in one of these stores. You’ll also find i instruments, calligraphy brushes, tea sets and the occasional cheap souvenir stalls on Liu Li Chang. This was once a thriving culture street until the remodeling of nearby Qianmen Market Street, which is where most tourists go these days.
Avoid places like the Pearl Market, Ya Show and most stalls on side streets around Wangfujing, where most are fakes unless in government sponsored stores. A few select antique malls on Wangfujing offer authentication and receipts, but don’t start browsing in the shops until you get verification that you can export the items you purchase legally.