Beijing bric à brac
When grandpa Zhang in Beijng cleans out his attic, he’s likely to find different stuff than grandpa Smith in Smalltown, USA.
No tacky 1950’s coffee pots, no freaky 1960’s hippy outfit, no funky 1970’s rugs.
Instead, your average Chinese might find propaganda pamphlets from the Cultural Revolution, some creaky old chairs that could have belonged to an imperial concubine or blue-and-white pottgery that may just be from the Ming dynasty.
You can find all of these things at Beijing’s Panjiayuan fleamarket. It’s open every weekend and it’s Beijing’s best place to look for antiques and handicrafts.
Some 3000 sellers offer anything from embroydered silk to stone buddhas and from ancient chinese porcellain to Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book.
Panjiayuan fleamarket is a treasure trove for collectors of Asian antiques and for souvenir hunters.
But what always amazes me is how different the buying and browsing behavior of the Chinese is from that of the Westerners.
You’ll often see old Chinese men huddled over pottery sherds that look like they were just picked from a trash heap.
Yet these Chinese connoisseurs closely examine the sherds with magnifying glasses, they hold them against the light, weigh them, discuss their artistic value. I guess they’re hoping to find real Ming or Qing Dynasty treasures.
Westerners, on the other hand, are mostly fascinated by the colorful handicrafts from remote Chinese provinces, by Ming-style paintings and revolutionary kitsch from the Mao era.
But beware: at Panjiayuan not everything that looks antique is really old.
Something tells me that many of the things on offer were definitely made after the revolution.
But who cares – Panjiayuan is a great place to browse, to bargain and to buy.