Shopping in Beijing

Beijing, like every mega-city around the world, has shopping opportunities galore: from Asia's biggest shopping mall, to out-of-the-way craft stores and boutiques tucked away in historic hutongs; from crowded, touristy shopping streets, to hypermarkets and world-class department stores. If you can't find it in Beijing, you probably can't find it in China!

First-time visitors to Beijing will likely be drawn to its ''Four Famous Representative Arts'': cloisonn¨¦ (Jingtailan); ivory carving (Yadiao); jade carving (Yuqi); and carved lacquerware (Qidiao). These folk arts have been perfected from generation to generation, though with today's mass manufacturing techniques pieces made by skilled artisans are becoming more difficult to find. A less expensive souvenir and traditional gift for children are the lifelike flour or clay figurines (Mianren or Niren); also loved by the young and young-at-heart are Beijing's colorful, delicate paper kites, considered by some to be the best in the world. Other craftwork includes exquisite paper cuts - made to grace the windows and doors on festival days, but often framed and matted these days - and Chinese knots (Zhongguojie), which make beautiful decorations and jewelry.

All these beautiful folk arts can be found at stores, specialty shops, and wholesale markets such as the famous Silk Street Market, Yaxiu and Panjiayuan. Remember, however, that ivory carvings can be illegal to import into many countries; check the relevant laws before making an expensive purchase.

In clothing, there are plenty of bargains to be had at markets like Hongqiao, Silk Street and Yaxiu. You can pick up cheap versions of mass-produced name brands, and many of these are genuine - factory seconds or over-runs. However, there are some things you can be sure of. The first is that cheap luxury items are always fakes: if it seems to good to be true, rest assured, it is. The second is that almost all cheap name brand footwear (as distinct from shirts, skirts, trousers etc) in the markets is also fake, and poor quality at that. The third is that if you shop for genuine luxury items in Beijing, you'll find plenty of choice, but no bargains: nowhere in the world does brand power mesmerize consumers as it does in China. Luxury goods sell for prices at least as high, and often higher than in Western capitals, even items manufactured in China! This also applies to items like high-end sporting and outdoor goods. Most are manufactured in China and exported to the West to be sold at roaring markups. You can buy any number of cheap knock-offs in Beijing, but if you go out looking for the real thing through an authorized reseller, be prepared to pay at least as much as you would at home. Why? Ask an economist ... or a sociologist!