Antiquing in Beijing

Clients can bring home a piece of their adventures

By: Mark Edward Harris

Ever since Marco Polo brought exotic Asian goods into Europe, there’s been an active and insatiable market for them in the West.
Of course, these days we can journey to the Middle Kingdom in hours and discover the treasures for ourselves. But where do we begin to get a handle on the furniture that could turn our homes into Elle Decor-worthy spaces? In Beijing, the Panjiayan Market in addition to having a huge flea market has grown to be one of the largest markets of furniture and decorative goods in Asia in the last 10 years.

From my base at the Kempinski Beijing Lufthansa Center in the business center of the city, I headed to Panjiayan. The concierge at the Kempinski gave me a card with the Panjiayan Market, the Ya Show Market (for cotton goods), the Pearl Market and the Silk Market written in English and Chinese to hand to the taxi driver. (The concierge has information on one-day shopping tours as well.)

Chinese Furniture
Chinese furniture ranges from the simple shapes of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to the ornate decorative styles of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).

My main source for Beijing shopping information comes from Guy Rubin and Nancy Kim, founders of Imperial Tours. Along with providing information for their Web site, they recommended two reference books: “Illustrated Chinese Furniture Through the Ages” by Ruan Chanjiang, and “Illustrated Chinese Furniture of the Ming Dynasty” by Jing Ronghua and Shuai Ciping.

Since a key element to the price and quality of furniture is the wood, knowing the basic characteristics of the most commonly used woods is highly beneficial and will enhance the shopping experience for clients.

Among the most popular types of furniture are the Fushouyi (armchair), Kaobeiyi (yolk-back chair), Quanyi (horseshoe chair), Tiao’an (entrance table), Huaan Shuan (writing table), Kangzhuo (bed table), Fangzhuo (square table), Huaji Xiangji (can be used as a plant or incense stand), cabinets such as Yuanjiaogui (a round-sided cabinet) and Fangjiaogui (a square-sided cabinet), Jiazi chuang (canopy bed) and of course the famous Luohanchuang (three-sided opium bed).

Prices vary greatly, but generally, a good-quality opium bed made from southern elm goes for under $2,000, a dining table and eight chairs made of northern elm for $2,500 and a southern elm armoire costs $1,200.

Clients should make sure to bring their negotiating skills along with their wallets. Also, make sure to discuss shipping costs.

Shipping from Beijing to the West Coast of the U.S. takes about three weeks. Travelers who have purchased antiques are legally obliged to have them valued by the U.S. Customs Office something which most international moving companies will handle. Antique furniture made from the more valuable zitan, huanghuali and jichimu woods, which are older than 300 years, are not permitted to be exported out of China.

Antiques Versus Reproductions
The buyer, theoretically, is protected as to the authenticity of an antique by Chinese law. If a Chinese dealer misrepresents an antique, the buyer is entitled to a penalty of at least double the value of the sale. But once your clients have left the country, there’s not much that can be done.

Beijing does not necessarily offer the most reasonable prices at the top end of this market. Clients should compare prices at Guang Han Tang and Hua Yi with dealers located in Hong Kong, New York, Paris and London.

Shoppers can also opt to buy reproduction furniture, which is much more affordable, looks great and if made from aged wood (lao mu in Mandarin), will likely become a family heirloom.

Back Home
As for getting furniture home, Imperial Tours suggests smaller items be sent by carriers like DHL or FedEx. For larger items, the tour operator relies on a shipping service.

Whether a piece of furniture is an antique or a reproduction, having a piece of furniture acquired on a trip a rug from the Bazaar in Istanbul, a bookcase made from ancient ox cart handles in Cochin, an obi from Kamakura used as a table runner, a chair from Beijing brings your clients’ adventures into their homes forever.


Imperial Tours
U.S. Office:
3172 Sacramento St.
San Francisco, CA 94115

China Office:
Wanguocheng 2-2004
Xiangheyuan Lu 1
Beijing, China 100028

Kempinski Beijing Lufthansa Center
50 Liangmaqiao Rd.
Chaoyang District
Beijing, China 100016
86-10-6465 3388