Ever since Marco Polo brought exotic Asian goods into Europe,
there’s been an active and insatiable market for them in the
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
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
Chinese furniture ranges from the simple shapes of the Ming Dynasty
(1368-1644) to the ornate decorative styles of the Qing Dynasty
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
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
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.
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
3172 Sacramento St.
San Francisco, CA 94115
Xiangheyuan Lu 1
Beijing, China 100028
Kempinski Beijing Lufthansa Center
50 Liangmaqiao Rd.
Beijing, China 100016