China - Beijing markets

The best way to see the real character of a city is to spend a day at the market place, and if it is a flea market, than you are sure to meet the more colorful characters around, be it in the public coming to look for something interesting or the sales people bringing in their old artifacts, sometimes personal, sometimes real antiques, always intriguing and interesting.

When it came to Beijing I had high expectations , as it sent me immediately on a mental journey into some fictional past , some legendary image of what china is supposed to have been, at least according to the filtered image I got back there in the west.

I can't really say that I was completely satisfied with this market, the biggest flea market in Beijing. It is a not a bad market, or even a boring market and we did spend half a day walking around,

rummaging through mountains of knick knacks, going over old handmade prints and tin plate toys from a different era, and we had a wonderful time.
But it was just another market, it wasn’t the mysterious stuffy dark bazzar I had in my mind with strange one eyed old man pointing on magical artifacts with extra long fingernails and a funny Chinese accent. Ok, maybe I do watch too many films…



There are a couple of artifacts that are unique to this market. My favorites were the porcelain little chairman Mau statues, sitting, standing, reading, looking into the future in optimism, on cups, on plates, on anything that you can think of. It was never clear where the true worship ends and where the camp  culture begins.

A second section that was interesting to go through was the art and prints part of the market, sporting replicas of ink brush zen images, old time commercials for Chinese products and what was supposed to be pin up posters of models and actresses,  recent well made fakes of modern Chinese art and weaved propaganda blankets and flags.

It was a mishmash of semi-art and second hand second rate prints of what is considered art in general and Chinese art in particular, and that was its beauty, it was alive, it wasn’t a cold gallery or museum and suddenly the discussion is less on if it is a fake or not, but if it is pretty or not, if it manages to bring the message of another place, another time.


The third part that I enjoyed immensely in this old second hand flea market are the toys, toys from a different time, from a different mindset, before the words 'made in china' was etched forever on every plastic toy, before the west started seeping in and taking over the grey strict communist upbringing. It was refreshing to see toys in their basic form, in their basic function, toys that were made to last, out of tin, out of wood, toys with a soul, with a story, that have survived these hard decades and made it to this central meeting point of those charming artifacts of the past.

Being the capital of a massive non-empire that spreads from horizon to horizon and encompasses  dozens of aboriginal ethnic groups with different aesthetics, different design themes, different way of life, Beijing attracts artifacts from all around china, and you can see some samples of traditional jewelry, clothes and household items , some with dubious origins, some fabricated especially for the tourists, but if you avoid the obvious turquoise merchandise you might  find things which are quite unique and even enchanting in their clear story and history.

One thing that surprised me was the relaxed atmosphere throughout the market, in an otherwise hustling and bustling mega city. People were stopping, looking around, talking, as if this search of past , these small artifacts that contain so much, that have a much higher sentimental value than any monetary one, is an important task, a field of research, and most of the people you see there are locals, young and old, workers and urban professionals, looking into their own past with astonishment.

All in all it was not the magical mist filled oriental market that I hoped for, and in the end we left empty handed, but it was indeed an interesting  experience and a very enlightening look into Chinese culture in the last generations, of the things that made the reality, of the things that were formed into something else in order to fit that reality. It is the story of china in objects.
When you add to that story the faces of the people in the crowd, and the excellent noodle soup we had when we needed a break from the heaps of strange objects and were too cold walking around this outdoor market, and you got a lovely day out . recommended.



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