Every weekend, in southeast Beijing, thousands and thousands of vendors crowd into a plot of land a little over 522,000 square feet. Each has a small patch of ground on which to hawk his or her wares — from Buddhist statues and colorfully detailed porcelains to Cultural Revolution memorabilia and robot toys — all packed like sardines in an itty-bitty space. It’s a delightful sensory overload, wonderfully dizzying and captivating for tourists and collectors alike. Welcome to Panjiayuan Market.
The current iteration of this open-air fair launched in the mid-Nineties, but an earlier run at another location in Chaoyang goes back to the Eighties, when it operated as a non-sanctioned black market of sorts. Today Panjiayuan is a Beijing institution, a popular stopping point for visiting dignitaries such as Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and Costas Simitis, the former Prime Minister of Greece. It’s organized into sections to help with the navigation: stone sculptures and statues to the west, furnishings in the two-story building next door, books and scrolls towards the south, traditional arts and artifacts to the east. The core zone is in the middle, broken into areas for Chinese paintings, ceramics, jade, bronze vessels and Tibetan craftworks, among other curios and second-hand finds. The sundry range you can find here is astonishing, from trinkets to antique treasures, centuries-old past to present…. Consider a day at Panjiayuan a quick-hit master class in China’s rich history and culture.