7 Specialty Souvenirs to Buy in Tianjin

Souvenir dolls I
Souvenir dolls I | © Kitty Khat/Flickr
Jon Santangelo

It’s hard to leave Tianjin without picking up a few unique cultural souvenirs to take home. Whatever you want to bring back, it’s sure to make a fun conversation piece or a keepsake of your majestic experience in China. Here are seven specialty souvenirs to find and buy in town – and won’t take up too much of your suitcase space, either.

Local specialties

Yangliu Qingnian (New Year) paintings

Dating 600 years-plus with influences from the Ming, Song and Yuan Dynasties, Yangliu New Year paintings are named after its place of origin – Yangliuqing, a tiny town in Tianjin. So why are these representations of chubby children holding lotuses (or goldfish) in their arms? Both are homophones to other Chinese words. Lotus in Mandarin sounds like ‘lian’, with ‘lianian’ meaning successive years; whereas fish is ‘yu’, which also means surplus. Combining these two terms makes ‘lianianyouyu’, translating into ‘enjoying prosperity year upon year’. Pick up this painting for next Chinese New Year!

Weiji kites

Unbeknown to some, the kite was invented in China over 2,300 years ago. Kite-making has since been a prominent art form in China. During Tianjin’s golden age, local Wei Yuan Tiai honed and perfected the craft for 70 years. He created some 200 kites, owned the reputation as Tianjin’s top craftsman, along with gaining a world championship for his kites in San Fransisco in 1915. Chances are the kites you will see in Tianjin are continuations of Wei Yuan Tai’s, as he inspired generations to come to continue the craft.

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1. Niren Zhang painted figurines

Building

Niren Zhang painted figurines

Originally sculpted in Tianjin, these plump, playful childlike figurines were created by Zhang Mingshen in the 1800s. These figurines and sets are world-renowned for portraying liveliness alongside realism and were also inspired by classic Chinese novels such as Dream of the Red Chamber and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Flawlessly detailed, Niren Zhang painted figurines give you a unique view of life in Ancient China, and are one of the ultimate gifts for enthusiasts.

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Make sure to visit Niren Zhang’s workshop on Ancient Culture Street in building number 17.

No.17 Ancient Culture Street, Tianjin, China, +86 22 2735 9995

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National favorites

Silk

Why not deck out your sleepwear in silk? Though goods range from bedsheets to robes and are as shiny as they are soft, authentic silk can get expensive, depending on quantity. You’ll find a variety of souvenirs made of silk, so it’s best to have an experienced local shopper along with you when buying, as high price margins can rip off the unsuspecting tourist. Nevertheless, the prices here are still unbeatable compared to what you’ll find at home.

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Tea

Tea’s versatility makes it an opportune gift for almost any occasion. Whether for colleagues or your folks, China’s selection of specialty teas befit parties, afternoon lounges, or simple personal use. Teas range from Green, Oblong, Black, and more, and are usually sold by the gram. You don’t necessarily have to purchase teas in souvenir or specialty shops either; a local supermarket or grocery shop should have all the variety you need. Consider buying a tea set to create the Chinese tea experience at home, too.
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Jewelry

From gemstones to jade, inspiration comes from the far corners of China when it comes to jewelry. As the most easy to find, Tibetan-style jewelry is distinguished by a combination of silver, along with orange and blue gemstones in the form of bracelets or necklaces. Be on the lookout for cheap, fake jewelry and be mindful of the type of store or area when you are in when browsing.

Chinese calligraphy

Chinese calligraphy is recognized around the world, and you too can learn and make your own. You can even pay an artist to paint your Chinese name on a scroll, but try to prepare your name beforehand. Different types of calligraphy include formal, seal, running, legal, and even a Chinese version of cursive. Buy a paintbrush and an authentic scroll to take home to start this ancient pastime.

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