Taking a Walk Through History at Beijing's Panjiayuan Antique Market

| © Peter Zhao / Culture Trip
Taylor J. Castelo Brancochang

The grandiose, open-air Panjiayuan Antique Market houses some of the most unique treasures in all of China. Illustrator Peter Zhao delves into the depths of the mother of all Beijing markets.

You can easily spend an entire day perusing the thousands of stalls packed along the walkways that snake through Panjiayuan Antique Market. Spanning 48,500 square metres (520,000 square feet), the market has more than 3,000 antique dealers selling everything from Ming-era lion sculptures and stone Buddhas to jade, jewels, carved wooden furniture and Mao-era memorabilia.

Panjiayuan Antique Market first opened its gates in the 1980s, starting as a humble roadside hutong market selling small handicrafts and artwork. Back in the day, trading art and other such items was forbidden in China, so the market operated in secret, earning it the nickname Panjiayuan Ghost Market. But as time passed and the demand for antiques and crafts grew, so did the market. The market is open all week, but the street stalls are only open on the weekends and the best time to go is early on Saturday or Sunday.

Peter Zhao explores the endless treasures of Panjiayuan Antique Market in a series of original illustrations.

In the 1980s, vendors from all over China originally began coming to this ‘ghost market’ to sell their provincial treasures. These included opium scales, painted porcelain vases, ceramics, jewellery, calligraphy brushes, books and statues.

In the early 1990s, China legalised the trading of art, and Panjiayuan Antique Market was officially born. Walking through the market sometimes feels like a bit of a time warp. At every turn, you find yourself completely surrounded by crafts and antiques from various eras and dynasties.

There are trinkets laid out on tables, hanging on walls, spread out on the ground, perched up on shelves and even dangling from the ceiling.

You never know what you might stumble upon when you round the next corner. Maybe it’ll be gigantic Buddha statues, trays of ancient Chinese coins or a table covered with Cultural Revolution-era posters.

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