Market and small shops sell interesting souvenirs in travel centers throughout China. Traditionally styled items can be found just about everywhere, while many other crafts are regional. You can find beautifully intricate embroidery in the southwest, prayer wheels and flags in Tibet, carpets in Xinjiang, and ginseng in the northeast. When shopping in markets it is essential to bargain. Friendship stores and gift shops at factories usually have fixed.
A skill as revered as painting, calligraphy is an ancient Chinese art that is a fluid form of self expression. Master calligraphers practice their art assiduously, and one of their works could be very expensive. Less costly examples of calligraphy are widely available.
Scrolls painted with elegantly striking script make excellent souvenirs. Skilled calligraphers will paint chosen sayings in different styles or you can purchase pre-painted works.
Marble chops are traditionally used to imprint a calligrapher’s seal on to a work. At many craft markets vendors create personalized chops by carving a character version of a person’s name on the base.
Writing brushes should have a defined tip and firm fur bristles. Ink sticks made of soot are ground
down and mixed with water on an ink stone. Painted on paper or silk with simple brushstrokes, painting is one of the most important traditional arts. Many paintings now have contemporary touches
Chinese ceramics are known the world over. They have been mass produced for hundreds of years, with fired pots being passed through a line of artisans, each adding a layer to the glaze. Porcelain, a fine, translucent ceramic, was invented during the Sui dynasty, and high quality pieces are still produced.
Jingdezhen in Jiangxi has been one of the main producers of porcelain since the 10th century. It still produces fine pieces, although some of the cheaper wares may be decorated by stencil.
Yixingware, or purple sand pottery from Ding Shan in Anhui, is usually a dark reddish brown, but can also be green, buff, or gray.
Woven from the strands that make up a silk worm’s cocoon, silk is also a Chinese invention. Clothes made of silk, such as ladies’ cheongsams, are widely available, but be aware that silk sold in markets is likely to be rayon. Beautiful embroidery on silk is also available.
Other traditional handicrafts
Occasionally created by skilled craftsmen but often mass produced, Chinese handicrafts are almost always highly intricate and of vibrant color.
Jade, a semi-precious stone, is associated with immortality. These pendants are green, but the lustrous gem can also be gray or brown.
The best paper cuts are made in a few minutes by a master craftsman with a pair of scissors. Most paper cuts are mass produced, with many simultaneously cut to a pattern.
Glass snuff bottles were popularized during the Qing dynasty, when snuff usage was common. Using a hooked brush, artisans paint miniature scenes inside.
Cloisonne vases, boxes, and jars have been copper-enamelled: copper is faced with pieces of colored enamel and fired, creating a shiny finish.
Baoding balls are weighted and sometimes contain a chime. The two balls are maneuvered in one hand, strengthening grip and massaging the channels through which qi runs.
Tea, often sold in colorful tin caddies, is available everywhere. Tie guanyin and other oolong teas of Fujian are very fine. Pu’er is a specialty of the southwest.