Tuesday, March 03, 2009


booksellers of panjayuan

one thing i always never fail to do when i go to beijing is to make sure i stay over the weekend and visit the famous panjayuan weekend market. there's nothing like it anywhere in the world. yes there are many famous weekend markets all over the world , like the chatuchak market in bangkok for example, where they sell everything except slaves. but panjayuan is more special. the place only sells handicrafts, curios , antiques -or at least copies of the real thing- paintings and books. you won't see clothing , pots and pans, vegetables or food here. it's heaven for antique hunters - or copies of the real thing. and the place is huge. you'll be spinning and drop to your knees before you can complete the round of the rows upon rows of stalls selling every imaginable chinese curios and fake antiques and jades and gem stones, or even simply plain pebbles and stones and tibetan handicrafts and copies of modern and classical chinese paintings, and ceramics and potteries. They even have a section at the back where they sell all kinds of sculptures and statues.

and the good thing is you can bargain like crazy. if they ask 1000 remimbi- or yuan as they commonly call it - for a dopey looking piece of pottery, go ahead, bargain for 100 yuan. some of them may feign anger or look insulted but it is usually just a show, if you are brazen enough and say oh, fuck it, i'm not going to pay a yuan more and walk away, they usually start pleading to raise a bit more and in the end you may end up paying say 200 yuan. i did this a few times myself but i make sure i have chinese friends around to back me up. if i go alone which i did many times, the bargaining part isn't so much fun because one look at you and seeing that you're a foreigner they immediately raise the price twice by default. if you're a fucking white man or japs they may raise it up to three or four times. and
whites and japs don't know how to bargain. these people always 'spoil the market' wherever they go.

to me, the best part is the uncovered area where sometimes you find old wiry looking women - i imagine villagers from outside beijing- try to hawk their fake antiques. i can spend hours looking at these and occasionally buy one or two celadons. but what i really like best is to go to the side of the huge covered area by the wall where the book sellers are. there are four long rows of these which put together may be come to 300m or so. and here you'll see the book lovers. my soul mates. you'll see middle age men looking for rare books and books on chinese antiques and paintings, for you see, the really great thing about panjayuan book stalls is that for for the most part these stalls sell only this kind of books. antique books and books on paintings. but there are a sizable number of students and beautiful chinese girls come looking around for cheap second hand books on all sort of topics.

and probably this is one of the few places you can bargain for books just like buying fake antiques. last august i bought a huge and completely new coffee table book Lucien Freud by William Faever (Rizzoli publication ny) for less than 200rmb (rm 100) whereas the list price is US135. and that's the thing about this place too. although the books are almost all chinese, if you're patient enough to search carefully , you'll find that there are quite a few books in English. in fact a few sellers specialize in english art books and auction catalogues . and if you like chinese paintings this place is heaven.

i don't like chinese (classical) style paintings very much but since the early nineties the chinese have quietly revolutionize the painting genre and some of their young (and now not so young painters) have produced some of the most distinctive paintings in the world. Yue minjun with the ridiculous pink silly laugh self potraits now sells for millions of USD and you can see very good copies of many of his paintings sold in panjayuan for around 300 yuan. so is zhang xiogang with his stylised paintings of family groups to look like old photographs. but i hate these chinese avant garde artists. their paintings are ugly. but chinese modern still life which owes very much to chardin and even earlier 17th century dutch still life masters are absolute delight. i've bought a few copies over the years and to my pleasant surprise i just discovered that the very first chinese painting i bought from beijing about ten years ago is in fact a copy of He da-Qiao's painting. i found this out when i bought a book of still life paintings an album of Oil Painting of He-Da Qiou ( for only 20 rmb) in panjayuan a couple of weeks ago. and there it is. the original painting of the copy that i bought is in the book. panjayuan can give you pleasant surprises .

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