China is a country with a rich history and culture dating back over 5,000 years. From the Terracotta Army in Xi’an to the bustling hutongs of Beijing, “the Middle Kingdom” is one of the most exciting places to discover. In this guide, six-year resident of China Steve Rohan describes some of the best China souvenirs to bring back home.
From Chinese tea to silk scarves and Mao propaganda art, no trip to China is complete without picking up a few souvenirs. Unlike in the west, many of these can be had for nothing more than a couple of dollars (although this doesn’t apply to the jade of course)!
Things to buy in China
When most people think of China, tea is one of the first things to come to mind. That and pandas of course! There are six main varieties of tea grown in China; green, white, yellow, red, oolong and dark.
One of the most famous teas in China is the Longjing Dragon Well Tea that is grown on the hillsides around West Lake in Zhejiang Province. Tea has been grown here since the times of the emperors and it is exported across China and the rest of the world.
You can find dedicated tea shops in all towns and cities across China where you can buy loose tea sold by the gram, or packaged gift sets. However, one of the best places to buy Chinese tea is in any supermarket as you will not be paying tourist prices.
You have bought some fragrant Chinese tea to bring home, but what do you drink it in? One of the best souvenirs from China is a tea set. Again, these can be picked up in most supermarkets and department stores where you will pay a fraction of the price compared to gift shops.
The Gongfu tea ceremony is an ancient Chinese tradition going back centuries and what better way of remembering your trip to China than continuing this noble tradition back home? Sets should include a vase, scoop, tea spoon, funnel, tweezers and pin. Gongfu means to “make with skill”, and with a speciality tea set you can soon perfect this ancient skill yourself.
A note of caution, these sets can be extremely fragile so ensure you package them well before bringing home.
China was the first nation to export silk around the world and is known for its famed Silk Road across Central Asia to the markets of Europe. Silk is still a lot cheaper to buy in China than in the west and makes the perfect souvenir as its light and easily packed away in a suitcase or backpack.
You can expect to pay as little as ¥10 ($1.50) for a silk scarf, even in tourist hotspots. Scarves come in a number of different designs from the simplistic to the ornate. Scarves depicting flowers such as China’s peony, birds and even Chinese style watercolours are all great gifts to bring home.
The Chinese are famed for their beautiful calligraphy skills, and it is easy to find calligraphy sets which make the perfect China souvenirs. Most standard packs include a variety of brushes, ink and a notepad with various Chinese characters and tracing paper so you can follow the designs.
The best place to find Chinese calligraphy sets is any art supply store, and most supermarkets or department stores also stock them.
Chinese Paper Fans
Another great Chinese souvenir is the Chinese fan, or Shan. These beautifully crafted concertina fans come in a range of designs similar to the silk scarves mentioned above.
Fans make a great gift as they are inexpensive, light and easy to pack away. You can find these fans for sale in all tourist areas, gift shops and “old towns” across China.
In most tourist areas in China, you can find people making ornate wooden engravings using a hot iron or torch. You can choose from different designs including Chinese warriors, eagles, nature scenes and more.
The great thing about these engravings is that you can buy pre-made ones and have them personalised, or even have one made to order while you wait/watch. The skill involved is something to be marvelled at and these inexpensive gifts are an excellent choice when it comes to souvenirs in China.
Jade is a precious stone that is revered in China and has been an important part of Chinese jewellery for thousands of years. The emperors considered it a heavenly gem and it has been mined in the Kulun mountains of western China since at least 6,000BC!
It’s easy to find shops selling nothing but this precious stone across China and you can buy anything from jade earrings, necklaces and rings to polished stones and larger sculptures. But beware, this isn’t one of the cheapest China souvenirs and prices can go into the thousands (so be careful not to damage anything when visiting jade shops).
Mao / Communist Propaganda Pictures
For those with an interest in the history of the twentieth century, one of the many Mao related gifts will make a great souvenir and an interesting talking point at dinner parties. You can find commemorative plates, stamps and propaganda posters in most of the tourist hotspots.
Although China is not on the same level as North Korea, it pays to be sensitive around these images so be respectful, especially when it comes to the customs officers.
Other Chinese Souvenirs
In addition to the above Chinese souvenirs, each attraction or city in China will have its own relevant souvenirs to buy. For example, you can buy miniature Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an, lots of Panda toys in Chengdu, Buddhist gifts in Luoyang and so forth. As always, you will pay a higher price at the tourist spot and many of the gifts are available for a lower price in the “old town” areas.
We hope this article has given you inspiration not only on what to look for when choosing China souvenirs, but also some of the wonderful places in China to explore. With such a long and varied history, the Middle Kingdom should be high on everyone’s bucket list!
Photos provided by Steve Rohan
Guest post author: Steve Rohan / thetripgoeson.com