Shanghai's Street Markets

Most modern city in China, Shanghai is moving up the food chain, with flash buildings, a stunning skyline and nightlife second to none. But turn the corner, and you can still find pockets that seem cut from distant centuries. And street markets where a bargains abound and a buck goes a long way. 

By Ron Gluckman/Shanghai


Dongtai Lu Antique Market

When and Where: Daily, daylight until dusk, on and around Dongtai Road, just south of Hua Hai Zhonglu, near Hua Hai Park.

Most of Shanghai's old markets are gone, or converted to modern wares: clothing, watches, handbags and gadgets. But this long-running street bazaar specializing in psuedo-antiques (mostly fake), crafts and traditional trinkets still abounds with atmosphere: men arguing over games of cards, women gossiping amidst the constant clatter of mahjong tiles, down dusty lanes strewn with cages of singing birds and laundry drying on bamboo poles.

Best Time: Late afternoon, when tired vendors may drop prices. Crowds can be heavier, but more vendors tend to be out on weekends.

Best Dealers: Few vendors speak much English (bargaining is mostly by pointing and calculator) but among those with welcome language skills and good stock are: Da Feng Tang Antiquary (44 Dongtai Road), chock-a-block with old Chinese dishes and vases (500-50,000 RMB), wooden jewelry boxes (200-1,500); Yu Fi Fang Art (62 Dontai Road), a great place to browse or buy historical photos of Shanghai (framed, 40-80 RMB); Chu Ming Meng (39 Liu He Kou, off Dongtai), marvelous woven fabric from southern China's tribal regions, and a huge variety of tiny shoes once worn by women with bound feet (100 RMB to 4,000 RMB for rare pairs up to 200 years old).

Who Goes: Chinese stars like Zhang Yimou ("Raise the Red Lantern") and actors Liu Xiao Lingtong and Zhang Tie Lin.

How to Pay: Cash is preferred, but some vendors will take credit cards, and virtually all accept US dollars.

How to Bargain: Cut the price in half, then half again. Expect to bargain ruthlessly; haggling can take hours. Antique buyers should be extremely cautious; copies are far more plentiful than authentic items across China.

Don't Miss: Cai Min Jia (9 Liu He Kou Road), a stall filled with clocks and watches, including old pendulum clocks from Japan and Europe. In front is another stand (no number) with a huge collection of Mao and Cultural revolution mementos. Many stalls offer Red Army badges (5-50 RMB) and well-worn copies of Chairman Mao's "Little Red Book" (10-50 RMB) once carried by every cadre in China.

Refueling: Hail a taxi (10 RMB) or walk a few blocks west to Xin Tian Di (pronounced Shin Tee-en Dee) where a neighborhood of old houses has been turned into Shanghai's hottest restaurant district. Pizza and pasta is served at Va Bene and Luna, western-style sandwiches, burgers and cheesecake at KABB, and a wide variety of Asian cuisine in the huge food court inside the new building with the cinema.

Getting it Back Home: Only a few vendors, mainly those selling alleged antiques, will help with shipping.


Yu Yuan Gardens:

When and Where: Daily, 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., in the center of the historic old city, also along Fang Bang Zhong Lu, (or Old Street of Shanghai), and Fuyou Lu, where the long-running Fuyou Antiques Market is now an indoor flea market on four floors and well worth a look.

Best Time: Mornings (10 a.m. to noon), and weekends, especially for the Antiques Market.

Best Dealer: Wife Ding Handspun Cloth Store (438 Old Street), clothing in the old (batik-looking) blue-and-white style of Shanghai, and a loom inside for weaving demonstrations of this traditional cloth, turned by Mrs. Ding into items like bedspreads and blouses.

Who Goes: Portugese President Jorge Sampaio, and first wives like Mrs. Boris Yeltsin and Mrs. Martti Ahtisaari, married to the former Finland president.

How to Pay: Cash, especially in Fuyou Antiques Market and around the stalls of Yu Yuan Gardens, but many vendors on Old Street accept major credit cards.

How to Bargain: Don't show any interest unless you are inclined to buy, then bargain hard. Because of the popularity with tourists, prices tend to be inflated especially along Old Street; knowing a little Chinese, such as the numbers, can be a big help.

Don't Miss: The old Antiques Market, with loads of junk, but some gems - and great bargains - like on old Chinese posters and calendars (opening price, 180 RMB, sold for 10 RMB); Lo Liu (A17) on the second floor sells wood frames, door fittings and handles - everything needed to refurbish a historical Shanghai house, right down to the ancient, hand-pounded nails Liu weighs on an equally old scale.

Refueling: The traditional teahouse at Yu Yuan Gardens serves tiny cups of fragrant tea; the rickety wooden stool are perfect perches for views of this 16th century park. For food, Old Town Snack Optional Palace, opposite the teahouse, is a sprawling Chinese cafeteria with over a hundred inexpensive dishes - dumplings and noodles for 5-10 RMB, crab and snails for 15-25. A lively place where you grab a tray, point and eat. Nearby is a Starbucks for coffee and deserts.

Getting it Back Home: Only a few of the antique dealers at Fuyou Market offer help with shipping, but many vendors on Old Street do.


Ron Gluckman is an American reporter based in China, who has been roaming around Asia for over a decade for numerous publications, including Four Seasons Magazine, which ran this piece as part of a roundup of the best markets in the region in 2003. 

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