Reasons to Go
5 Must-Have Souvenirs to Shop for in China
To visit China is to experience a land where history stretches back thousands of years, where modern metropolises teem with people and scenic landscapes seem untouched by time. It’s an immensely rich and rewarding place to visit — but it does make souvenir buying a little more complicated than normal. You can’t bring back the Great Wall or a Terra Cotta Warrior, but it’s possible to take home a few essential mementos that capture the essence of this extraordinary destination. A&K Resident Tour Director Nancy Huo suggests five indispensable items to tuck in your carry-on — along with treasured memories, of course.
In ancient China, only royal families had the richly decorated, intricately designed jewelry and vases of cloisonné, the decorative metalwork technique combining enamel, gems and gold or silver wire into richly detailed objects of beauty. While the centuries have seen technology increasingly employed to shorten the time-consuming process, “the best cloisonné is still made by hand, not by machine,” says A&K Resident Tour Director Nancy Huo, who calls the craft a dying art. She recommends the Cloisonné Factory in suburban Beijing, where guests should look for a master piece. That’s not a typo; Nancy explains, “A ‘master piece’ means one master made the object from start to finish.”
Whether freshwater or cultured, the iridescent glow of the world’s oldest gem has been coveted for 4,000 years. “The Pearl Market in Beijing has different types of pearls, many not well known,” says Nancy. “There are beautiful freshwater cultured pearls from China, but also akoya, Tahitian and South Sea pearls.” She adds that looking at the many different unset specimens is fascinating unto itself, but the Pearl Market has a vast number of pins, necklaces and small objects made with the gems — treasures sufficient to draw more than a million visitors to the market every year.
Many people are surprised to know jade comes in colors other than the traditional green. Jadeite, the more valuable type of jade because of its texture and transparency, is also found in lavender, white, yellow and pink. It is a spiritual stone that the Chinese people believe comes with various powers, able to bestow anything from improved health to financial success. Nancy recommends purchasing the gem in Xian, called the hometown of jade due to its large number of mines.
Silk has been one of the most sought-after commodities throughout history, and there is still no better place to find it than in China, the birthplace of silk production. The highest quality of silk available is mulberry silk, so named because it’s produced from silkworms who feed on mulberry leaves grown solely for the purpose of creating the sumptuous fabric. “The Shanghai Factory in Shanghai is an excellent place to explore,” says Nancy. “You can learn about silk production before proceeding into the shop.” Visitors will find a wide array of items including slippers, silk pajamas, jewelry box linings, clothing and bedding.
It is said that Hangzhou is to tea as Reims is to French Champagne, with a history of tea production stretching back more than a thousand years and many tea plantations producing a superb product today. The city is known for originating Longiing, a renowned variety of green tea also known as Dragon Well, and the various types of Longiing are so fresh and light they have traditionally been reserved for government officials and the wealthy elite. “There is nowhere else to purchase tea as close to the source,” says Nancy, adding that the city’s bucolic tea plantations produce Wulong and Puer tea, among others.