Every day the sun rises over thousands of pilgrims rummaging in search of antiques and curios, though the biggest numbers of buyers and sellers are on weekends. With over 3,000 vendors crowding an area of 48,500 square meters, it's a sure bet that not every jade bracelet, oracle bone, porcelain vase, and ancient screen is authentic, but most people are here for the reproductions anyway. Behold the bounty: watercolors, scrolls, calligraphy, Buddhist statues, opera costumes, old Russian SLR cameras, curio cabinets, Tibetan jewelry, tiny satin lotus-flower shoes, rotary telephones, jade dragons, antique mirrors, and infinite displays of "Maomorabilia." If you're buying jade, first observe the Chinese customers, how they hold a flashlight to the milky-green stone to test its authenticity. As with all Chinese markets, bargain with a vengeance, as many vendors inflate their prices astronomically for waiguoren ("outside-country people").
A strip of enclosed stores forms a perimeter
around the surprisingly orderly rows of open-air stalls. Check out photographer Xuesong Kang and his Da Kang store (No. 63-B) for some fascinating black-and-white snaps of Beijing city life, dating from the start of the 20th century up to the present day. Also be sure to stop by the Bei Zhong Bao Pearl Shop (甲-007) for medium-quality freshwater pearls cultivated by the Hu family. Also here are a sculpture zoo, a book bazaar, reproduction-furniture shops, and an area stashing propaganda posters and Communist literature. Stalls start packing up around 4:30 pm, so make sure to get there on the early side.