Top 8 Souvenirs To Buy In China

With a rich history dating back thousands of years BCE, a trip to China offers the chance to see an incredibly diverse, complex, and unique culture. The souvenirs on this list aim at capturing that diversity of cultural inheritance, modern drive, and global influence, all of which should bring back memories of your trip to China and the role this one-of-a-kind place has and continues to play in both our world and human culture as a whole.

 

1. Jade

Photo by InSapphoWeTrust on Foter.com

Photo by InSapphoWeTrust on Foter.com

 

Jade has long been highly important to Chinese culture; archeologists have found jade objects in China dating all the way back to 5000 BCE. To this day, many Chinese believe that jade objects have the power to protect one from harm, along with being an embodiment of the elegant virtues and elements that Chinese hold most dear.

 

The most popular and traditional type of jade in China is green soft jade, although nowadays there is a multitude of colors and hard jade that has also been introduced (and is now considered more valuable).

 

If you want a genuine and valuable jade item, make sure that you buy at a credible store or dealership. In tourist areas such as Shanghai and Beijing (especially the latter, being a hub of traditional culture), there are many jade stores that will provide you with a free in-depth tour, going over the history and significance of jade in China. They will also show you some of the carving processes. After the tour, you get the chance to shop through a large variety of jade items yourself. Though clearly a marketing ploy, the tours tend to be interesting and well-done, and these places should be reputable if you want to purchase. Be warned, however, that jade can be quite expensive.

 

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2. Silk

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Photo on Foter.com

 

As the birthplace of silk and the hub of the ancient Silk Road, Chinese silk has been renowned at home and abroad for thousands of years. Legend has it the secret to making silk was found when a silkworm cocoon fell into an ancient Empress’s tea and unraveled. The Empress found the material making up the cocoon to be a single long, soft, but durable thread.

 

The clothes, blankets, and other items woven from this material quickly became extremely valued for their comfort, beauty, and ensuring value as a status symbol. It also became an important item in China’s early export market, helping to grow their economy as rulers from other countries also lusted after this exotic and extravagant item. The secret to making the material was kept top-secret in China until a couple of enterprising monks are said to have smuggled out some silkworm eggs concealed inside their bamboo walking sticks.

 

Today, silk can still be very expensive, especially in larger sets such as bedding, but there are smaller items like pillowcases and pajamas available for a more frugal, convenient (and practical) keepsake.

 

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3. Tea

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Photo on Foter.com

 

Tea has also been an essential part of Chinese daily life and culture since ancient times. According to legend, tea was first discovered by an individual named Shennong in 2737 BC, though recent evidence suggests that it actually originated in Southwestern China, and the earliest solid evidence that has been found dates back to the 2nd century BC. Whatever the true history, it’s clear that tea has been consumed in China for a very long time, and has been a major part of its cultural development. Traditionally, it’s been seen as an essential aspect of a cultivated life, closely tied to literature, arts, and scholarship.

 

There are plenty of high-end tea shops that, like the jade factories, will offer you a tour, history, and drinking experience. The tea sold here is more expensive than if you were to buy at a local store, but still reasonable by western standards, especially considering the often pleasant tour and ceremony experience. However, if you’re feeling stingy you can learn about the tea for free at one of these places and then look to buy at cheaper souvenir stores or supermarkets/local shops.

 

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4. Chopsticks

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Photo by TheBusyBrain on Foter.com

 

Invented over 2000 (some say 9000) years ago by the ancient Han Chinese, chopsticks have long been the primary culinary instrument used over virtually all of East Asia. Thanks in part to Chinese take-out places and buffets in the West, chopsticks have become perhaps the most iconic symbol of Chinese culture. So why not take some home? It’s an easy, convenient, and inexpensive souvenir. There are endless varieties- China sells every kind of chopstick you can imagine, from the regal, ancient variety to Star Wars themed “lightsabers.”

 

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5. Mask (pollution)

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Photo by Friends of the Earth Scotland on Foter.com

 

Though China does have an elaborate history of ceremonial masks, there is one mask that you will see ubiquitously in modern China, especially in big cities- the disposable pollution mask. While most souvenirs on this list are focused on China’s incredible historical culture, it’s important to acknowledge their current position as a global economic giant, and all the complexity of that position and their ascension to it. Plus, the mask is easy and cheap to transport!

 

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6. Mao Memorabilia

Photo by InSapphoWeTrust on Foter.com

Photo by InSapphoWeTrust on Foter.com

 

If you’re interested in this more recent, but no less important, era of Chinese history, Mao memorabilia is easy to find, especially in Beijing, which still proudly displays many monuments from that era. However, all across China, you will see endless street vendors and souvenir shops selling green military hats emblazoned with the communist star, little pins featuring the USSR’s hammer and sickle, and Mao figurines of varying sizes and detail, intended for home shrines. In Beijing, you can pick up Mao’s infamous “little red book,” a compact, a conveniently pocket-sized directory of his major teachings and philosophy.

 

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7. Tea Set and Other Ceramics

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Photo by Fæ on Foter.com

 

Though you may have to look into options for carefully shipping these items home to avoid them shattering in your luggage, China is the home of the beautiful, iconic Chinese ceramic art. The tea drinking experience is taken to a whole new level with these items (and drinking strong rice wine is even better).

 

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8. Chinese Art/Calligraphy

By janeb13, via pixabay.com

By janeb13, via pixabay.com

 

Widely available and not expensive, you can find Chinese themed paintings and artworks in any tourist place. Don’t expect it to be original or totally authentic- if you’d like that, visit a reputable, higher end store/dealership. But you can find plenty of nice little nature scenes, animals, and calligraphy done in classic Chinese style, and also some more modern statements if you happen to be in a hipper neighborhood of Beijing, Shanghai, or Hangzhou (or any city with a strong university scene).

 

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