China has an emerging middle class which has opened up new opportunities in shopping. A wide range of goods are available for any budget. Most brand name shops and supermarkets have the Value-Added Tax (VAT) and ales tax included in the price. If you do not require a receipt, the item may be discounted as the shop will not claim these fees. For unmarked goods, there is wide room for bargaining.
In China, bargaining is common for items with both marked and unmarked prices. Look for "da zhe" which means to give a discount. In Chinese, it is common to mark discounted items as "discounted to 90 percent" rather than "10 percent off". It is often a good start to say
ke yi ti gong yi dian zhe kou ma?
"Could you offer me any discount?"
A 5 to 50 percent discount is common. In tourist spots, it's more likely to ask for 30-50 percent discount, but in a place almost catering for local people, asking for 50 percent discount will make fool of yourself. In a tourist place, don't take what merchant's say seriously. They may first react to your haggling with scorn, but if you have compared prices and feel confident, proceed.
On tours there will often be stops at shops or stands where prices are inflated. h guide is usually getting a kickback and there can be pressure to buy. Only buy if you are really interested and don't mind paying a higher price.
China has many handmade items. There is a long history of artisanship and goods are still relatively inexpensive. Many visitors look for antiques and scour the flea markets for originals. Beware that there are many excellent fakes, many more than originals. Do not invest in an expensive piece, even with government documentation unless you have expert advice. Silk clothing, carpets, jade, table settings, pearls, silver coins and specialty teas are also generally desirable.
The cloisonne, or Jingtailan, (literally "Blue of Jingtai") metalworking technique is a specialty of Beijing's cultural art. Beijing's lacquerware is also well known for its sophisticated and intrinsic patterns and images. The various decoration techniques of lacquer includes "carved lacquer" and "engraved gold".
Most visitors are familiar with Ming-style blue and white porcelain, but there is a variety of glazes. Specialist shops near hotels and the top floors of department stores are a good place to start, though not the cheapest. The "antique" markets are also a good place to find reproductions. Two of the most famous centers for porcelain are Jingdezhen and Quanzhou.
Not quite "specialities", but common in China are clothing items and brand-name goods. China is one of the world's leading manufacturers of clothing, shoes and accessories. Name-brand goods, whether Chinese or foreign, tend to be expensive when compared with the unbranded clothing sold in markets throughout the country. Chinese brands are often an excellent deal to the authentic counterparts. Make sure to try on clothing as an XL in the U.S. can be anywhere from an L to a XXXL in China. Most quality stores have a tailor on call who will adjust the length and hem of pants quickly for free.
Bogus goods can cause legal problems. Selling "pirate" DVDs or forged brand name goods is illegal in China, but enforcement is extremely lax. However, customs officials will seize pirate DVDs or bogus brand name goods if they find them. There may be hefty fines as well.
Most CDs (music or software) and DVDs in China are unauthorized copies. These usually sell for 6-10 RMB and come in cheap flat paper envelopes. Even items at higher prices with better packaging might be illegal copies. The best way to avoid bogus discs is to buy at one of the larger bookstores or department stores. Prices are from 15-40 RMB.
It is usually acceptable to ask the owner to test the DVD to make sure it works and has the correct language soundtrack. You should also retain a receipt to prove your good faith.
Coral, ivory, and parts from endangered animal species may be for sale but are not legal. The city of Pingyao and several markets on the outskirts of Beijing are notorious for selling rare animal skins, furs, claws, horns, skulls, bones, and other parts from endangered (even extinct) species. Anyone purchasing such items is encouraging the further destruction of endangered species.
Markets are a must-visit in Beijing.
The art scene in China is divided into three parts.
Traditional painting - academies which specialize in "classical" painting (bird and flower, landscapes with rocks and water, calligraphy).
Modern art scene - oil painting, photography and sculpture, bearing little relation to the former type.
Mass-production - China has become famous for producing hand painted reproductions of great works. The Shenzhen suburb of Dafen is particularly renowned for its reproductions.
Beijing's 798 Art District or Da Shan Zi - Located in the North-eastern corner of the city, the 798 zone is a former factory complex that is now packed with contemporary art galleries and boutiques. Massive sculptures and public art displays make for a beautiful area just to visit as well.
There are speciality grocery stores catering to expat communities. These are often no larger than a convenience store and stock imported snacks, alcohol, and groceries. Usually expensive, you may not be able to find these items anywhere else.
There are also Western-owned supermarket chains like Walmart, Metro, and Carrefour.