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Cool Gifts with an Exotic Flavor: Ya Xuan Folk Handicrafts

Sep 4, 2008
The Forbidden City is surrounded with shops selling Chinese handicrafts. Not all shops were created equal though, so travelers have to many to find those which truly offer articles of great value.

That's of course an easier task for those of us who live in Beijing, since we see many such little shops and can identify more quickly if what they carry is worth a look, or simply junk not worth using for gifts.

Nan Chi Zi street harbors a number of such shops, and I found one there which I think should be told about. Like many others, it offers handmade objects from the Chinese minorities, but also some "purely Beijing" items which are worth a second look.

The shop is a happy capharnam, by which I mean an organized disorder of hundred of small items which could each be offered as surprising, unusual gifts of ethnic flavor.

Such is the case of their happiness dolls, small wood sculptures originating from the region of Hebei, north of Beijing; or of the Yunnan figurines, handcrafted by the local minorities. Hanging from the ceiling, you cannot miss the Shandong lanterns and lucky pendants.

You can't miss the small wooden figurines called 'happiness dolls' either: if some friends of yours are about to tie the knot, buy a couple of 'Huan Xi Wa Wa' - their name in Chinese. These dolls symbolize the longevity of the life-long bond which is to unite newlyweds. They are small enough to be carried back home without any problem, and they will make absolutely unique wedding gifts.

Chinese families often give each other such small but meaningful gifts, to wish wealth, prosperity, good health, and good fortunes to their families and friends.

The typically Chinese cotton knots and pendants are braided in shapes of fish, zodiac animals, Peking opera faces, and 'auspicious' Chinese characters. In a Western interior, they would make intriguing and exotic ornamental accents.

If you check this shop out, don't overlook the painted clay figurines reproducing gates of old Beijing residences. Made according to ancient clay-modeling techniques, these genuine works of art bear a rather exquisite level of details.

The clay figurines reproduce with great accuracy the time-worn doorsteps of these courtyards. The artist even added a super realistic touch: the weeds which adorn the walls and tiles of many a courtyard home.

Truly good examples of naive art which would make a cool gift for collectors and children alike.
About the Author
Phil 'Biker' Chavanne roams China to bring you unique gifts from Beijing and other places. Check the wealth of information provided on his Beijing shopping website and get fresh gift ideas for your significant ones.
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