Tag Archives: Antiques

Obscure Tea in Tianning

I once used to search out antique markets in Changzhou. I did this because these shops are often places of forgotten history. Often, there are stories behind what some consider to be old junk, and I used to regard these things as puzzles to be solved. I would often buy an old poster, take it home, try to figure it out, get thoroughly confused, and then send a picture of it to a Chinese friend and ask what it was.

I actually no longer do this and prefer to find other ways to waste my money (beer). However, when I did, I ended up finding nearly every antique market in Changzhou. Like I do with everything else, it was a case of trying to find the right Chinese keywords and inserting them into Baidu Maps. In this case, it was 古玩 Gǔwàn. It didn’t always work. We are, after all, talking about Baidu Maps, which has had a penchant for red herrings and sending me into weird places.

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One of those locations involved tea. This would be in Tianning and down the Lanling Road from the Jiuzhou New World Plaza. It’s an obscure alleyway next to the Changzhou Revolutionary Martyr’s Cemetery.  Did I find the aforementioned educational junk here?

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No, it’s just a concrete set of alleys with places that deal in what looks to be gourmet tea.

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Did I buy anything? No. I normally rely on coffee or energy drinks for caffeine. I am an American, after all.  Also, the culture of tea in China is rich and complex, and even if I entered any of these shops with a Chinese pal to translate, I seriously wouldn’t know what I was buying or how to appreciate it. Then again, I never really knew what I was buying in my average Chinese junk shops. It’s just a matter of perspectives, I guess. So, forgive this outrageously bad pun, because I can’t resist: This area is not my cup of tea. For others, however, it might be.

A Hall of Changzhou Antiques

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When something is thrown out, recycled, or demolished, it is lost to history. This is why collectors are important people; a type cultural memory survives through them. Eventually, their passion for things can become museums that preserve history and cultural traditions. Changzhou has such people.

Out near the former Qishuyan district, there is the Hidden Dragon Musuem. This took a man’s decades long obsession with dragons into turned it into a folk display of everything from calligraphy to ceramics and empty baijiu bottles. There is something similar near Hongmei Park with a small exhibit of old snuff boxes, pipes, tobacco ads, and empty packs of cigarettes.  These places do not exist as for profit businesses. They do not charge entrance fees, and even if they did, the amount of foot traffic they generate would not pay their bills. This places exist because of a few powerful people recognize their cultural value and help protect them.

However, not all collectors enjoy support in that way. Sometimes, providing a cultural space for relics of older days can be challenging. Yi Mu is an old industrial space that currently is home to a variety of antiques. It’s also a space used to host tea and zen dancing events, and this is how I learned of the place, recently.

I enjoyed the event — it taught me, finally, how to correctly hold a caligraphy brush.

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However, I found the ambiance of the place even more intriguing. Here, you can see everything from old fire arms…

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… old chamber pots …

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… sewing machines …

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…. and there is much, much more. All of this works together to create a special ambiance that can’t be found elsewhere in Changzhou.

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However, unlike other cultural spaces in this city, the future of Yi Mu is uncertain. The owner’s lease is coming to an end, and there is the posibility that the property’s owner may not renew. Yi Mu’s owner has also had trouble locating adequate space should he be forced to relocate his large antique collection.  Hopefully, a way can be found to preserve this space. In the mean time, it can be found off of Qingtan Road in Zhonglou — just around the corner from the Jingchuan Park’s West Gate.

 

Jiu Zhou Antique Market

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I am always on the hunt for old photos, and I am especially looking for old pictures of Changzhou and other cities. This means I spend a lot of time looking for antique markets and junk stores. So, far, there five places I know of. Wujin has a place near where Changwu and Renmin intersect. There are two near Hongmei Park, and one stands behind the Christian church at Wenhuagang 文化宫. That one is perhaps the largest. Recently, I found another near the Jiu Zhou New World shopping center near the city center..

It’s across the street and in a very weathered, very dirty looking building. It’s on the second floor of that building, and once you climb the stairs into the place, you notice it is as grimy on the inside as it is on the exterior. The wares are much of the same: ceramics, postage stamps, jewelry, old red Mao quotation books, and few other things. I did see some nice furniture there, too. However, I saw none of the stuff I like to collect. So, no photos, no old postcards, and very few old printed things. There was also a lot of empty space, too. The likelihood I will return to this place is minimal.

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Antique Shopping Near Culture Square

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Once, a guy chased me while wildly swinging a bust of Chairman Mao. He didn’t want to beat me over the head with it; he simply wanted to sell it to me for 800 RMB. No matter how much I said “不要 bu yao,” he kept in hot pursuit, yelling about he’d drop the price. That went in 20 RMB increments. I really didn’t want it; I mean, I was downtown, and how would I get that thing home or just lug it around with me as I did other errands? It didn’t matter how much I didn’t want it; he was damned insistent. It wasn’t the first time this guy chased me, either. Other times, he waved posters of Zhou Enlai at me, as well as a wall tapestry of 10 prominent Red Army generals.

He wasn’t the first person to do this. In this part of downtown, I have been grabbed and pulled into shops with all sorts of junk paraded in front of my face. All of them had absurdly inflated prices. A comic book went for 200 RMB, and red and gold embossed Mao buttons went for 100 RMB. Some of those shopkeepers saw me as a clueless, rich foreigner that they could make easy cash off of. They were tripling their prices just at the mere sight of me.

And what can I say? I have a thing for junk and antique stores. However, as my Chinese abilities slowly improved from non existent to barely minimal, I actually learned how to haggle with these people. I also got it to a point where I don’t even have to say anything anymore. All I need to do is twist my face into a overacted grimace or scowl and wave my hand dismissively. Once these vendors realized I was no longer the goldmine they thought I was, I stopped getting chased or grabbed. Eventually, I settled on one antique merchant I trusted, and now I usually just go to him first.

So, where is this part of Changzhou? If you go to where the downtown central subway station is being built, you will find an antique market behind the Christian church. This would be Wenhuagong 文化宫. You can find everything from old communist propaganda to weathered books of nude photography, framed calligraphy, carved wood, and much more. This is an ideal place for stamp and currency collectors, too. There are two indoor markets with kiosks, but the main part is a small pedestrian street with shopfronts. Only, if you are going to go there for the first time, take a Chinese friend you are actually going to buy something. Otherwise, they will think you are a goldmine, too.

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