Are you about to travel to China and wondering what some of the best souvenirs are?
Well, wonder no more because I’m going to share them with you.
From retro propaganda posters to the more cliché silk clothing, here are some of the best souvenirs you can buy in China.
When you’ve finished reading, let me know what your favorite Chinese souvenir is in the comments section.
If you haven’t heard of this word before, you’re not alone. It’s French and basically means decorated metal.
Although cloisonné didn’t start in China, the country put its own spin on it by creating unique vases and bowls centuries ago. Nowadays, Chinese cloisonné is the most well-known around the world.
In China, you’ll see cloisonné in lots of touristy places and souvenir shops.
The quality of Chinese cloisonné can vary. For a simple check, hold the item in your hand – it should feel fairly heavy.
I’ve always found that bringing back cloisonné from China can go one of two ways. The recipient will either love it or hate it!
Tea is a great Chinese souvenir.
It’s unique, it’s practical (because you consume it) and it’s relatively cheap.
In China, people drink tea from Chinese teapots, which is why you’ll only find tea leaves for sale there. Chinese people don’t use teabags.
Different regions in China are known for different kinds of tea. On a recent trip to Shenzhen, I bought some lychee tea.
You might be thinking that sounds sickly sweet, but it was actually quite subtle and nice to drink all year round.
It can be hard finding tea in China that’s presented in a nice tin or box. I always seem to find nice presentation packs in the airport stores on the way home, but they’re massively overpriced!
If you have time during your travels in China, pop into a decent sized supermarket and see what you can find.
Tea is much cheaper in supermarkets than tourist shops. That’s because it’s priced for the locals.
You shouldn’t have a problem if it’s dried, manufactured tea in a sealed pack.
3. Silk clothing
China is the home of silk clothing, so it makes sense that you might want to bring some back with you.
If you’re going to China as part of a packaged tour, you’re bound to be dropped off at one of the many tourist silk stores on the way to somewhere else.
These places can be a major rip-off. Everything is priced for Western tourists.
If you don’t have much free time during your tour, however, it might be the only opportunity to buy silk clothing in China. So you’re kind of forced to pay top dollar.
The good thing is you can be assured that the best tour companies will always take you to legitimate silk stores. And you’ll find English-speaking staff.
I remember a few years ago I picked up some really nice silk pajamas for my nephew, who was a toddler at the time. He grew out of them pretty quickly, but boy did they make for some cute photos!
If you’ve got a fat wallet, you could splurge on some lovely silk bed sheets which have numerous health benefits (silk is a natural product).
Otherwise, if you’re on a budget, you could buy a silk scarf. These make for great gifts too, and are small and light to pack in your suitcase.
4. Teapot set
A teapot set is a nice souvenir you can buy in China, provided you’ve got the space in your suitcase.
The sets vary, ranging from a small teapot and a few teacups through to large sets big enough for your own tea ceremony!
Some sets come with a tray that collect any spilled water. You might like this, but when I shopped for a teapot set in China, I wanted something relatively simple without the bells and whistles.
I love the set I ended up buying in Beijing. Although it’s uniquely Chinese, it’s quite fresh and modern with its yellow pattern.
Most teapot sets will come in a nice presentation box, with each piece separated so that it doesn’t break when you’re carrying it.
If you buy an expensive set though, I’d take it as carry-on luggage rather than checked in luggage, in case your suitcase gets thrashed around in the plane.
Remember when buying a tea set, the cups won’t have handles on them. So, you and your guests will need to wait until the hot water has cooled down a bit before you can start drinking.
Also, like most items in this list, try to bargain when you’re buying a tea set in China.
Chinese people will expect you to bargain. It’s part of their shopping culture.
5. Propaganda posters
I absolutely love Chinese propaganda posters. They’re definitely one of the best Chinese souvenirs!
The retro vibe combined with the symbolic imagery and wording makes them really stand out.
Chinese propaganda posters look awesome when they’re professionally framed back home.
On a trip to Shanghai once, I bought a poster from the Propaganda Poster Art Centre. If you’re in Shanghai and you want to take home some art, I’d recommend a visit to this place.
It doubles as a museum and has a collection of over 6,000 Chinese propaganda posters from 1940 to 1990.
While you can buy posters direct from their website, looking at them in person (if you can) is better. Due to their age the posters may have imperfections, stains or tears.
Another benefit of this particular China souvenir is that it’s light and will neatly fit into your suitcase.
6. Snack food
I always bring back various snack foods from China.
Why? You can get some weird and wonderful flavors that you simply can’t find anywhere else in the world.
I always get a good reaction when giving Chinese snack food as gifts.
Some unusual things I’ve bought over the years include lobster-flavored chips (addictive), cucumber-flavored chewing gum (surprisingly nice) and green tea Dove chocolate (an acquired taste).
When I was shopping in Qingdao recently, I spotted some cola flavored potato chips. I bought a few bags for my family and friends as I knew they would find the image of the dog on the packet a little off-putting, let alone the flavor!
Depending on the person you’re buying for, you could also go a little crazy and buy some distinctly Chinese snack foods.
I always pick up a few vacuum-sealed packs of chicken claws, just to get a scream from friends when I arrive home.
As I’m Australian, I have to declare things like chicken claws when going through the airport. I’ve never had any problems though as it’s processed and not fresh food.
7. Mao Zedong memorabilia
You can probably tell by now that I like retro kind of stuff.
On one of my first trips to China, I remember seeing a big brass statue of Mao Zedong at a flea market. It came up to my waist, and I absolutely loved it.
I decided against buying it as I would need to organize shipping to get it home. Looking back though, I regret not buying it! It was uber-cool.
When you visit China, you’ll find Mao paraphernalia in the touristy places. If you’re in Beijing, you could try Panjiayuan or Liulichang.
The most common items include the Little Red Book, small statues, plates and badges. These are all great little souvenirs that can fit in your bag.
A word of warning: don’t for a second think what you’re buying is an original, even if you’re buying from an ‘antique shop’.
In most cases it’s simply been made to look old.
Bonus tip – Don’t buy a calligraphy set
I’ve bought calligraphy sets in China and I’ve also been given them.
While they are a traditional and unique Chinese souvenir, I’ve found that they’re the sort of thing that you look at once and then shove them in a cupboard, never to be looked at again.
I see myself as a bit of minimalist and therefore don’t see much point in this souvenir unless you’re going to use it or put it on show and admire it.
Some vendors selling calligraphy sets will offer to engrave the initials of the person you’re buying for into the stone stamp. It can be a hefty additional cost and I don’t think it’s worth it.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog. I’d love to know what your favorite Chinese souvenir is – simply complete the quick survey, or leave comments below.
Have a great time shopping for souvenirs in China!
Thanks for reading my blog. I’ve also written one on travel apps for China which you’ll find really helpful. It’s always good to arrive in China prepared!