The Dirt Market – Last Days in Beijing

2008 October 30
by Jason

Saturday, October 18th, 2008. The reviews of the “dirt” or “ghost” market we read in our guidebook were glowing. Of all the touristy markets in Beijing, the best deals were said to be had here. Hundreds of booths, people selling out of little shops (or on the ground), and the occasional genuine authentic antique. While it was definitely the biggest market we went to, it was a little over-hyped. Still, it’s worth a visit. Here are my thoughts about Beijing’s Ghost or Dirt Market:

Unfortunately, Sara and I aren’t big fans of jade jewelry or sculpture. If you’re into jade, you’re going to love the Dirt market. Lots of jade bracelets, pendants, necklaces, dragons, lions, and various other sculptures. We saw some incredibly complicated carvings, for example. If only we were interested…

Second, the best deals at the Dirt-Ghost market are for big, one-of-a-kind items. We found a huge and obviously hand-carved rock sculpture that would be the center piece of any room, and it could be had for less than $1000. Definitely a deal. However, for someone looking to buy items that fit in a suitcase, the deals were a lot more pedestrian. Still, if I were decorating my home with Asian art, the discounts here would more than cover the cost of a plane ticket.

Third, you have to be on your guard for scammers. While I know this sounds like silly advice – you should always be on your guard – the truth is a lot of really shady people were selling goods at this place. We looked at wool rugs, for instance, and nearly every rug this young man was selling was dirty. Upon closer inspection, the rugs looked worn as well. Yet he was selling these obviously used rugs for new-rug prices. When I told him his rugs were used, he got irritated and refused to deal further.

There’s also a lot of fake “antiquing” going on – covering carvings or sculptures in special chemicals designed to make something look much older than it is. I could spot some of these fakes because a lot of the time the underlying sculpture showed clear signs of manufacture – such as metal left over from a from, perfectly drilled holes, etc. I’m no expert, I just know that ancient Chinese craftsman didn’t produce anything with obvious metal-casting remnants – they were much too careful for that.

Finally, and perhaps most disappointingly, the market carried many of the same souvenirs and curios as all the other markets we’ve been to. Very repetitive.

Still, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy myself. It’s always fun to negotiate with people and look for bargains (at least for me.)

If you only go to one market in Beijing, the Dirk or Ghost market is the one to go to. In fact, my advice would be to skip all the other markets in Beijing (such as the numerous stalls south of Tiananmen and the Pearl market) and just head to the Dirt market instead (just remember, it’s only open on weekends). You can get everything you want here, and the prices are as good as any of the places we looked earlier in the week.


This mythical creature combines the teeth of the lion, the scales of a fish, the antlers of a deer, and a bunch of other features that I can’t remember. It was created by the Ming Emperors to demonstrate how so many different peoples were united to form one China. Beijing is a must-see for any world traveler – it represents many of the Chinese people’s greatest achievements.

We spent the rest of the day getting some work done. Tomorrow morning, we fly to Xian.

So long Beijing – it’s been amazing!

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