Open-air markets bolster Beijing's street vending economy

2024-02-15 11:33:53China Daily Editor : Mo Honge ECNS App Download

Spring Festival decorations such as lanterns and couplets are sold at the Shahe Market on Jan 7. (WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY)

Guo Liping, 50, has been regularly visiting the Shahe Market in Beijing's Changping district for a decade. He said he is a big fan of the vibrant open-air market because it helps him unwind and stay passionate about life.

The market is so popular among both Changping's residents and visitors from other districts that shoppers jostle for elbowroom on normal days, and now with the Year of the Dragon here, the crowds are swelling as more vendors have set up shop to sell Spring Festival decorations such as lanterns, couplets and red envelopes, Guo said.

"Shahe Market is the place to be if one wants to get into the festive mood. Look how happy people are when choosing Spring Festival decorations. See how their faces light up when they land a good deal. Simple pleasures don't cost much here," he said, in between bites of his hot sesame bun with sausages.

As delicious smells wafted up from the food stalls on a cold winter morning, Guo, who works in the finance sector, said: "For many people like me, coming to the market is therapeutic, and I am not exaggerating a bit. As soon as I walk into the market, I feel very relaxed. It's totally worth the one-hour drive."

Shoppers browse products at the market. (WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY)

The Shahe Market in suburban Beijing covers an area of 120,000 square meters and is among the Chinese capital's largest open-air markets. It attracts thousands of shoppers when it opens every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

The unique selling point of the market is that people find everything they need here — and more, Guo said.

And he is absolutely right.

The market not just offers daily necessities such as fruits and vegetables, street food and antique items, one might also spot vendors selling katydids, which are large, typically green, long-horned nocturnal grasshoppers that are kept as pets by many people.

"Everything is so down-to-earth here, which is in stark contrast to the modern city life in Beijing. It is a fond reminder of my childhood days- the good times I spent with my family at the open-air markets near my native village in Gansu province," Guo said.

Daji, which translates as a "big market or fair", is typically held on specific dates based on the lunar calendar, such as dates ending with five or seven. It is also a common practice to hold daji ahead of or during traditional Chinese holidays such as the Spring Festival holiday. Visiting such fairs is popularly termed as ganji, which literally means "chasing the market".

These markets or fairs evolved from the folk custom of trading in goods, which can be traced back to the Han dynasties (206 BC-AD 220).

Fruits are sold at an open-air market in Nanqijia village in Beijing's Changping district on Jan 11. (WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY)

In the olden days, due to a lack of convenient means of transportation and communication, it was challenging for households to meet their needs for daily necessities. As a solution, people made agreements to gather on a particular day at a specific location, where they traded their surplus goods for the items they needed.

In addition to being venues for buying and selling, these markets became occasions for people to socialize and be entertained.

Today, when supermarkets are found in almost every corner of Beijing and online shopping platforms offer same-day grocery delivery services, Guo said he still enjoys visiting the Shahe Market.

"The fruits and vegetables here may not be as well presented and packaged as those in the supermarkets, and some may even be covered in soil, but they are always fresh and more affordable," he said, adding that he also enjoys talking to the vendors and learning about the efforts they put into growing their produce. "The market has brought people closer."

Since last year, more young people have started visiting the Shahe Market, which was traditionally the favorite haunt of the older generations, according to Guo. "They (young people) are very noticeable. You can tell by their colorful coats and hairdos."

People enjoy noodles at the Shahe Market in Changping on Jan 7. (WEI XIAOHAO/CHINA DAILY)

Chen Xiaoyi, 26, who works for an IT company in Beijing, said she loves the market's lively vibe. More importantly, shopping here is affordable and helps her save up money for the future, she said.

Chen first visited the market last May after she saw a post about it on social media. Now, visiting the market almost every weekend has become a habit, she said.

"It's like a mini break from my stressful work life. Some people go hiking in the mountains during the weekend, I hike to the market," she said, as she waited at a stall to buy some freshly squeezed sugar cane juice, which she plans to use later to make sugar cane Americano.

The young techie said the best-part about visiting the market is that she can wear casual and comfortable clothes, and no makeup at all. "I know for sure that no one will judge me here. I quite like the crowd of shoppers at the market, even though I hate crowds in general because I have to squeeze into packed subway trains to go to work every morning," she said.

Shopping at the Shahe Market has helped her cut down her monthly spending on groceries by more than 1,000 yuan ($140), because most products are cheaper than those available at central Beijing's supermarkets, Chen said.

"For example, the price of strawberries, which I love, is nearly half here compared with the price of strawberries at the supermarket near my apartment. In other words, this market is good for the body, the soul and the wallet," said the techie, who has already introduced her friends and colleagues to the Shahe Market.

Chen, who has also been sharing her experiences on social media, has come across many like-minded young people who see visiting open-air markets as fun. "Together, we have located more such markets in the suburbs of Beijing, and I am planning to visit them one by one."


Most popular in 24h

MoreTop news


Back to top About Us | Jobs | Contact Us | Privacy Policy
Copyright ©1999-2024 All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
[网上传播视听节目许可证(0106168)] [京ICP证040655号]
[京公网安备 11010202009201号] [京ICP备05004340号-1]