10 handmade souvenirs to buy in Shanghai

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Instead of being the person who comes home from Shanghai with three bags full of cheap chopsticks and refrigerator magnets, why not opt to buy something meaningful that reminds you of the time you spent in the city? Whether the gifts are for loved ones back home or a treat for yourself, these 10 handmade souvenirs are sure to impress.

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Ceramics

Ceramics have been used in China for millennia, both functionally and ornamentally. Today, there are many handmade styles of ceramics available in Shanghai, like these adorable dumpling salt and pepper shakers from Pinyin Press. Handmade in Jingdezhen, China, this souvenir can be found at Madame Mao’s Dowry. Alternatively, chose to learn the art of ceramic-making for yourself at the Pottery Workshop, an educational center and shop that sells products designed by Chinese and foreign artists.

Bespoke Clothing

With the ubiquitous availability of talented tailors and seamstresses, you can’t visit Shanghai without getting a custom piece of clothing made. Whether it be a traditional qipao or a western style suit, the best place to do this is at the South Bund Fabric Market. Show a picture of your design to the shop attendant, and come away with a perfectly tailored outfit only days later. For an expedited process, choose a design that the shop already has on hand. The general rule of thumb at the market is that the quality of the work increases the higher the floor of the building (of which there are three).

Blue Nankeen via Etsy Studio

Blue Nankeen

Nankeen fabric, similar to batik, is a 3000-year old art in China, originating on the Silk Road. Lucky for you, it’s available right in the heart of Shanghai, and one of the best places to obtain it is at the museum devoted solely to the creation of the fabric. The Chinese Printed Blue Nankeen Exhibition Hall contains photos and instruments related to the making of nankeen as well as a shop that sells cushions, clothes, bedding, and more. The products available for sale at the museum are all handmade in Nantong, just outside of Shanghai.

Local Snacks

Shanghainese food makes up one of eight great cuisines in China and is characterized by its sweetness. If you’re in Shanghai during the Mid-Autumn Festival, test out your sweet tooth with locally-made moon cakes. Moon cakes, known as yue bing in Chinese, are round pastries typically filled with red bean or lotus seed paste. They come individually packaged, making for easy transport. Find them at any bakery or market around the beginning of October, or at Shanghai First Foodmall year-round.

Propaganda Posters

Used throughout the 20th century to inform, persuade and entertain, propaganda posters have more than just artistic value, offering a voyeuristic peek into China’s history. Many originals have been destroyed, but tucked away in the basement of an unassuming apartment complex is the Propaganda Poster Art Centre, where these cultural relics have been preserved. For a pretty penny, you can even buy some of the originals in the gift shop.

Fans

Fans were originally used as a feminine accessory by concubines during the imperial era. Nowadays, fans make a great souvenir, especially during Shanghai’s hot summer months. Prices vary based on the quality of the material but usually start at CN¥20 (US$3) for a handmade fan. They are typically made of silk or paper and often display patterns involving animals, such as birds. Fans are available all over the city, but for the handmade variety, go to the shop on Jiu Jiao Chang Lu.

Chinese paper fans via pinterest

Ethnic Handicrafts

Did you know that China comprises 56 ethnic groups? The nation’s culture is not as homogeneous as many are led to believe. While the largest concentration of ethnic minorities live in southern China’s Yunnan province, their local handicrafts have made their way to Shanghai. Such products can be found all over the city, like Yue shop, which sells unique Tibetan arts and crafts such as jewelry and clothing, home accessories, and antique furniture.

Shanghai-style paper cuttings

Shanghai-style paper cutting, part of the broader Chinese art form, is unique for its use of a single-sitting cut. Unlike the traditional red paper-cutting, Shanghai-style uses bright colors to depict landscapes, flowers, birds, animals, and human figures. Your best chance of finding a handmade paper cutting is at the shopping streets around Yu Garden.

Embroidery

Chinese embroidery dates back to the Neolithic age. Specific to Shanghai is Gu embroidery, a local style originating from the eponymous family during the Ming Dynasty. The inventor of the style was a family concubine. Differentiating itself from other styles of embroidery, it specializes in painting and calligraphy-based designs. Find handmade embroidery at Fangbang Zhong Lu.

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