Cornucopia for bargain seekers, treasure hunters and browsers

Yunzhou Curio City is one of the few remaining markets in Shanghai where you may find hidden gems if you have the patience to sift through a lot of bric-a-brac.
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

The main market of Yunzhou Curio City is housed in a seven-story building. 

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

On weekends, vendors fill adjacent outdoor alleyways.

When the rundown but popular Dongtai Road Antique Market was demolished in 2015, treasure hunters had to look elsewhere for curios and knickknacks to rummage through.

Many have turned their attention to Yunzhou Curio City on Damuqiao Road in Xuhui District, one of the few markets of its kind left in Shanghai.

Classic furniture, jade, gems, paintings, calligraphy, porcelain, teapots, wood carvings and vintage clocks. The first four floors of the seven-story building are devoted to such vintage goods.

There’s a stamp market on the fifth floor and a market for coin and banknote collectibles on the sixth. Special exhibitions are irregularly held on the top floor.

I arrived at the market just before 10am on a Friday morning. Many of the shops hadn’t even opened yet. One antique shop owner, Zhou Jianhe, was just in the process of his morning routine, lighting an incense stick before rinsing tea leaves for his morning brew.

“Though the mall opens at 9:30am, I always come around 10am and leave at 5pm or 6pm,” he said. “Business is bleak of late. I think that’s due to the poor performance of the stock market.”

Standing in his shop, I dared not move much because clay teapots, paintings, porcelains, wood carvings and bamboo baskets almost completely filled the small space.

“The good and bad are mixed together in this market,” Zhou said of the merchandise. “You need to keep a sharp eye.”

Thanking him for the advice, I took the escalators up to higher floors. The atmosphere there was more stuffy. Beautiful artifacts were displayed, but there were few buyers milling about.

Shop owners were napping in deck chairs or drinking tea or knitting. The corridors were so quiet that the ticking of a pendulum clock and the chirping of pet crickets resonated louder than usual.

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A customer looks through a stamp collection.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

A shop owner sorts out old stamps.

The stamp and coin markets were somewhat disorderly and dimly lit, but commerce there was more lively. Shop owners keep their goods in folders or just plastic baskets.

While customers browsed, some shopkeepers seemed in no hurry to engage them. One older man was playing cards, and another was reading a newspaper with the help of a magnifying glass.

Women shopkeepers were few in number. One of them, Zhao Guomin, was crocheting when I met her.

“I am making a cotton fingerstall for the owner of the stall next to mine,” she explained. “He recently broke his finger. I have already knit him a woolen one, but it’s too hot for that now.”

Zhao hawks banknotes and coins from around the world. There was currency from places I had barely ever heard of, like Lesotho, Tokelau, Mauritania, Burundi and Jersey. She keeps her coin collection is in a glass cabinet.

“Nowadays, people from all walks of life collect banknotes and coins,” she said. “I once met an architect who collected those featuring architectural styles in their imprints. And a painter bought banknotes portraying scenery.”

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Coins from around the world are on sale.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

Old Chinese banknotes of 20 cents are available at Yunzhou.

Fascinated by the merchandise and the intriguing collection of buyers and sellers buzzing around it, I returned to the market the next day for an even closer look.

Five elderly men were sitting on a bench exchanging stamp albums. One retiree held a list of world countries as he perused the coins in Zhao’s stall.

“I have collected the coins of 192 countries and regions,” the man told me. “Coins and banknotes are more than money. They are part of the history, culture and scenery of a country.”

But it’s not only the elderly who are attracted to the market. Gu Jie, 30, said he started collecting coins when he was only eight years old.

“I visit Yunzhou Curio City about once a month where I meet many like-minded friends,” he said. “We hunt for the hidden gems among the sea of coins and chat together. Exploration is happiness.”

Indeed, the market goes beyond just buying and selling, hobbyists and bargain-hunters. It is a warm community of people who share common interests and friendship.

Standing beside a dolly cart, a middle-aged man was displaying three albums of bookmarks in front of two shops on the sixth floor. All the bookmarks were related to Chairman Mao Zedong. They featured his quotations and tributes to his great achievements.

“I’ve collected bookmarks for over 30 years,” the man said. “Today I am letting people in this community view my collection, which has made me famous in this small circle.”

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A shop owner waits for business at his store selling old photos.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

The two shopkeepers praised him to the skies and said his collections were very valuable. At that, the man whipped out another three albums from his cart.

An array of bizarre and funny knickknacks can also be found in curio city. In store A18 on the fifth floor, old graduation, marriage, stock and bond certificates were pasted on the walls.

“A lot of people don’t preserve these legacies, which eventually end up with us,” said the shopkeeper surnamed Chen.

An unexpired HSBC premier credit card bearing the name of owner Binghui Du sat randomly in a glass cabinet along with three other bankcards. How did they get there and who buys such cards?

“A foreigner gave me the cards, but I don’t know how he came by them,” Chen said, as he munched on a cob of corn. “Some people are dedicated to collecting bank cards.”

Perhaps the oddest item in Chen’s shop was a contract for the sale of a baby boy, written on red cloth and dated 1915. It recorded that the boy was sold for 190 taels of silver by his impoverished parents.

On weekends, around 100 vendors, carrying suitcases packed with goods and folding stools, spill out into surrounding alleyways.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

A man uses a flashlight to examine jade ware at the outdoor market.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

A man peruses a large collection of old cigarette wrappers.

This impromptu flea market sells ersatz items like Chairman Mao pins, a broken erhu (two-stringed bowed instrument), vintage picture storybooks, so-called “ancient” jade and porcelain, and all manner of trinkets. The goods are spread on the ground for sale.

“Sir, sir, please sit in this stool with a backrest, as befits your status,” a shrewd hawker told a middle-aged man who was examining a bamboo hand fan.

Most vendors provide stools for customers to sit and contemplate a purchase.

Amid the browsers, I came across several earnest treasure hunters. They stood in front of a stall and perused the curios carefully, then squatted and examined them more closely with flashlights. They even smelled them and held them to their ears.

Yunzhou Curio City

Address: 88 Damuqiao Rd
Opening hours: 9:30am-7pm (indoor), daily; 7am-6pm (outdoor), Saturdays-Sundays
Tel: 6417-2268
How to get there: Take Metro Line 9 or 12 to the Jiashan Road Station. Get out at Exit 4.

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