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Guangzhou’s flea markets in olden days

BY :丝路云帆

UPDATED :May 20, 2020


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Nowadays, almost everyone finds it pleasant to shop in Guangzhou as it has been famous for the diversity of commodities vary from stylish garment to vintage items. But do you know how did Cantonese use to purchase second-hand goods in the past days?

In 'Xilai Chudi', an area near Xiajiu Lu, where Bodhidharma, transmitter of Zen Buddhism to China, was said to first land and build the predecessor of Hualin Temple, there existed a kind of old-fashioned flea market called Tianguang Xu in Cantonese which started early in the morning and closed before dawn.
Hall of Five Hundred Arhats in Hualin Temple

According to the Chorography of Liwan District, Tianguang Xu(also called Ghost Fair) first came into being around Hualin Temple at the end of the Qing Dynasty. 
A vendor in the Republic of China era

Later, this kind of trade activities got promoted and thrived in the city with six recorded ghost fairs during the heyday.

It was a good place to shop, as it offered the buyers a wide variety of second-hand goods and antiques at popular prices, including furniture, utensils, clothes, calligraphic works, paintings and books. 
Ingots in the Qing Dynasty

For those who either had a tight budget or would like to hunt for some antiques, they always could find something fitful.

But shopping in such markets was not as easy as you may expect. It was extremely difficult for buyers to distinguish genuine articles from fake and inferior ones. 

And argots were commonly used between sellers and buyers. For example, the parlance of one yuan actually meant one hundred yuan.

There were even some rules for buyers. It is said that buyers were only allowed to use their lanterns to illuminate objects, and forbidden to lighten the faces of sellers. 
Collection of essays in the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty

Besides, one was not allowed to ask about the price of a certain article if someone was doing so.

With the development of Guangzhou, a street exclusively selling jade emerged near Xilai Chudi and replaced the flea market. The street later became a jade distribution center in Guangzhou while the first Tianguang Xu completed its transition, as well as its mission.

Due to problems like noise and poor sanitary conditions, most of these markets in Guangzhou had been shut down, leaving only one, on Haizhu Bridge, by September, 2017.