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China's has recently surpassed the US to become the world's largest art and antiques market in the world. The country's increasingly wealthy upper-middle class is now hungry for a slice of the past and views art and antiques as a solid investment. But for every treasure unearthed, there are likely to be a few fake items.
Antiques markets in Beijing are regularly full of people searching for their next treasure. And Beijing Antique City is the most popular among young and old alike. Tourists and curious locals mix with antiques dealers and producers looking for historic props for TV dramas.
Spotting the fakes can be hard for even the most well-trained observer. Kang Laiyou, antiques expert, said, "Our antiques market has a history stretching over 30 years. In the 1980s, 80% of the antiques at Panjiayuan were real. Today, the chances of buying something real have fallen by at least 70%."
Hit-and-miss is the tradition here, as there are no experts or instruments designed to spot fakes. Tourists tend to be offered much higher prices, in the hope that a favorable currency conversion might convince them to buy more than they should.
As business booms, an increasing number of cheaply-made, mass-produced fakes have flooded the market, making business that much tougher for the dealers. The only serious business is the art of haggling here.
Gao Zhanfeng, antiques buyer, said, "The seller quotes me a price, but then I will bargain from there."
Many of the items for sale are not labelled "genuine" or "antique" and are purely decorative arts and crafts. Around the temporary market stalls are more permanent shops that have more expensive items on display.
While many tend to browse what's on offer outside, veteran collectors avoid the stalls and comb through the indoor areas.
Gao Yongguang, antiques buyer, said, "I'm not like those people who buy expensive pieces. I just buy items I really like, priced in the tens or hundreds of thousands."
Others come for different reasons. Cao Xu, Beijing resident, said, "I just came to brush up on history."
Ancient imperial robes and statues of Buddha adorn many shop windows. Beginners will find it difficult to collect real antiques. Wang Jinhua, antiques dealer, said, "If you want to buy good items, you need to be an expert."
Wang also said that unless dealers are convinced that prospective customers know what they're talking about, they often will not even display their best items.