Buying gifts in China for children can be an entertaining and interesting experience. There is a host of options to choose from depending on what category of gifts you are looking for. The variety is staggering! Recreational and educational items for kids are available across cities and online — you just need to have a bit of patience and you're sure to find a very suitable and unique piece.
We have listed out top gift ideas for kids when you are in China, followed by a section on how to buy toys to help you. Hopefully, this is a clear and exhaustive source for you to move forward with your kid-friendly purchases.
Traditional Chinese Dolls
You will find these in most museum stores and wholesale markets. Also expect to find these in touristy hot spots, especially in Beijing, which is most famous for these handmade silk dolls. These are popular traditional Chinese handicraft and have great historical value associated with them. We hear that they date back a 1,000 years to the Song Dynasty.
The dolls can be expensive depending on the category of silk they are made from so expect to shell out anywhere between RMB 250 to 600 or more. The Silk Museum in Beijing has a store where you can find these, as well as most touristy zones. These graceful figurines represent Chinese men and women from folklore and old stories and fables. They are all characters well-known among the masses, so don't forget to ask your guide for the back story.
Kids love kites. The ones in China are extra special, with much more color and shape variations than those found in any other part of the world. Butterflies and Dragons are very common kite themes. Most likely places where you can purchase kites would include major theme and picnic parks and zoos across the country. Weifang, Shandong Province is a region very popular for its handcrafted kites, and is also the place for the annual international kite festival held every April. Weifang kites come in all shapes and sizes, including doves, tigers, goldfish, frogs and various legendary figures, all telling a story.
Chinese Board Games
Board games are huge in China. The most classic board games that you can pick up from any major toy store include Chinese Chess (Xiangqi) which is said to have originated around 800 AD; Chinese Checkers; Go (Wei Ch'i) which is over 3000 years old and originated in China; and of course, Mahjong, which originated around 800 AD too as a card game and is played with tiles today. To know more about Mahjong, read our detailed piece on the rules. Board games are one of the best gifts one can provide to kids. A fun learning tool, it also serves as a something to gain more insight into China's history.
This is one of the oldest toys that came into being in China and it's not clear when it originated. This is basically two discs connected by an axle. Lots can be done with this toy. Kids can have a great time coming up with Yo-Yo tricks. The western Yo-Yo is a derivation of this. Best is if you can find one made of bamboo - the most traditional version of the Yo-Yo.
Chinese Shuttle Cock or Ti Jian or Jianqiu
This is a unique toy. Something that can only be described as a shuttlecock with four colorful feathers, this is very popular across the globe, having originated in China. The idea is to keep it airborne using your body, except your hands. Certainly something that is commonplace at toy stores and other markets mentioned above, this is something that would be super fun for your kids to play with. This game is even played competitively and has various version depending on number of players.
The Chinese Stuffed Panda
If you are taking your kids to Chengdu to see the pandas, then of course, you cannot possibly leave without the stuffed panda bear as a souvenir and toy to remember this remarkable experience. Besides the panda reserves, Chengdu is a lively, bustling city that kids tend to love. As for getting that panda bear, you can pick it up in all parts of China, in touristy spots and wholesale toy markets.
Cool, random and kitschy toys
Cities like Beijing and Shanghai are home to lots of pop-up stores where you'd expect to find toys which are unusual, and unique. Best part? You can't find them anywhere else! For such items, visit the touristy hot spots, and you're likely to bump into a hipster store selling lovely hand printed t-shirts for kids, little wooden cars, and a host of safe, funky toys. Shanghai's Tianzifang is a great example of such a space where you can find such amazing toys.
Special mention — model trains
If you like trains, or happen to be a model train collector or your kid loves Thomas the Tank Engine, then don't miss checking out this historical model train shop in Shanghai (100 Xiangyang North Road). This store is owned by a Hong Kong company, and is more of a tribute than a retail outlet for Chinese train manufacturers and their own heritage. You'd find rare special-edition models here, which the company exports worldwide. The large life-size engine built at the store entrance ensures you don't miss it!
The best thing about toy shopping in China, especially in the malls and expensive stores, is that you will find Asian brands (Japanese, Singaporean, Malaysian) which are high quality and meet international safety standards, but may not be available in the western world. We hope this was a useful read for you.
Embroidered Silk Shoes
These are very cute little hand-sewn shoes for kids. You're likely to see little shoes that look like tigers - a very strong symbol of luck for babies in China. The tiger is believed to be the protector of the child from evil spirits. If you have a baby shower coming up, no other gift would be cuter and more meaningful than these. Apart from tiger boots, you'd see lots of other decorative shoes, such as butterflies, pandas, and more.
Chinese Opera Masks
These are dramatic, very colorful, painted masks that any child would love to own. Not only are they great to fuel your kid's imagination, they are also a great toy that teaches them storytelling, so best to know a bit of the history behind these opera masks. You'll find these more easily in Beijing than anywhere else. These masks represent the rich Chinese Opera that dates back to the ancient Tang Dynasty. What's more, these masks are sure to inspire the kids into making their own masks.
Cute Little Silk Qipaos
The Qipao is the traditional beautiful dress for ladies, with the recognizable Chinese collar and the side slit. Very easy to find, these are one of the most common gift items one can buy for little girls. The variety of silks is overwhelming, but the cuteness of the dresses is endearing, egging you on to purchase one. The shops that sell mini qipaos are also likely to sell silk pajamas for little boys. Best bet is to buy these from the city rather than from the airport stores, which charge a hefty premium. You can even get them custom made and here's how. Any girl would fall in love with her first dainty Qipao.
Chinese Kung Fu Costumes
Kung fu or gongfu is Chinese Martial art, that originated in this country centuries ago. Hollywood introduced Kung Fu to the world, and every kid wants to be the next Bruce Lee. So whether or not you get the chance to watch a Kung Fu show, getting a costume for kids is recommended. Expect to find these at wholesale markets as well as tourist shopping venues where you are likely to find qipaos as mentioned above.
Educational, cultural items
For culture lovers and educators, one of the best places to look for cool toys would be the museum shops. Especially history museums. All museums in Beijing and Shanghai have shops but, as expected, the prices are marked up. But one can assume that the toys on sale here are non-toxic and safe for kids.
Chinese Paper-Cut Artwork
You are likely to find these stunning, delicate works of art in fancier tourist hot spots (for example, Tianzifang in Shanghai, Qibao water town, Sanlitun in Beijing and so on). Handcrafted, these are guaranteed to dazzle your little one, and pique their interests in paper art. Chinese paper cutting is the first type of paper art known to mankind and was invented in the Han Dynasty, following the invention of paper itself. This is definitely a highly prized and intricate art and a makes a beautiful gift.
Toys in China can be found in the hordes of malls that you'll come across. Keep in mind that if you are looking at international brands here, it would be more expensive.
The most popular ones are 'Bao Da Xiang' — a popular shopping mall for kids, with several branches in Shanghai and Beijing; Ay Ying Xi — another kids mall which could be slightly cheaper than the earlier one; and 'Toy R Us' where you could expect to spend an average of RMB 200 on a single toy.
Then there are stores which store international brands, such as Hape, ELC and Skip Hop, which are sustainable, educational and stylish. These stores are Motherswork and Baby International. Lego just opened in China but may not be unique or different from the one in your home country.
If you happen to have a friend who's local, then with their help, do try out the online retail giant in China — Taobao. One can find anything on Taobao, and toys are no exception. Taobao is also cheaper, but no guarantee on the authenticity of the branded toys. Another one for babies under six is Lijiababy.com quite popular with the expat and local moms.
This is a good option you can explore for models, electronic toys, stuffed toys if you want to buy in bulk. However, you're likely to find fakes in these markets so global standards not guaranteed. The biggest toy market is in Yiwu, a small city in Zhejiang Province. Others are in Beijing, Haizhu Market in Guangzhou and Yangzhou, a small city in Jiangsu Province. These are a good place to find Chinese traditional toys such as lanterns and kites.
Shopping with China Highlights
China Highlights promises zero shopping sell to our customers to enhance the quality of your travel experience, unless of course requested for. If shopping is on your mind, we help tailor just the right combination to fit your desires, be it for souvenirs, cultural purchases or simply Chinese wholesale items at a steal! Your local guide can also help with some great shopping tips.
- Recommended tour: 9-Day Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai Tour — China Family Classic Tour