As the season of giving, the holidays are a time of joy. But when you can’t think of good gift ideas for your loved ones, it can also be a time of frustration. We’d like to help you avoid that frustration by offering our gift suggestions for people who have an interest in China or China-related products. We hope you enjoy our updated and expanded second annual holiday shopping guide.
Since our clients are located all over the United States and even outside the country, this list focuses on online stores rather than local stores, though we certainly encourage you to support local businesses when possible! Please contact us if you have a suggestion to add to this list or have information to share about one of the products or retailers on this list.
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CIT has no affiliation whatsoever with any of these companies or products (other than our own, of course). We are promoting them only because we think you may find this information helpful.
||Take advantage of CIT’s Early Bird Special discount: $100 off the price of a standard tour package (CIT001 – CIT012) for clients who book and pay for a 2013 standard tour no later than January 31. See our full list of tours on our Mainland China Tours page. (As always, we’ll also be glad to put together a custom tour package to take you anywhere in China you’d like to go.) See our offer announcement for details and other 2013 discounts.
||Treat your family to the most memorable Christmas vacation ever! See many of the most famous attractions in China on our Beijing + Xi’an + East-Central China 13-Day Value Tour, departing on December 19th. (Tour to be conducted in Chinese; recommended for Chinese speakers, people traveling with Chinese speakers, and students of Chinese only.)
An acclaimed documentary produced by the BBC, Wild China focuses on a side of China that doesn’t get a lot of coverage in the Western media: stunningly beautiful natural areas like Zhangjiajie, Xianggelila, Guilin, and Huangshan (Yellow Mountain). The 6-episode series is narrated by Bernard Hill (King Theoden in the Lord of the Rings movies) and contains spectacular footage of remote places that are rarely seen, as well as places that are easily accessible to tourists but no less beautiful. It also gives fascinating insights into the lives of the people living in such areas, especially their relationship with the land and its wildlife. If you enjoyed Planet Earth and you’re interested in China, you’ll love Wild China. The higher-definition Blu-ray version is highly recommended in order to fully enjoy the magnificent footage captured in the series.
Note: Netflix and Amazon Prime customers can stream Wild China in high definition for free!
If after watching Wild China you feel a sudden urge to visit the incomparably beautiful places it documents, take a look at our tour packages. In particular, our Yunnan Highlands and Majestic Scenery tours, along with our tours featuring Guilin, highlight these destinations. You might also consider arranging a custom tour to visit a unique combination of scenic areas.
Here are a few other Chinese or China-related movies that we think you or your loved ones may enjoy. Many more films will be highlighted in future shopping guides, as China has produced a number of the world’s greatest films over the last twenty years.
Infernal Affairs – Blu-ray (無間道): The acclaimed Hong Kong thriller that inspired The Departed, featuring Andy Lau, Tony Leung, and other stars of HK cinema.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Blu-ray (臥虎藏龍): Though the new version of the film’s English subtitles has received some criticism, this new Blu-ray presentation is stunningly beautiful. Relive this contemporary classic in high-definition glory. (And if you’d like to visit the lovely Hong Village, where some of the scenes were filmed, take a look at CIT’s Jiangnan Gourmet Cuisine/Yellow Mountain 10-Day Tour!)
Dragon Dynasty Triple Feature (Jet Li Collection): This set of classic Jet Li movies on Blu-ray includes The Legend (方世玉, also referred to as Fong Sai Yuk in English), Fist of Legend (精武英雄), and Tai Chi Master (太極張三豐). A great bargain for fans of Jet Li or kung fu movies in general. Also available on DVD.
Red Cliff (International Version) – Blu-ray (赤壁): Director John Woo’s uncut, 288-minute adaptation of the Chinese literary classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms is another film that has achieved both critical acclaim and great popularity. It features some of the most ambitious battle scenes ever filmed. See them in high definition on this Blu-ray release.
Shower (洗澡): A contemporary Chinese family drama involving the conflict between the traditional and modern worlds. A materialistic “prodigal son” with a successful career in Shenzhen, whose family runs a bathhouse in Beijing, returns home to visit his aging father and mentally challenged brother. There he finds himself slowly drawn into the traditional world he had left behind. A touching film that laments the precious, human things lost in the fast-paced lifestyle and relentless change of the modern world. (If you’re interested in seeing the traditional hutong neighborhoods depicted in the movie, most of our tours that include Beijing feature a hutong pedicab tour.)
Acclaimed Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express (重慶森林), which weaves together two apparently separate stories involving cops and romance, is a quirky, memorable presentation of life in 1990′s Hong Kong. This Criterion Collection Blu-ray release has gotten rave reviews for its beautiful transfer of the film and special features. Hong Kong icons Tony Leung and Faye Wong (in her cinematic debut) star in one of the stories. Criterion Collection release also available on DVD.
With Yi Yi (一一, sometimes referred to in English as A One and a Two), Taiwanese director Edward Yang won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000. A slow, quiet meditation on modern family life, Yi Yi is not for everyone, but it is tremendously rewarding for patient and thoughtful viewers. This Criterion Collection Blu-ray release is the best way to experience this film. Criterion Collection release also available on DVD.
Aftershock (唐山大地震) is both a heartwrenching story of family tragedy and a historical document of the devastating effects, both short-term and long-term, of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake that killed approximately 250,000 people. Released in 2010, it became China’s biggest box office success ever. Many reviewers have called it one of the most powerful movies they have ever seen.
Last Train Home (归于列车): A moving documentary directed by Yixin Fan that candidly reveals the challenges faced by a rural family. Like many of China’s 130 million migrant workers, the Zhangs have had to leave their children in their home village while they pursue more lucrative work in the hope of giving their children a chance at a better life. Raw and though-provoking, but also beautiful and sometimes funny, the film presents their experiences in a way that is universally understandable.
China from the Inside: In the U.S. media, we are often exposed to a very narrowly Western perspective on China. As its title suggests, the 2007 PBS documentary series China from the Inside makes a genuine effort to present representative opinions from many Chinese citizens, scholars, and government officials on some of the major issues and challenges in contemporary Chinese society. The producers of the series had unprecedented access to places and activities that could not be easily seen by foreigners, and many of the people interviewed speak with refreshing candor. Through its objective but sensitive portrayal of the lives of ordinary citizens, the film makes contemporary China comprehensible even to Westerners not already familiar with it. The major topics covered in the four-part series are the status of women, the Communist Party, environmental challenges, and justice and freedom. Highly recommended to anyone who wants to gain real insight into Chinese society.
China Books (originally known as China Books and Periodicals), founded in 1960 and now located in South San Francisco, has a wide range of products (not just books and magazines), including some good deals in the “bargain bin” and “clearance” sections of its website.
Books About Chinese Art, Literature, and Philosophy
Art in China (Oxford History of Art) (Craig Clunas): This comprehensive introduction to China’s 5,000 years of visual arts is an expanded 2009 edition of the highly rated first edition published in 1997. Available for Kindle.
Highly rated books that focus on the architectural wonders and other important sites in China include China’s Sacred Sites by Professor Nan Shunxun and Beverly Foit-Albert, which features photographs of not only temples and other important architecture but also the stunning landscapes that they adorn; Chinese Houses: The Architectural Heritage of a Nation by Ronald G. Knapp, Jonathan Spence, and A. Chester Ong; and Yale University Press’s voluminous Chinese Architecture, the third volume in a planned 75-volume series on Chinese culture, which boasts contributions from six leading historians of Chinese architecture.
For people interested in Taoist philosophy, there are a wide range of English texts to choose from. Here is a brief guide to the most acclaimed English editions of the Tao Te Ching (道德經, or Dao De Jing):
- David Hinton’s translation is critically acclaimed for its poetic beauty as well as its linguistic and philosophical accuracy. If it happens to be out of stock on Amazon, it can be purchased through one of the many booksellers listed under “more buying choices.”
- The Vintage translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, long prized for its poetic evocation of Lao Tzu’s style, has recently been republished in a new edition. Like the popular original, it is an oversized book (10.9 x 8.4 inches) enhanced with meditative photos and a calligraphic version of the Chinese text. (There is also a smaller edition available, so take care when ordering.) Available for Kindle and iBooks.
- Red Pine’s spare and elegant translation is acclaimed as a faithful rendering of the original. Envisioned as “a discussion between Lao Tzu and a group of people who have thought deeply about his text,” this edition is also unique in providing selections from the many commentaries produced over more than two thousand years by Chinese thinkers to complement the text and give deeper insight into its meaning.
- The audaciously titled Tao Te Ching: The Definitive Edition, translated and compiled by Jonathan Star, is a useful resource for anyone who wants to take a scholarly, in-depth approach to reading the text. In addition to his literary translation, it features a literal, line-by-line translation, as well as notes on the possible meanings and connotations of each character.
- Tao: The Way (The Sayings of Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, and Lieh Tzu) includes revised versions of the classic translations by the scholars Lionel and Herbert Giles, presented in a unique format. Rather than separating the three texts, it combines selections from each text in topical sections like “Tao as a Moral Principle, or Virtue” and “The Doctrine of Inaction.” For someone interested in a philosophy-oriented survey of Taoism, this is an especially useful book. Available for Kindle.
For those interested in Confucian philosophy, there are also a wealth of reading choices. Here are some of the best-reviewed and most important:
- The Original Analects, edited by E. Bruce Brooks and A. Taeko Brooks, presents a translation and detailed analysis of the original Confucian text The Analects of Confucius for those inclined to a scholarly study of Confucian thought. Their analysis is unique and even revolutionary in that it attempts to distinguish between the original ideas and priorities of Confucius and those of his later followers who collected and altered his teachings.
- With a detailed introduction to Confucian terms and concepts, helpful notes throughout the text, and a very literal approach to translation, Chichung Huang’s version of the Analects is distinguished by its philosophical clarity. As a member of a family of Confucian teachers, Huang has unique credentials among translators of the Analects.
- For a more literary, poetically flavored version of the Analects, consider David Hinton’s translation.
Anyone who wants to explore Confucian thought even more deeply with a pilgrimage to Confucius’ hometown of Qufu, where the Kong Family Mansion and other important sites are located, might be interested in our Northeast China 15-Day Tour.
As an introduction to Chinese poetry in translation, David Hinton’s Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology is a perfect gift. More than simply providing a faithful and pleasant translation, Hinton’s ear for verse gives these poems an added power that makes them worth reading as works of English literature too. Writer Bei Dao (Zhao Zhenkai) gave Hinton’s translations just about the highest praise possible: “Given the magnitude of his ability and his overall project, Hinton is creating nothing less than a new literary tradition in English, an event of truly major importance not only to English literature but also to the literature of my own language. I cannot recommend the value of his work too highly.”
Here are a few excerpts from Hinton’s translations of Song Dynasty poet Mei Yaochen’s work:
- On the death of his wife: “I hide my tears, not wanting them to see,/push the lamp away and lie facing the wall,/a hundred sorrows clotting heart and lung”
- On a rat infestation of his home: “Suddenly my silly boy/starts meowing like a cat! Goofy plan, eh?”
- On going blind: “No telling what’s what in this confusion,/I’m suddenly free of likes and dislikes.”
- On the sounds of autumn: “The ear hears, but mind is itself silent./Who’s left now all thought’s forgotten?”
- On peasants forced by desperation to gather weeds in the snow: “Hands so raw they can’t feed themselves, they/live in hunger, and you’re ashamed to eat it?”
Books About Chinese Society
China: Portrait of a People (Tom Carter): The photos in this book were taken during a two-year journey taken by the author through all of China’s 33 provinces. It is highly recommended for its stunning photos, which are both beautiful and truly representative of China’s many ethnic groups—you can see several sample photos on the book’s Amazon page, and there is also a “book trailer” on YouTube with an array of architecture-oriented photos from the book.
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (Jung Chang): This powerful book tells the story of three women whose lives span the tumultuous changes in Chinese society over the course of the 20th century: Chang’s grandmother, her mother, and Chang herself. Both critically acclaimed and popular, Wild Swans is featured in many university and high school courses. Available for iBooks.
Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China (Leslie Chang): Written by a former Beijing correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, Factory Girls focuses on the lives of young women in southern China who have left home to take assembly-line work in search of a better future. In intimate detail, it reveals the intense, fast-paced world of migrant workers that is experienced by 130 million people in China but glimpsed by few outsiders. Available for Kindle and iBooks.
Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory (Peter Hessler): Hessler, a Mandarin-speaking American (and husband of Leslie Chang) who has spent years living and traveling in China, is a sharp, sympathetic, and dauntless observer and explorer with a gift for drawing you into his experiences. Country Driving, as its title suggests, covers his extensive road trips through northern China, as well as the time he spent living in a village outside Beijing and visiting factories in southern China. Moving, fascinating, and funny, it is highly recommended for anyone who is interested in understanding the effects that China’s rapid changes have had on its people. Hessler has also written two other well-received books about his time in China: River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze and Oracle Bones. Available for Kindle and iBooks.
This Is China: The First 5,000 Years (Haiwang Yuan): This introduction to China and its history draws from The Berkshire Encyclopedia of China to give readers a concise but comprehensive overview of China. Available for Kindle.
China (DK Eyewitness Books) (Hugh Sebag-Montefiore): This book provides a great introduction to contemporary China for children, with a wealth of photos and information. (Note: As of the writing of this post, it is not in stock on Amazon, so click on “these sellers” or “See all buying options.”) DK’s Ancient China (by Arthur Cotterell) provides a complementary overview of China’s long history.
For a much more detailed discussion of Chinese language educational materials, many of which would make excellent gifts, see our Chinese Language Resources for Travelers and Students page. Don’t miss the links to our Language and Culture Learning Pages with educational materials designed to enhance your tour experience.
Niubi: The Real Chinese You Were Never Taught in School (Eveline Chao): One fascinating effect of China’s continuing growth and modernization on its popular culture is the explosion in slang expressions that has occurred in recent years, in large part because of the use of the Internet by ever-larger numbers of Chinese citizens. As in the United States, wildly creative, funny, and vulgar new slang can become popular overnight as a result of mass exposure online. Many now-common colloquialisms are given a clear and thorough explanation in this book. For anyone who wants to really speak like a native and have fun with the dynamic, living language that is contemporary Mandarin, this book is a great resource. Available for iBooks. For an introduction to the slang covered in this book, see our past blog posts “Contemporary Chinese Slang Part 1” and “Contemporary Chinese Slang Part 2: Flirting, Dating, Romance, Marriage, and Heartbreak.”
Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar: A Practical Guide (Claudia Ross and Jing-heng Sheng Ma): For the serious student of Mandarin, this 432-page guide presents detailed, comprehensive information about contemporary grammar and usage. To make the book as useful and relevant as possible, its authors favor the practical over the obscure.
Learning Chinese Characters, Vol. 1: A Revolutionary New Way to Learn and Remember the 800 Most Basic Chinese Characters (Alison Matthews, Laurence Matthews): Most helpful for beginners but also a good reference tool for more advanced learners, this book uses a cartoon-based mnemonic approach to aid in memorization. It presents the characters in a logical order that also makes them easier to memorize, and it also contains useful information about each character.
Schaum’s Outline of Chinese Vocabulary (Yanping Xie and Duan-Duan Li): For intermediate-level students, this book contains a well-designed course of 200 exercises to help students understand and memorize practical vocabulary, including topics like computer terminology that are neglected in many other Mandarin sources.
Chinese (Mandarin), Conversational: Learn to Speak and Understand Mandarin Chinese with Pimsleur Language Programs (Pimsleur Instant Conversation): This well-reviewed audiobook (CD) conversational Mandarin course of 16 half-hour lessons is based on the Pimsleur Method. There is also a much more expensive 30-lesson version available.
ChinesePod and Rocket Chinese are both getting rave reviews for their online multimedia courses, which include interactive audio lessons, video lessons, games, online communities, and vocabulary building materials. A subscription to either service would be a fantastic gift for someone interested in learning Chinese.
Fluenz Version F2: Mandarin 1+2+3 with supplemental Audio CDs and Podcasts: A well-reviewed (but expensive) 3-disc, 75-lesson CD-ROM set with two audio CDs and supplemental podcasts. Since this course uses pinyin (romanized Chinese) only without Chinese characters, it is appropriate for those who are only interested in learning to speak the language or who want to use this course as a supplement to other materials. The developers of this course describe it as a teacher-oriented approach, with each lesson led by a tutor. They emphasize that in contrast to other learning systems that focus on mimicking patterns, their course involves explanations of grammar and sentence structure to build clear, conscious understanding. For both PC and Mac operating systems, though Mac OS X users should check to make sure it is compatible with recent versions of OS X.
Multimedia Learning Suite Chinese Characters Memory Lifter: Presented in a convenient “plug and play” USB stick format, this program uses multimedia flashcards organized by subject to help you memorize 3,000 Chinese words. Its useful features include a variety of learning modes, the ability to track your learning progress, statistical feedback on your performance, the ability to edit and expand vocabulary sets with your own data, and the ability to print flashcards. The package also includes a study guide, introductory videos, MP3 audiobooks for playback on portable listening devices, and a “Learn to Learn” booklet to help you get the most out of the system.
Good information about tea and teaware can be found on the discussion boards at TeaChat.
Yixing zisha (“purple clay”) teapots (photo credit: Alexandr Solo) are prized for both their beauty and the added richness they impart to the flavor of tea. Although there are apparently a number of English-language retail websites that sell authentic Yixing teapots, my research suggests that the sites introduced below may be the best places to purchase them. However, to ensure faster shipping for Christmas, you might also consider purchasing a pot directly from the Yixing teapots page on the U.S.-based website of Yunnan Sourcing, a company that also sells high-quality tea leaves.
- Wan Ling Tea House: With a tea shop in Shanghai and other operations based in the U.K., Wan Ling Tea House is a great source for both tea leaves and tea accessories, including Yixing teapots.
- Chinese Tea Culture: This site is operated by a Mandarin-speaking American living in China who is able to ensure the quality of the products he sells (tea leaves, Yixing teapots, and other tea accessories) by getting them directly from producers.
Teavana Yixing Travel Tea Tumbler: This stainless-steel, clay-lined thermal tumbler provides an inexpensive and practical way to add a traditional twist to your daily tea drinking experience.
The following books would make great gifts for anyone interested in learning more about tea culture and the complexities of tea itself:
- The Tea Drinker’s Handbook (Francois-xavier Delmas, Mathias Minet, and Christine Barbaste): Written in clear English by the co-directors of France’s Le Palais des Thés (“Palace of Tea”) retail chain, this well-designed, accurate, and comprehensive book goes beyond many other books about tea in giving detailed information about tea bushes and the cultivation of tea. It also features 200 full-color photographs and illustrations.
- The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook: A Guide to Enjoying the World’s Best Teas and The Story of Tea: A Cultural History & Drinking Guide (Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss): Written by the founders of Tea Trekker, these books have received a great deal of critical praise and high marks from readers. The Handbook is a “pocket guide” (for a large pocket) that focuses on practical buying, brewing, and tasting advice; The Story of Tea is a more comprehensive tea tome augmented by 150 full-color photographs. Both books are also for sale on Amazon and available for both Kindle and iBooks.
Easy Chinese Recipes: Family Favorites From Dim Sum to Kung Pao (Bee Yinn Low) and The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook: 101 Asian Recipes Simple Enough for Tonight’s Dinner (Jaden Hair): Two very highly rated cookbooks covering the spectrum of Chinese cuisine, with an emphasis on convenient recipes that use ingredients available at American supermarkets. Both books are now available for Kindle.
Joyce Chen 10-Inch Bamboo Steamer Set and Joyce Chen Parchment Steamer Liners, 10 in. (50 Count): A set of two stackable bamboo steaming baskets, along with convenient paper liners fitted to the baskets.
14-Inch Traditional Cast Iron Wok Set: A perfect gift for the budding Chinese cook who wants to cook the traditional way, this is an “old-school” wok (without teflon) that has received rave reviews on Amazon. It includes five pieces: the wok, an aluminum lid, a stainless steel spatula, a ring, and a bamboo cleaning whisk. For a high-quality teflon-coated wok, consider this 14-inch wok from T-Fal.
Mystic East Art’s website, chinesepaintings.com, has a good reputation and features beautiful Chinese-style paintings—original paintings only, not prints. Oriental Furniture is a highly rated seller with a broader selection of Chinese and Asian furniture, art, and decorative accessories.
Oriental Art Supply and Asian Art Mall are two reputable online retailers that offer a huge selection of calligraphy- and art-related supplies and products. Oriental Art Supply is owned by the family of Dr. Ning Yeh, an accomplished painter.
Here are a few art-related gift ideas available on Amazon:
Chinese calligraphy writing and brush painting set (by Reorient) with 5 brushes, an ink stick, an inkstone, signing ink, a water well, a brush rest, and a stone chop. Although this product is highly rated, be aware that the brushes are quite small and may be unsuitable for people with larger hands. Reorient, which sells through Amazon, is a highly rated merchant with a wide variety of products.
Chinese Calligraphy Made Easy: A Structured Course in Creating Beautiful Brush Lettering (Rebecca Yue): A well-reviewed book for beginning practitioners of Chinese calligraphy.
100 sheets Japanese Chinese Calligraphy Rice Paper: Well-reviewed paper used for calligraphy and brush painting practice.
A personalized Chinese seal, also referred to as a chop or stamp, makes a classy and unique gift. Oriental Art Supply sells personalized seals carved in China in a variety of configurations; square artist name seals like the ones pictured here are the most commonly used. (See the “Related Products” links at the bottom of the page for other kinds of seals.) Asian Brush Art & Graphic Design also sells customized seals.
If you need to create a Chinese name for someone without one, try these websites:
- MandarinTools.com: A sophisticated name generator with a variety of options; it gives rough phonetic transliteration of Western names within the parameters of a traditional three-character Chinese name (one-character surname, two-character given name). It also provides some information about the specific names it generates and Chinese names in general, along with links to other sources of information about Chinese names.
- Chinese-Tools.com: This name generator handles one name at a time only (given name or surname), and it outputs common transliterations of Western names that do not follow the format of a traditional Chinese name. These names are immediately recognizable as Western names and may or may not work well on a seal.
- ChineseTools.eu: This name generator works just like the one above.
You can get a digital version of the seal stamp on these websites to see what it might look like:
The Martial Arts Store has an incredible selection of martial arts-related goods.
Feiyue martial arts shoes: These shoes are apparently the kind worn by Shaolin monks during training. Flexible, padded, and light, they are ideal for martial arts and similar activities. One drawback is that the shoes’ rubbery soles have a strong smell at first that diminishes over time. Note that these shoes are different (lighter, for martial arts practice) than the shoes sold on the official Feiyue website based in France, which are more fashion-oriented shoes.
For basic instructional videos on ch’i kung (氣功, qìgōng) or t’ai chi ch’uan (太極拳, tàijíquán), consider these highly rated DVDs created by Chris Pei: Qi Gong for Beginners and Tai Chi for Beginners.
The Way of Energy: Mastering the Chinese Art of Internal Strength with Chi Kung Exercise (Master Lam Kam-Chuen): An introduction to zhan zhuang (站樁, zhàn zhuāng), a simple but powerfully health-promoting form of ch’i kung (氣功, qìgōng) that involves standing still in various postures and can be done by people of all ages. This book is very highly regarded for its lucid explanations of qigong concepts and its easy-to-follow instructions, augmented by more than 100 drawings and photographs. Complementary video clips by the author can be found on the StandStillBeFit channel on YouTube.
Serious students of martial arts might find a trip to the Shaolin Monastery, the home of kung fu, fascinating; the monastery is included on our Roots of Chinese Culture 14-Day Tour.