Ancient Chinese Markets

Ancient Chinese Markets




Download the .pdf here!


Ancient Chinese Markets


In 707 AD, markets were banned outside of the cities. This was so the government could maintain tight controls on all commodities. The urban markets were managed by the Agency of Market Commandants and their staff. They registered the merchants, inspected the weights and measurements, looked for counterfeit coins, and stopped the sale of inferior products. Each year the Commandants were required to send all weights and measures to the imperial treasury to check for accuracy. It was also their responsibility to issue certificates of purchase for cattle, slaves, camels, mules, and donkeys. They also had to be on the lookout for price fixing, and they had to set the prices for all of the commodities.

The greatest markets were found in the capital city of Changan. Changan had two enormous markets which were said to be almost 500 acres each in size. The markets were divided by streets into nine sectors. Each of the sectors was divided into lanes and each lane had an entrance sign that told what the specialty was on that particular lane. For example, one lane might sell meat, while another sold just produce or fish. In the center of the market was the office of the Market Commandant, and two additional agencies that were in charge of stabilizing the prices. One of the agencies was in charge of distributing cereal during the famines that occurred. Famines were especially difficult on the poor because when the grain was in short supply prices soared. This government agency released grain that was kept in government granaries. The purpose of the government granaries was to flood the market so that the prices would remain low. The system saves countless people from death by starvation. The grain was purchased with taxes. At this time barley was very popular, especially for soups.

The market in Changan featured a wide assortment of fruits including pears, apricots, grapes, peaches, apples, and pomegranates. At the same time they sold nuts including walnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts. The chestnuts were sometimes made into flour. Exotic meats were also sold. Camel, bear, marmot otter, pheasant, and enormous rats were among the most popular. Several species of insects were also sold. Also available on the open market was a wide variety of spices. Merchants sold fresh garlic, salt, ginger, and tangerine peel for flavoring.

There were all kinds of stores inside the market. Some sold horses, mules, cows, and pigs. Slaves were kept in cages until they were sold. Merchants also sold ready made clothes, medicine, low grade silk, and iron tools such as axes. There were also fortune tellers, barbers, gold and silversmiths, breweries that produced ale, delicatessens, donkey rentals, and restaurants. The markets opened at 12 noon, and closed 1 and hours before dusk. After dark it was still possible to buy some things on the streets.

Because the eastern market was where all of the wealthy lived, the items sold there were sometimes very exotic. This market featured products from all over the known world. Things like pheasant, turtle eggs, quail, goose eggs, sugar cane, and red oranges, and purple salt. It also contained a lavish Persian market that sold precious metals, rugs, precious stones, and a crowd favorite, pearls.