In collaboration with VSCO, we recently explored Shanghai’s Jinhuanghuang secondhand market, one of the last of its kind in the city, to find out what makes it so special. All of the images in this story were edited with the powerful presets and tools that come with VSCO X. Click here to start your free, seven-day trial.
I thought I’d prepared myself, but when I finally found the Jinhuanghuang General Wholesale Market, I was still taken aback.
Jinhuanghuang is tucked away between West Gaoke Road and the elevated highway of South Pudong Road. Even with GPS guidance, the cab driver had trouble finding it. In retrospect, the difficulty of even locating the market’s entrance foreshadowed its labyrinthian interior, where a mishmash of shops hawking old appliances, antiques, and secondhand clothing stretched out everywhere you looked. The people, however, you could count on one hand.
I’d been to the market more than once, back when it was still on Dingxi Road. Yet its new incarnation left me a bit shocked: everything had changed.
The “Hidden” Market
Sprawling across two floors, Jinhuanghuang is the successor to two different secondhand markets that no longer exist: one on Yuntai Road in Pudong, on the east side of the river, and one on Dingxi Road in Changning district. It offers all kinds of secondhand wares, but it’s still mainly a destination for the vintage apparel trade, as its alternate English name – “Golden Glory Textile Market” – makes clear.
Oddly, since the market isn’t small, the shops are packed tightly together. The cramped feel, along with a lack of ventilation and daylight, gives the place the damp, musty smell of flea markets everywhere. Still, the shop owners say they’re grateful for the space.
On the day I visited, I ran into several shop owners who had relocated from the old markets. Still as enthusiastic ever, each one without exception called out to the people passing by: “Come on in and take a look!” When I told them I used to be a regular at the old location, they opened up even more.
“This place is a bit out of the way, but it’s huge,” one shop owner told me in Shanghainese. “It’s actually been over a year since we moved from Dingxi Road.”
“That long?” I gasped. “I only recently heard about this place from a friend of a friend, and I decided to make a special trip out here today.”
Reportedly closed for fire safety concerns, the market on Dingxi Road was slated for demolition. The plans kept getting delayed, until one day, without warning, it finally did get demolished, and within a few weeks, no trace of the market remained.
“They tore it down so fast. They cleared everyone out in no time at all, and in the last few days, we were selling at fire-sale prices because we had to leave behind what we couldn’t sell,” the shop owner recalled, voice tinged with regret or sadness.
“This new spot is pretty hard to find,” I said to the shopkeeper. “If one of my friends hadn’t been here before, I would’ve had no idea where to go.”
He laughed. “Yeah. When I first moved in, the whole market was a ghost town. No one came here.”
Even after I found the entrance, I got lost again amid the sprawl of shops. Only after wandering around in circles for a while did I finally stumble across a stairwell next to a stall. Above the dimly lit stairs, looking like a long-lost friend, a sign read “An’xi Fashion Market.”
But now, after a year, patrons of the old market have begun returning, and business has picked up. “Still, it doesn’t compare to what it was like before,” the shopkeeper sighed.
Less is More
Maybe because I saw so little foot traffic, the clothing selection seemed especially broad. Mountains of second-clothing from overseas sat waiting to be ironed and put up for sale.
Wholesale secondhand markets like this used to be quite large and do a brisk business. Bundles and bundles of clothes would arrive and get sent off again within a few days.
“In the old days, when the market was still on Dingxi Road, it was a madhouse! People would show up just after 9:00 in the morning, and on the busiest days we wouldn’t close till after 11:00,” recalled Xiao Chen, another shop owner. “Back then my son was just a little boy, and now he’s 29!”
“最早的时候，市场还在老定西路靠近愚园路的地方。那时候是真忙，每天早上九点多就有人来了，最热闹的时候要到晚上十一点才好关门。”老板娘小陈与我说道，“那时我的儿子才只有几岁，现在已经 29 了！”
“Sounds like you’re a veteran!” I grinned.
“Not at all,” she laughed. “The real veterans have all retired. I’m one of the younger ones.”
As we made small talk, I rummaged through her clothing, looking for potential additions to my wardrobe.
Each shop arranges clothes in its own way, mostly because the shop owners all choose their clothing differently. Some shops lay the items out right in front, with clearly marked prices ranging from a few dozen to a few hundred renminbi. Some are more selective, and some specialize in outerwear, intimate wear, or secondhand items from international brands. Sometimes you even find things by Gucci, Louis Vuitton, or Dolce & Gabbana, sold at a fraction of the original price.
这里的衣物分类方式与众不同，主要也是因为各家店主们的选衣定位不同。有很多店铺的衣服直接铺陈在外面，几十块到几百块不等，明码标价；有些店铺则精挑细选，或是专卖外套、内搭，或是主营国际大牌的二手老款，很多诸如 Gucci、LV、Dolce & Gabbana 等国际品牌，也会在此露脸，并且以低于市场价好几倍的价格抛售。
Xiao Chen says there used to be even more kinds of shops, with some that specialized in leather accessories and clothing. Many of the most famous vintage or buyer shops in town still source items from Jinhuanghuang. “My customers range from older folks out for a deal to merchandisers who come to buy in bulk,” she explained.
When a regular shows up, Xiao Chen brings out the latest items, often still bunched out and wrinkled in large bags. As a favor she lets them comb through the clothing before it even makes it onto the shelves.
A Hundred Different Styles
In Shanghai, where it can feel as though things get more expensive by the day, the market’s down-home prices are a rarity.
That’s why fashionistas from nearby universities come here to shop: the deals are good and the styles are quirky, with plenty of clothes to choose from. But perhaps an even bigger draw are the shop owners themselves, especially the women, who all have their own unique style and are happy share a few fashion tips.
That’s especially true of the shop owner Li Zi.
Her shop was one of the main reasons I came, and she certainly lived up to her reputation.
Dressed in a colorful sweater, she excitedly offered fashion advice as I browsed her racks of clothes.
“He’s tall and skinny. I think he’ll look better with loose, baggier clothes,” she told another customer before turning to me. “Those dress pants are a bit flamboyant, but if you pair them with a solid-colored top, I guarantee they’ll look amazing.”
“You’ve got a real eye for fashion. Do you ever help your kids pick out what to wear?” I asked.
“My son used to look down on these clothes because they were secondhand. But now that he’s got a job and has learned a thing or two, he’s slowly taking an interest. Now he says, ‘Mom, this brand’s too expensive! My boss wears clothes that cost only a few thousand, and what I have on costs ten times as much,” she laughed.
Here, if you’ve got a keen fashion sense, you can create an eye-catching look with seemingly ordinary vintage wear. You don’t need a lot of money to put together an outfit, just patience and personal taste. After a day spent scavenging the market, while some visitors might come away empty-handed, others might walk out with armfuls of loot.
“GOLDEN GLORY TEXTILE MARKET”
For all the warmth the shop owners show, they’re noticeably on their guard. Each time I asked, “Ayi, do you have a business card?” the answer was a resounding “no.”
This is because of the legal gray zone these shops operate in. On the one hand, they want more people to know about the market, so they’ll get more customers and do more business. But they’re even more worried that too much exposure might hasten the market’s closure. “It’s only a matter of time before this place is demolished, too,” they told me.
“GOLDEN GLORY TEXTILE MARKET”
As the last of the daylight receded, and I slowly made my way outside, I turn back to take one final look at the market. The neon red sign seems to be using its last remaining strength to illuminate the words “Golden Glory Textile Market.” But once I crossed the hectic traffic of West Gaoke Road, an overpass blocked the market from view. And just like that, it was gone.
天色渐晚，我慢慢踱出市场，回身一看，那块红色的招牌好像用它仅剩的一点微不足道的力气追赶着印着“ GOLDEN GLORY TEXTILE MARKET ”，但一穿过车流不息的高科西路，一切都被巨大的天桥挡住，什么也看不到了。