The Shrinking List of Things You Can’t Buy in China

I remember my list of things I needed to buy on my trips back to the States used to be something like this:

1. Shoes (I’m size 13)
2. Pants/jeans (I got some long legs)
3. Deodorant (I like Speed Stick)
4. Anti-diarrhea pills (there are some things you never totally get used to…)

Nowadays you can find almost everything on Taobao, though. I forgot to get deodorant on my last trip home, but thanks to Taobao, I think I can cross it off the list anyway:

Speed Stick on Taobao

Same goes for item #1:

Size 13 Shoes on Taobao

I’m not going to buy my pants on Taobao (yet), and I haven’t seen the type of anti-diarrhea pills you can get in the States here (when you need ’em, you need ’em!), but I imagine it’s just a matter of time before “the list” is gone completely.

Food aside, what items are still on your list? (And run a search on Taobao before posting your reply!)


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Even a lot of food can be ordered through Taobao. Also, there are cheap English-language children’s books.

    If you had asked me a couple years ago I might have said pants and electronics, but over time I’ve become used to buying those here too. I used to insist on Levi’s jeans, but these days I’m less picky about fashion and tend to go with whatever I can find at Baleno, or Uniqlo if I want quality. Also with electronics I just learn to deal with the small independent shops or use

  2. Ah! The great deodorant myth raises it’s smelly head again.

    I’ve been buying deodorant in China for 17 years. OK, maybe not the exact brand I would buy back home, but deodorant all the same.

    Almost all my clothes are off-the-peg Chinese. I buy my shoes in the local dept. store. And I’m not Chinese shaped or sized.

    I honestly can’t think of anything I can’t buy (other than certain English language books, newspapers etc but I guess Liuzhou Daily isn’t available in London, either) – and I’ve never used Taobao.

    • How is lack of deodorant a myth? There’s one brand called “Fa” you can buy, but it’s watery and terrible.

      I’ve been looking for 12 years, and I still have never found decent deodorant in China (prior to Taobao).

      Is Liuzhou somehow special in this regard?

      • It is a myth, precisely because you can buy deodorants – both Chinese and ‘western’.

        Surely you have a Watson’s. They have deodorants. As do many supermarkets and independents.

      • It was a problem until a couple of years ago, but even supermarkets in Beijing now sell Western deodorant brands like Axe – both spray and roll-on. And not just Carrefour and Walmart either; even local chains like Jingkelong have it.

      • I usually buy the rolly-ball Adidas deodorant at Watson’s. And I’ve seen the same stuff and other brands at Wal-Mart.

    • Pretty sure the myth is that ‘Chinese guys don’t use it because they don’t stink like laowai’… which is some gobbdegook theory I got from a Taxi driver in Shanghai (who told me that when I asked him how to say ‘pitstick’ in Chinese).

      Yes. Yes, they have BO in China. Just get on the subway. I recommend the 江苏路站 if you want a good whiff of the motherland.

      Of course they have lots of pitstick in China. They’re just lacking the almighty ‘Old Spice’.. but the Adidas Roll-on stuff is okay (if overpriced for 老外).

  3. I normally was able to find almost everything in person. The few things that I needed to use Taobao for… a beanbag chair, a yoga mat, a few pirated books… most of which I am sure I could have found in person if only I had searched long enough.

    English language books are the only thing that I ever had trouble finding. Although some classic literature and best-sellers are easily available on Taobao or in brick-and-mortar stores, less popular books were often nowhere to be found. Of course, + international shipping was always an option (if I wanted to pay $50 for a $10 book! hahaha).

  4. I’m no expert… but doesn’t the Imodium (易蒙停) work very efficiently against the laduzi?

  5. We are returning to China soon, and I am in the midst of early packing stages. Some of what we bought in the US to bring back with us:

    Bras. I do see some in my range on Taobao (never in a Chinese department store), but these really do need to be tried on before purchasing.

    Children’s ibuprofen and cough medicine. I wouldn’t buy these from Taobao. I don’t even buy them from Amazon in the US.

    Shoes and trainers for me. Taobao’s selection in size 10/42 women are not my taste, but at least they are mostly women’s shoes. In department stores they only offer me men’s shoes. Shoes and trainers for the kids, too, because they really need to be measured and try them on first, especially since my son’s feet are really wide.

    Easter candy. Because, you know, Easter is coming.

    Toothpaste is a big one, too. Even my cousin who has lived in Vienna and now lives in Perth packs his bags with American toothpaste when he is home. I see some of our brands on Taobao, but I have the room for them in our luggage.

  6. Ray Ducray Says: January 30, 2013 at 7:42 am

    with regards to anti-diarrhea pills, I was a great “western” pill user, but found BOW CHEE WON (Excuse the spelling) to be an excellent alternative and damn cheap ! Try any pharmacy and ask for it. You will be very surprised. As for Taobao I am also 13-14 and have had some very good buys with shoes. Clothes, well the old tailor down at Dongman in Liuzhou, he’s brilliant and as cheap as Taoboa !!

  7. Hey John,

    Is a size 13 in US a 47, 47.5 or 48? I’m guessing 47.5. I’m also a 13.
    I need basketball shoes to avoid ankle sprains but they are too small here.
    — Lee

  8. Specialty hair care products are woefully lacking. Just basic haircare stuff. Nothing for frizz, curl, etc etc.

Leave a Reply