"We're going on the Imperial Jewels and Shopper's Paradise on Sept 1. What are the best shopping spots? I know, it depends on what you want to buy, but in general - are there some stops considerably better than others?"
We sailed a different itinerary, but I can give you some advice about shopping in the ports we visited. First things first: be ready to use your bargaining skills! In every place except the government-run silk factory, prices were VERY, VERY NEGOTIABLE. For example, I was given a price of 660 Yuan (approximately 8 Yuan to a US dollar, so let's say $85.00) for a jade necklace. By the time I concluded the sale, I had the necklace, earrings, and a bracelet to match--all for 200 Yuan, or about $25.00.
In Beijing, during the tour of the hutongs, I was able to purchase knock-off Rolex watches for $2.50 each (altho the initial asking price was $15.00). They are still running!
There's good shopping at tje Great Wall--again a place to practice your bargaining skills. Tee shirts can be had for as little as $2.00 each; knock-offs of designer pocketbooks, scarfs are rampant. Souvenirs for a dollar or two are all over the place! Rolex watches (supposedly "good ones") are priced at $25.00 or more. There are lovely porcelain dolls, too.
The shops in Xian feature copies of the Terra Cotta Army sculptures. They make very nice souvenirs! You can find some museum quality pieces--very expensive--all the way down to a box of five small pieces for $2.00. There are also beautiful jade masterpieces available.
Your first stop during the river cruise portion is Shibaozhai. The Shibaozhai Temple is very interesting...and it's a great place to get souvenir-type purchases: "silk" jackets, kimonos, robes, pajamas; purses, wine-bottle covers, wallets; chopsticks; China dolls; toys, etc. Do not pay more than $8.50 for a jacket, even though the opening request might be as high as $80.00!
In Shanghai I bought a pulled silk blanket and duvet at the government-run silk factory. The fabric is guaranteed to be silk--and prices for everything seem to be non-negotiable. I paid about $160 for the two pieces and I love them! In the shopping area near the Bund you can find all kinds/all qualities of jewelry, jade sculptures, knock-off Rolexes (I bought two that aren't working anymore and two others that are doing just fine, thank you!).
Our cruisetour ended in Shanghai, so I can't give you any information about shopping in Guilin or Hong Kong at this time. Someday I'll get there...and to Thailand, too!