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Home >> China City Guide >> Shanxi Province >> Pingyao

Pingyao Old Town

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The Old Town of Pingyao is in Pingyao County, in the center of Shanxi Province. It was constructed during the reign of King Xuan of the Western Zhou Dynasty (C.1100-771B.C.) and has been the county seat ever since the establishment of the prefecture-and-county system in ancient China. Today, Pingyao looks much the same as it did during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties and is the best-preserved historic town in the regions populated by the Han ethnic group.

Pingyao is known mainly for three historical treasures: the ancient large-brick city wall, the Zhenguo Temple, and the Shuanglin Temple.

The city wall of Pingyao was originally built with rammed earth and was rebuilt with bricks in 1370, the third year of the reign of Emperor Hong Wu of the Ming Dynasty. The city wall extends for six kilometers and testifies to the profound influence of Confucianism in this region, as the disciples of Confucius are said to be represented by the 3,000 embrasures on the wall and the 72 best disciples are represented by the 72 small watchtowers. In the later period of the Qing Dynasty, the Kuixing Pavilion was built on the southeast section of the wall and became a symbol of the flourishing culture of the ancient city.

The Old Town of Pingyao was constructed according to the traditional planning and building style of the Han ethnic group and was laid out according to the functions of its different parts. Four large streets, eight smaller ones, and 72 lanes made a neat grid. Symmetrically arranged along an axis, the private houses were constructed either in the style of courtyard houses or in the style of manmade-cave houses, all with local features. Today, Pingyao still has 3,797 courtyard houses, 400 of them especially well preserved. In addition, richly decorated temples and shops are scattered all over the town. These old buildings bring back a scene of the flourishing town of Pingyao during the Ming and Qing periods.

The Zhenguo Temple, located in the northeast part of the city, was built 1,000 years ago, and its Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas (Wanfo) is the third oldest existing wood building in China. The painted statues from the Five Dynasties period (907-960) inside the Wanfo Hall are listed as precious works of sculptures.

The Shuanglin Temple, with its ten halls, is located in the southwest part of the town and was rebuilt in 571, during the Northern Qi Dynasty (550-577). The temple houses more than 2,000 painted clay statues from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) through the Ming Dynasty and is known as the Treasure House of Painted Sculptures.

Other treasures in Pingyao include the Hall of Great Achievements in the Temple of Confucius, reconstructed in 1163, and the Qingxu Temple, originally constructed in 657.

Pingyao occupies an important place in the financial history of modern China. It was the location of the Shanxi Commerce and Rishengchang Piaohao, a kind of banking firm dealing mainly in the transfer of money. The now-defunct firm is considered to be the predecessor of modern banks in China. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, along with the development of economy and commerce, several large commercial firms of Shanxi Province opened branches outside the province, thus establishing a trans-regional business network. The circulation of commodities and the transfer of money gave rise to the piaohao.

In 1824, the Rishengchang Piaohao, the first banking firm in China, was established on what had been the site of the Xiyucheng Pigment Shop on Xidajie Street. Three years later, Rishengchang opened branches in Shandong, Henan, Liaoning, and Jiangsu provinces. In the 1840s, it expanded its operations to Japan, Singapore, and Russia. Following the example of Rishengchang, more than 20 piaohaos opened one after another in Pingyao, turning the town into the financial center of China.

Remembering Pingyao's glorious past, the local people have protected and preserved the old town. On December 3, 1997, at the 21st session of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, Pingyao was put on the World Heritage List.

"The Old Town of Pingyao is an outstanding example of the Han cities in the Ming and Qing dynasties, retaining all the features of these periods. Pingyao presents a picture of unusual cultural, social, economic, and religious development in Chinese history."¡ªfrom a report of the World Heritage Commission of UNESCO.

Pingyao Tour Sights

Ri Sheng Chang
Qiao Family's Compound
Ming - Qing Street
Shuanglin Temple
Ancient City Wall
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