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Ancient Pingyao City

Pingyao, a state historical and cultural city, has been named on the World Cultural Heritage list. It sits in the central part of Shanxi Province, 90km southward from Taiyuan, the capital city of Shanxi. The Fenhe River runs from north to south across the city. Pingyao has a history of more than 1700 years. It was prosperous and well developed in both Ming and Qing dynasties. People in those times who knew little about Pingyao were as incredible as people today knowing nothing about Shenzhen. Nicknamed "little Beijing", Pingyao was too big to be completely crowed.

Although Pingyao's glory has long since gone, we can still sense its past prosperity from its completely preserved city walls, its downtown layout of the Ming and Qing dynasties, its banks, shops, its groceries and its residential quarters.

The first must-see in Pingyao is its city wall. The rammed clay wall was begun in 828 B.C., when general Yin Jifu of the West Zhou dynasty was stationed here. It was designed as a military strong-hold. In the third year (1370) of Hongwu Reigh in the Ming dynasty, the city wall was enhanced, by using bricks and stones, to a circumference of 6.4 km and a height of 10 meters. The moat is three meters both in width and in depth. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the city wall was renovated 25 times. After this the inner and outer city walls were strongly fortified. It has long been called "tortoise city", symbolizing its longevity. The southern and northern gates are the tortoise's head and tail, the other four gates, two on the east side and two on the west are the tortoise's legs. With its avenues, streets and lanes, the pattern of the whole town resembles a bagua (a combination of eight of the 64 Trigrams of the "Book of Changes"' traditionally used in divination), which is similar to the pattern on a tortoise shell.

Its ancient architecture fully reflects the historical flavor of both Ming and Qing dynasties. The ancient city covers an area of 2.25 and its streets and avenues form a "+" shape. The 750-meter long street running north-south has attracted 78 shops and firms. The buildings in the town are built symmetrically along this street as an axis and the Market Tower as its central point.

Along this street of typical Ming and Qing style are banks, pawnshops, Chinese herb shops, silk shops and groceries, through a study of which visitors can revisit one-glorious days. During the last century, countless Shanxi traders did business here. The most famous was Rishengchang, the first private banking unit in China to handle money exchanges and deposits. Following this it had many branch shops throughout China.

The residential houses are distributed along the lanes and paths, set off against the ancient streets and shops. The courtyards feature grey tiles, formal design, clear axes and enclosed walls. The houses are all decorated inside and outside with exquisite wood, brick and stone carvings on the gates, doors, windows, eaves, poles and corridors. They are a combination of artistry and practicability.

There are many other historical attractions inside and around Pingyao. Shuangling Temple, 6 km southwest from Pingyao is famous for its colorful sculpture. The Zhengguo Temple, 12km to the northeast features unique wooden structural architecture.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee remarks, "The ancient city of Pingyao is an outstanding example of Chinese Han Nationality cities in Ming and Qing dynasties, displaying all the features of those periods. Pingya, in particular reveals a picture of unexpected cultural, social, economic and religious development in Chinese history".

Courtesy of "China Southwest Airlines Bimonthly"

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