Pingyao Introduction 平遥

This is the introduction to a series of articles about our 3 visits to Pingyao, the historic city in China’s Shanxi Province.

PINGYAO SPECIAL

WHY VISIT PINGYAO?

Pingyao, a World Heritage Site since 1997, is renowned for being one of the best- preserved ancient walled cities in China, as well as its earliest banking centre.

The wonderful City Wall spans the entire old city: it’s a 6- kilometre long, 10- metre high, crenellated structure with 72 watch towers, set at fifty- metre intervals. The construction has a brick and stone exterior, with many of the bricks still showing the distinctive stamps of their makers, with rammed earth inside.

Already a thriving merchant city in the Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644), Pingyao reached its hey-day during the Qing dynasty (1644 y 1912), when merchants created the first banks in the country.

Old Banks In Pingyao

These so-called piaohao (票号), ‘draft banks’ or ‘remittance shops’, provided remittance services and bank drafts to move money from one city to another, in order to finance trade. In 1823, the Rishengchang, or ‘Sunrise Prosperity’, became the first such draft bank to open its doors in Pingyao.

Old Banks in Pingya0

Later on, it established 43 branches in key cities around China and abroad, in countries like Japan, Singapore, and Russia. As a result, Pingyao became the center of China’s banking industry, with over half of the country’s piaohao -about 22 banking firms in charge of a further network of 404 branches – headquartered inside Pingyao’s City Walls.

The original Rishengchang survived for 108 years, before finally collapsing in 1932.

Since then, the Rishengchang, as well as a number of other piaohao and merchants’ residences have been restored and opened to the public, alongside a whole string of other sights, such as temples, halls and museums.

Moreover, Pingyao makes a great base for excursions to some out-of-the-way places, such as the village of  Zhangbi Cun.

Zhangbi Cun

Even today, as you stroll the cobblestoned streets of the perfectly preserved old city, you won’t find any high-rises, or ugly white-tiled buildings. Just don’t expect to have the place to yourself: Pingyao is firmly on the – mainly Chinese – tourist track and connected to Beijing by high speed trains! But don’t despair; the tour groups mostly stick to the ‘big sites’ and, as there are so many places to visit, you can easily get away from the crowds.

Quiet street in Pingyao

The best way to enjoy Pingyao is to dive into the back alleys and explore. And make sure to book yourself into one of those atmospheric courtyard hotels that Pingyao does so well.

Shanxi Province 山西省: A journey through the cradle of Chinese culture

Shanxi Province 山西省

Yungang Caves nearDatong
Yungang Caves 云冈石窟 near Datong大同

 

Our last two trips to China have taken us to the North-Western province of Shanxi. We’ll be posting a series of articles that look at some of the most spectacular sites Shanxi has to offer.

Temple  Land at Wutai Shan
Temple Land at Wutai Shan 五台山

We’ll be recommending what to see and do in places that range from the amazing cave art of the Yungang Grottoes云冈石窟 near Datong 大同 and the temple- studded mountains of Wutai Shan 五台山 to more remote places like Qikou 碛口, a Ming dynasty village on the Yellow river, the cave houses of Lijiashan 李家山, or the castles near the bustling city of Jincheng 晋城.

Grilled Squid at Taiyuan-s wonderful night market
Grilled Squid and lamb at Taiyuan-s wonderful night market

Pingyao 平遥 won’t be forgotten. We’ve now visited this wonderful city 3 times since 2001. There will be a comprehensive review of all the incredible things to see and do in and around this unique historical city.

Shanxi Opera in Pingyao
Shanxi Opera in Pingyao 平遥

For now, here are a few photos to whet you appetite. Continue reading “Shanxi Province 山西省: A journey through the cradle of Chinese culture”