The past prosperity of Shanxi lies in Pingyao while the soul of Pingyao lies in its Old City. There is no charming landscape, no green mountains or clear waters. What’s unique here is this well-preserved ancient city with its grand, solemn city wall, its residences and shops, and even the government office all in the style of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Surrounded by the turtle-like ancient City Wall of Pingyao, Pingyao Old City is just like a huge historical museum. Every street or building here has numerous stories to tell about the past one-thousand years. Pingyao Old City is the outstanding example of Chinese Han nationality cities during Ming and Qing dynasties remaining all features of such periods, it reveals the unexpected cultural, social, economic and religious development in Chinese history.
Pingyao is located on the eastern banks of the Fen River, and is in the southwestern edge of the Taiyuan basin. It is known as an exceptionally well-preserved example of a traditional Han Chinese city. Its urban fabric shows the evolution of architectural styles and town planning buildings in Imperial China over five centuries. Of special interest are the imposing buildings associated with banking, for which Pingyao was the major center for the whole of China in that period.
Pingyao developed into a merchant center where enterprising locals set up the nation's earliest banks. These institutions were the first in China to use checks, and business peaked in the 19th Century, when the city was the undisputed financial center of the Qing government. During those times, there were as many as 20 financial institutions within the city, comprising more than half of total in the whole country. Among these is "Rishengchang," considered the first bank in China. Since 1997, it has been listed as a World Heritage Site. Now Pingyao city is the only one in China completely reserved as it was hundreds of years ago, no modern buildings, only narrow stone-plate streets with many Chinese-style shops on the two sides.
Several old courtyards have been turned into museums, most notably the homes and offices of Pingyao's old tongs, or banks. One of the most remarkable aspects of a visit here is realizing that this remote place was immensely important to China's financial history.
The Ancient City Wall
First built about 2,700 years ago, the ancient city wall was expanded in the Ming Dynasty. It was the most well-preserved wall among the ancient historical and cultural cities in China. It is square, 10 meters high, 5 meters wide, and 5.4 kilometers in circumference. There are 72 terraces with battlements. A bird's-eye view of the city, the wall looks like a turtle, hence the name 'Turtle City'. It has two gates on the south and north representing the head and tail of the turtle and four gates on the east and west as the four legs. The doors on the south and north stand opposite each other, like the head of the turtle extending out and two wells just beyond southern gate are like a turtle's two eyes.
Ancient Ming-Qing Street
Entering the Ancient Ming-Qing Street, you can not only feel the atmosphere of the flourishing businesses formerly established but also appreciate the really ancient building designs. Don't pass by the chance to properly taste some of the delicious food available in Pingyao, such as noodles made as dishes, savory beefs as well as the uniquely fragrant and dainty 'Wantuo'. With so many interesting and historical attractions to visit and divine concoctions to sample, this area is sure to make a lasting impression on you once you venture here.