Pingyao – Historical Museum & Outstanding Old City

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 Courtyard of Family Qiao

The Courtyard of Family Qiao as the residential house of Qiao Zhiyong, a capitalist in the Qing Dynasty who attained his fortune in financial and commercial business in the periods of Emperor Jiaqing and Emperor Daoguang. With typical northern China architectural characteristics, the Dayuan (courtyard) is divided into 6 big yards and 20 small yards with 313 rooms and covers an area of over 8,700 sq meters. The courtyard gained its renown not only for its large scale but also for the exquisite craftsmanship reflected in the brick carving, woodcarving and murals. When people first saw the courtyard, they were astonished to find that the complex was so large and magnificent.

Here you can watch farming activities in every season, ceremonies of sacrifice and ancestral warship, wedding ceremonies and daily life. Through which you’ll have a view of the folk customs of Shanxi during the period of late Qing Dynasty.

The Courtyard of Family Wang

The Courtyard, titled as the “First House of the Chinese Folk Residence”, is located in the south of Shanxi Basin under the foot of the Mt. Mianshan. It was built along with the tendency of the hills, in massive scale, harmonious layout, and completely functional. The styles of the South China and the and the North China are combined in the building art and decoration skills, formulating a unique workmanship model, presenting a wonderful art style rooted in the land of China. The Painting and Calligraphy Hall displays hundreds of excellent works while Treasure Hall contains collections of furnishings, old coins, porcelains, rare stones and jade carvings. Both displays are open to the public.

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.

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.

Admission fee: RMB120/person

Opening hours: 8:00 am-19:00 pm