Ancient City of Pingyao, UNESCO Word Heritage Site

Nora Zheng
1219 Words/5 Minutes, By Nora Zheng, Updated February 08, 2023

The ancient city of Ping Yao is an exceptional example of a traditional Han Chinese city and known as one of the most well-preserved ancient cities in China. The city allows visitors to experience the extraordinary cultural, social, economic and religious developments from ancient China.

A brief history

Located in central Shanxi Province, the ancient city of Pingyao was initially built during the reign of Emperor Xuan of the Western Zhou Dynasty (827-782 BC) and further expanded in the 3rd year of Hongwu Period of the Ming Dynasty (1370 AD), has a history of over 2,700 years. Today, the founding appearance and layout of the city remains, contributing to its reputation as the best-preserved ancient city that was created by the Han Chinese.

Some facts

It is said that Pingyao has three treasures, one of which is the ancient city wall. The city wall stretches 6 kilometers with 3000 crenels and 72 watch towers, said to be a symbol of the 3000 disciples and 72 saints of Confucius. Having been subject to the test of time for over 600 years, the city wall still offers a glimpse of its bygone glory in every bit today.

The streets, shops and homes in the ancient city of Pingyao still retain their original layout and antique design of the past. The streets are in a shape of a cross, surrounded by shops of an antique design. The shops are tall structures decorated with paintings under the eaves and colorful carvings on the beams. The homes behind the shops are characterized by courtyard with black tiles and green bricks. The whole courtyard is a symmetrical structure with a clear axis in the middle. When viewed as a whole, the ancient city shows its charm and antique beauty that won’t fail to attract visitors.

Passing the north gate of the ancient city will take you to Zhenguo Temple, which is said to be the second treasure of Pingyao. It was originally built in the Five Dynasties Period (9th century). The Ten-Thousand Buddha Palace of the temple is hailed as China’s third largest wooden structure with a history of over 1,000 years, housing a number of precious color sculptures dating back to the Five Dynasties Period.

Shuanglin Temple to the southwest of the ancient city, known as the third treasure of Pingyao, was originally built in the 2nd year of the Wuping Period of the Northern Qi Dynasty (571 AD). Inside the temple, over 10 palaces house more than 2,000 colored-painted sculptures, contributing to the temple’s fame as a treasure trove of color-painted sculptures.

Historical status

Pingyao was the financial center of China in the late Qing Dynasty and was said to be the cradle of Shanxi business culture. In the 4th year during the reign of Emperor Daoguang of the Qing Dynasty (1824 AD), Rishengchang, the first bank in China, was established in Pingyao and was considered the archetype of China’s modern banking system. Three years later, Rishengchang branched out many subsidiary banks around China. In the 1840s, its business presence reached out to Japan, Singapore and Russia. Back then, Rishengchang served as the locomotive for the rapid development of the banking sector in Pingyao. During the prime time, there were as many as 22 banks here, contributing to its status as the financial hub of China.

Cultural Heritages

As a well-preserved historic city, the ancient city of Pingyao is said to be the archetype of the cities in ancient China. With an area of 2.25 square kilometers, it is home to over 42,000 inhabitants today, appearing the same as it did in the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911 AD).

Initially built during the reign of Emperor Xuan of the Western Zhou Dynasty (827-782 BC), the ancient city of Pingyao has a history of over 2,700 years. Since the system of prefectures and counties took shape in 221 AD, Pingyao has long served as a town-level administrative center. Today, the ancient city wall came in the shape we see today after the expansion in the 3rd year of Hongwu Period of the Ming Dynasty (1370 AD). In the city, the original look of the six major temples, government buildings and city buildings remain well preserved today. There are over 100 streets and lanes, which are in their original shape. On both sides of the street there are multitudes of stores dating back to the 17th-19th century. Among the 3,797 homes in the city, 400 are historically significant that are well-preserved.

Unique Cultural Heritage

The construction of the ancient city of Pingyao dates back to over 2,700 years ago. Over the long course of development, it has long been hailed as an art treasure trove of ancient Chinese architectural structures, known for its large number of time-honored cultural artifacts. It is also considered one of the major towns in Shanxi Province that have access to a plethora of cultural artifacts. The countless cultural artifacts in Pingyao not only represent the architectural style and building techniques of various historical periods, but also show the artistic and aesthetic achievements made by the Chinese people from different ethnic groups.

Cultural Traditions of the Han Chinese

The design of the ancient city of Pingyao has its root in traditional philosophy and architectural style of the Han Chinese between the 14th and 19th century. The city offers insight into the study of the social structure, economic landscape, military defense, religious belief, traditional philosophy and moral standards of the Han Chinese during this time.

Complete Ancient Home

Rebuilt in the 3rd year of Hongwu Period of the Ming Dynasty (1370 AD), the ancient city of Pingyao appears the same as it did in the past. Inside the city there are homes under the state protection that were built between 1840 and 1911 AD. The homes are all well designed, featuring symmetrical structure with an axis in the middle. The well-arranged homes are enclosed with large courtyards inside. The exquisite wood, brick, stone carvings and the window scenery of rural life form a pleasant experience for visitors. The homes are the best-preserved ancient homes of the Han Chinese.

An Advanced City

In the mid and late 19th century, the ancient city of Pingyao was one of the most advanced cities in China financially because it is home to the headquarters of the largest number of financial institutions in China. It once monopolized the financial circle in modern China. For over a hundred years, the banking sector there has been an engine for the economic development of modern China.

If you climb the city wall from the western gate, the first thing that comes into your vision is the statue of a warrior with weapons in his hands. Seriously looking into the distance, he is just like the guardian god of the ancient town.

Nora Zheng

Hi, I’m Nora Zheng, if you like my article, please share it with your friends. Any sugguestions on this aritcle, please contact me. Thanks!

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