Pingao Travel Guide
Pingyao Ancient Town
Pingyao is a Chinese city and county in central Shanxi province, China. It lies about 715 km from Beijing and 80 km from the provincial capital, Taiyuan. During the Qing Dynasty, Pingyao was a financial center of China. It is now renowned for its well-preserved ancient city wall, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
History of Pingao
Pingyao still retains its city layout from the Ming and Qing dynasties, conforming to a typical bagua pattern. More than 300 sites in or near the city have ancient ruins. Preserved Ming- and Qing-style residences number close to 4,000. The streets and storefronts still largely retain their historical appearance.
In the Spring and Autumn Period, the county belonged to the kingdom of Jin. It was part of the kingdom of Zhao in the Warring States Period. In the Qin Dynasty, it was known as Pingtao. During the Han Dynasty, it was known as Zhongdu county. In 1986, the People's Republic of China designated Pingyao as one of the Chinese Historic and Cultural Cities. It became a World Heritage Site in 1997, included also the outlying Zhenguo Temple and Shuanglin Temple.
Pingyao Ancient Town
Pingyao was the financial center of China in the late Qing Dynasty. 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.
Pingyao Ancient City Walls
The city walls of Pingyao were constructed in the 3rd year of the Hongwu Emperor (1370). The walls have six barbican gates. The north and south sides have one gate each. The east and west sides have two gates each. This pattern is similar to that of a turtle (the head, tail, and four legs), earning Pingyao the moniker "Turtle City." The walls measure about 12 meters high, with a perimeter of 6,000 meters. A 4-meter wide, 4-meter deep moat can be found just outside the walls. Aside from the four structured towers at the four corners, there are also 72 watchtowers and more than 3,000 battlements. In 2004, part of the southern walls collapsed but were reconstructed. However, the rest of the city walls are still largely intact and are considered among the best-preserved ancient city walls on this scale. This makes the city walls the centerpiece of the Heritage Site.
Geography and Economy of Pingyao
Pingyao is located on the eastern banks of the Fen River, and is in the southwestern edge of the Taiyuan basin. It is adjacent to another Chinese Historic and Cultural City Qi County. Pingyao's economy is largely agricultural and the region is famed for its beef. Other products from the region include grains, cotton, and lacquerware.
Pingyao Ancient Town
Threats of Pingyao
Increases in tourism have put pressure on the ancient walled city of Pingyao. During the tourist high-season, the amount of visitors to the city can reach up to 3 times its maximum capacity per day.
Since 2007, non-profit organization Global Heritage Fund (GHF) has been working with the Pingyao County Government to protect the city against problems of poverty, neglect, lack of resources, mass tourism, and uncontrolled development. GHF's stated goal for the project is to better preserve the cultural heritage of Pingyao ancient city in more comprehensive and systematic approaches as part of an integrated planning, conservation and development program. The Pingyao Cultural Heritage Development Program aims to preserve the vernacular architecture, revitalize and stimulate the traditional arts and establish special historic areas.
Transportation in Pingyao
Pingyao has no airport. The closest major city is Taiyuan, two hours by train to the northwest. There are also regular buses you can just turn up at the bus station which is near the north gate and buy a ticket for RMB 25, it will take 2 hours to get to Taiyuan bus station which is a RMB 10 taxi ride away from the train station. You can catch a train to here from Wuhan, Chengdu, Datong, Zhengzhou, Xi'an and Beijing. The trains from the south (e.g. Guangzhou) are making 2 minutes stops in Pingyao. Check details for each train not to miss the station. All of these trains are overnight trains. Buses run to Xi'an and takes 6 hours, half the time of the train. There is now a high speed train from Taiyuan to Beijing (west railway station) which takes 3 hours and costs RMB 157.
Pingyao Ancient Town
The Old City is small enough that you can do most locations by foot. But if you need to cross town between attractions, or are simply lazy, you can hire golf carts that wander the streets. Pay around RMB 5 for a ride if a single person, around гд15 for four people. It is also possible to rent bikes for RMB 10 per day.
Pingyao Ancient City shares its UNESCO World Heritage Site listing together with Shuanglin Temple and Zhenguo Temple, both located just a few miles away. In addition, Pingyao can also serve as a good base for visiting the nearby Shanxi merchant family compounds.
Shuanglin Temple, (In Qiaotou Village, about 7 km southwest of Pingyao Ancient City.). This Buddhist temple complex was founded 1500 years ago and contains over 2000 colorful sculptures of various gods, warriors, Buddha, and other characters, some over 1000 years old. Construction on Shuanglin Temple started during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) at about the same time that the Yungang Grottoes in northen Shanxi were being sculpted. The existing buildings in the complex--ten halls arranged around three countyards--date from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties. As distinctive as the architecture may be, the highlight of this temple, however, is the amazing collection of terracotta and wood sculptures, over 2000 in total. The clay sculptures were made with wooden molds and generally were produced in the Ming Dynasty. Together they form one of the most impressive collections of Ming sculptures, noted for their vivid colors, fine workmanship, and expressive postures. Key buildings in the temple complex include the Hall of the Heavenly Kings, the Sakyamani Hall, the Hall of the Bodhisattvas, the Wusheng Hall, and the Hall of Arhats. Entry fee included in Pingyao ticket, or RMB 25.
Pingyao Ancient Town
Zhenguo Temple, 12 km northwest of the Ancient City of Pingyao (Can be reaches by bus or taxi from Pingyao.). Zhenguo Temple is a 1000-year-old Buddhist Temple located to the north of Pingyao. It is the only remaining temple in China built in the architectural style of the Five Dynasties Period (10th century). It shares the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation together with the Ancient City of Pingyao and Shuanglin Temple. Zhenguo Temple was first constructed in 963, during the Northern Han Dynasty, when it was known as Jingcheng Temple. The name changed toZhenguo Temple around 1540, in the Ming Dynasty. This impressive temple complex is divided into two sections, built around front and back courtyards. At the center of the front courtyard is the most noteworthy building in the temple, the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddha, one of the oldest wooden buildings in China. Orginally constructed in 963, this square-shaped hall was restored in 1815 when the brick walls were added. Inside the hall are 11 statues. The plump-looking sculptures, all with distinctive facial expressions, date from the Five Dynastive Period and are considered to be important works of art. The intricate roof design is also considered a noteworthy feature of this historical building, with the tall bracket sets considered a rarity in an ancient temple. In the back courtyard is the Hall of Three Buddha, with the Guanyin Hall and the Hall of the King of Hell on either side. They contain noteworthy sculptures and frescoes.
Qiao Family Compound, Qi County (Approximately 30 km north of Pingyao and 54 km south of Taiyuan. There are buses from Taiyuan to Qixian; one should ask the driver to let you off near the Qiao Family Compound prior to getting to Qixian. From here it is a short taxi ride to the entrance.). This extensive compound was originally constructed in 1756 by Qiao Guifa, who made his fortune selling tea and bean curd in Inner Mongolia. He returned to his hometwon in Qi County and built his dream house, which was then expanded by later generations of Qiao's. This magnificent complex is laid out in the shape of the Chinese xi character, meaning "double happiness." After entering through the main gate, one finds oneself on a long path leading to the main hall, which is the family's ancestral hall. This path divides the compound into southern and northern sections. Both halves have three courtyards each, and these six courtyards in turn include 20 smaller courtyards, 313 rooms, and a number of gardens spread out over a two-acre piece of land. The compound impressed visitors not just for its size but also for the exquisitie craftsmanship displayed in the brick carvings, woodwork, murals, and inscribed tablets. The wide variety of different roof styles is particularly interesting to see, and there are over 140 chimneys in the compound, each having its own design. Zhang Yimou's popular film,
Pingyao Ancient Town
Wang Family Compound, Near Lingshi Town (Buses from both Taiyuan and Pingyao connect with Lingshi,which is the nearest large town. From Lingshi one can take either a bus or taxi to the Wang Family Compound.). With 54 courtyards and over 1000 rooms, this massive compound is one of the largest of the residential complexes built by successful Shanxi merchants. It is, for instance, four times the size of the Qiao Family Compound. The Wang family started in farming and expanded into trading, then became officials. As the family grew in size and as they prospered, more and more coutyards were added to this residential complex, which was first constructed in the mid 1600s. Just as important as the scale of the complex is the distinctive architectural style and artistic finishing. As one moves from courtyard to courtyard, one can see an impressive collection of decorative lattice screens and windows, shaped openings between rooms and courtyards, and graceful roofs. The houses and courtyards feature carvings everywhere--in stone, brick, and wood--from the eaves of the houses and ridges of the roofs to window frames, timber joints, and doorways. Paintings, calligraphy, and Qing Dynasty furniture also decorate the houses.
Qu Family Compound, Qi County, Dongda Street. (North of Pingyao and slightly north of the Zhenguo Temple.). The Qu Family Compound is another extended family residence built near Pingyao Ancient City by a successful Shanxi merchant clan over a number of generations. This 300-year-old compound was very unusual in having five layers of courtyard, and the entire compound has 8 large courtyards, 19 smaller couryards, and 240 rooms overall. One enters the compound from a street built in the Ming and Qing Dynasties and which still retains the architectural feel of that period. Despite its great size, it is said that what is seen here represents only about one-fifth of the Qu family's estate. The Qu family was a very successful example of the Shanxi merchant, and their estate used to occupy most of the eastern half of Qi County. Overall, they owned 10 compounds containing over 1000 rooms. During the Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese occupied the compound, and the family had to temporarily relocate their head office to Chengdu. A Japanese observation post built above the roof of one of the buildings in the complex still remains. A few blocks away from the main compound is the Changyuchuan Teahouse, which also belonged to the Qu family. The ticket to the Qu Family Compound also includes entrance to a series of six museums in the area, including those dedicated to rulers, scales, mirrors, and vessels for measuring rice. The most interesting one is an abacus museum which includes a pagoda built completely from 668 abacuses.
Chang Family Compound, Dongyang Town, southwest of the Yuci District in Jinzhong City. (It is located about 40 km southwest of Taiyuan). Like the other family compounds, the Chang Family Compound was built over several generations by a wealthy merchant family to house the many branches of this successful clan. The Chang Family Compound is the largest of the Shanxi merchant family manors; despite its impressive size, however, what remains today is just one quarter of the original 600,000 square-meter compound, which contained over 1500 rooms. As the family prospered and grew in size, the Changs placed a great emphasis on education. This academic focus produced many scholars, painters, and calligraphers, and for this reason this compound is more interesting artistically than some of the other compounds in the region. Each of the courtyards, which are laid out along a 1 km long road, is somewhat different, but the themes throughout are very similar, with grey buldings, archways, smaller courtyards, and gardens in each one. The courtyards are filled with carvings in brick, stone, and wood, and there are many examples of carving which are of very high quality. The garden in one of the courtyards contains a collection of carved stone lions of various shapes and sizes. Originally there were 108 lions in the collection; today only 50+ remain. Behind these couryards is a large garden, designed in both the northern China and southern China styles, purportedly because the Chang family had to entertain visitors from both north and sourth. A 29-meter tall Guanji Tower in this garden is the tallest structure in the compound and offers expansive views over the entire compound from the top.