Pingyao (Chinese: 平遥; pinyin: Píngyáo) 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.
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, including the outlying Zhenguo Temple and Shuanglin Temple.
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.
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. Rishengchang controlled almost 50% silver trade when its scale reached the top in the whole Qing Dynasty. It continued to maintain its prosperity until going bankrupt in 1914 because lots of the modern banks were built up. The 2009 film Empire of Silver depicted the tribulations of a Shanxi bank-owning family that lived in Pingyao during the early 20th century.
Geography and economy
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.
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.