Welcome to Pingyao Ancient City, a remarkable walled city located in central Shanxi, China, known for its well-preserved Ming and Qing urban planning and architecture. This city is famous for its rich economic history, which has contributed to its status as an AAAAA-rated tourist attraction. Pingyao has been the seat of local government since at least the Qin and served as the financial center of the region from the 16th century and of the entire Qing Empire during the late 19th century. Today, the city is a World Heritage Site with over 300 ancient ruins, including the Zhenguo Temple and Shuanglin Temple. Let’s explore the fascinating history, breathtaking architecture, and unique culture of Pingyao Ancient City.
There was already a settlement in place at Pingyao by the reign of the Xuan King (r. c. 827 – c. 782 BC), when the Zhou raised earthen ramparts around the site. Pingyao served as the financial center of the region from the 16th century and of the entire Qing Empire during the late 19th century. During those times, there were more than 20 financial institutions within the city, comprising more than half of the total in the whole country. Organized restorations have been undertaken periodically since the 15th century, the most recent phase beginning in 1979. Pingyao was designated as one of the Chinese Historical and Cultural Cities in 1986.
Pingyao is located on the east bank of the Fen River near the southwestern edge of the Taiyuan Basin. It is approximately 100 km (62 mi) south of central Taiyuan and 715 km (444 mi) southwest of Beijing, the national capital. Pingyao County is adjacent to Qi County, whose seat is also a protected historical and cultural city.
The climate of Pingyao is temperate. It is cold in winter, often having northwestern winds with little snow and severe fog. In the spring, the temperature varies greatly between day and night, with a little rain and some winds. Summertime is often hot, humid and rainy. Autumn days have falling temperatures with little rain and are cool and clear with abundant sunshine.
Pingyao still retains its urban layout from the Ming and Qing dynasties, conforming to a typical ba gua pattern. More than 300 sites in or near the city have ancient ruins. The city has over a hundred streets and lanes, lined with close to 4,000 17th–19th century shops and residences. The streets and storefronts still largely retain their historical appearance. The city walls of Pingyao were constructed in 1370, the 3rd year of the Hongwu Emperor of the Ming. They enclose an area of about 2.25 km2 (0.87 sq mi). The walls measure about 12 m (39 ft) high, with a perimeter of 6,163 m (20,220 ft). A 4 m wide and 4 m (13 ft) 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. The walls are considered among the best-preserved ancient city walls on this scale.
As of 2009, Pingyao had a population of 48,531 people living in 16,634 households. 12,132 residents held local hukous and 36,399 were from other parts of China.
As of 2009, the town had a labor pool of 19,059 people. Industry produced 840m RMB and was focused on improving the energy efficiency of its practices. A local specialty is lacquerware. The service sector, including tourism, produced less income than industry—790m RMB–but was growing rapidly and marked for special focus by local government.
Pingyao Ancient City is a top-rated tourist attraction in China, welcoming visitors from all around the world. The city has over 300 ancient ruins, including the Zhenguo Temple and Shuanglin Temple, which are a World Heritage Site. Pingyao still retains its urban layout from the Ming and Qing dynasties, conforming to a typical ba gua pattern. More than 100 streets and lanes are lined with close to 4,000 17th–19th century shops and residences. The walls of the city were constructed in 1370, and they enclose an area of about 2.25 km2 (0.87 sq mi). The walls measure about 12 m (39 ft) high, with a perimeter of 6,163 m (20,220 ft). A 4 m wide and 4 m (13 ft) 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. Pingyao is also famous for its local cuisine, including Pingyao beef and wantuo, which is a favorite of the Empress Dowager Cixi. Tourists can visit the city to experience its rich history, breathtaking landscapes, unique culture, and mouthwatering local cuisine.
Pingyao is known for its rich cultural heritage, which is reflected in its architecture, food, and traditions. Local specialties include Pingyao beef (平遥牛肉, Píngyáo niúròu) and wantuo (平遥碗托, Píngyáo wǎntuō), a favorite of the Empress Dowager Cixi. Other local products are Changshengyuan rice wine (长升源黄酒), bean flour minjian (豆面抿尖), and Jiupian (揪片). The silver merchants of Pingyao in the early 20th century were the subject of the 2009 film Empire of Silver.
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Official website of Pingyao County Government (in Chinese)
Pingyao preservation project summary at Global Heritage Fund
Explore Pingyao with Google Earth on Global Heritage Network
UN World Heritage – Pingyao
Well-illustrated guide to Pingyao