Located in the central part of Shanxi, Pingyao is a cultural city with a history of over 2,700 years. Covering an area of 2.25 square kilometers, it is a huge building complex consisting of city walls, streets, shops, temples and residential houses. It is an exceptionally well-preserved traditional county of the Ming and Qing dynasties, and is known as a museum on the ground.
The city wall of today’s Pingyao was built in 1370 or the 3rd year of the Emperor Hongwu’s reign of the Ming Dynasty. With a circumference of 6,163 meters, it is 12 meters high, producing a rather splendid appearance. It is in fact the best-preserved ancient city wall in China. In the downtown, with the County Administrative Building as its center, four major streets, eight small streets and 72 lanes form a large pattern of the Eight Diagrams. Major constructions are distributed in an orderly fashion left and right, with the Temple of the Town God in the left part of the city corresponding to the county governmental office in the right, the Confucian Temple in the left corresponding to the Guandi Temple worshipping Guan Yu, deified god of war, in the right, and the Qingxu Taoist Temple in the left corresponding to Buddhist Temple in the right.
The County Administrative Building is a three-storied wooden structure. Standing on the second floor, one can gain a superb panorama of the ancient city. It was the city’s landmark architecture.
The residential houses constitute an integral part of the Ancient City of Pingyao. There are in total some 3,900, all together representing the best-preserved traditional folk dwelling complex in Han-inhabited areas. They mostly exhibit the siheyuan courtyard, and the principal rooms are arched cave-houses of brick structure, which are warm in winter and cool in summer.
There are a number of particular cultural areas in the Ancient City of Pingyao, of which 10 are key cultural sites subject to the State protection. The Shuanglin Temple is well-known for its wonderful painted sculptures. The pagoda tree of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), stele of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). bell of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and the painted sculptures and examples of ancient architecture inside the temple are universally acknowledged as rare treasures.
When speaking of Pingyao, one cannot omit to mention the Shanxi businessmen, old-style Chinese private banks and original exchange shops. The Rishengchang Exchange Shop, the earliest of its kind in China, began in Pingyao, Shanxi Province. It acquired the reputation of Huitong Tianxia, which means that its silver coinage and bills of exchange were recognized in every part of the country.