Pingyao, located in the Shanxi Province, is a microcosm of traditional Chinese culture that traces its roots back to the early Ming dynasty. Its urban fabric shows the evolution of architectural styles and city planning in Imperial China over five centuries.Â It remains one of the most well preserved ancient cities in all of China, attracting travelers from all corners of the world to this small ancient city. Of special interest are the imposing buildings associated with banking, for which Pingyao was the major center for the whole of China in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1997, it had the honor of being listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site.
Pingyao is dubbed the “Turtle City” as a result of the six gates along the ancient city wall, resembling in form the body of a turtle.Â Walking through any of the six city gates to one of the best-preserved walled city is as close as one can get to walking through time. Lasting more than 2,700 years, the ancient city of Pingyao is seen around every corner of ever street. There are no modern buildings and the stone streets are narrow, adorned with traditional Chinese shops on both sides. A leisurely stroll along the intimate streets will be filled with sights of stone chairs, courtyard walls, ancient-style eaves, large traditional Chinese plaques, arches and red lanterns. Pingyao’s location on the trade route between Beijing and Xian made it naturally desirable as a financial center. Some of China’s earliest banks were established here during the Qing Dynasty along with exchange shops whose operations were comparable to modern commercial bank drafts. Many of the old courtyards, most notably the homes and offices of Pingyao’s old tongs, or banks have been turned into museums.Â One of the most well known tongs is Rishengchang Draft Bank, where merchants ended Chinese’s history of transporting hard currency and money in exchange for bank drafts. Evident today by the local residence’s tradition and history of business, Pingyao was the undisputed financial center of China in what was last century’s richest province. The city has maintained much of its history and paints a vivid picture of the cultural, economic, religious and social developments that took place here centuries ago. A visit to this time-less city stirs the imagination of what it must have been like to live in China during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.