Assessment of the World Heritage Commission:
The Ancient City of Ping Yao is the best preserved ancient county in China, as well as an example of Han Chinese cities in the Ming and Qing dynasties. During the development of Chinese history, the ancient city unfolds an extraordinary picture that shows the development of culture, society, economy and religion.
World Cultural Heritage: The Ancient City of Ping Yao
Chinese Name: Ping Yao Gu Cheng
English Name: The Ancient City of Ping Yao
Approval Date: December 1997
Heritage Category: Cultural heritage
Selection Criteria: Based on the standards C(II)(III)(IV) for selecting cultural heritage, the Ancient City of Ping Yao was listed on the World Heritage List.
The Ancient City of Ping Yao
The Ancient City of Ping Yao is located in central Shanxi Province in Northern China and dates back to the period of Emperor Xuanwang during the Western Zhou Dynasty (827 BC – 782 BC). It was further expanded during the third year of Hongwu in the Ming Dynasty (1370) and has a history spanning over 2,700 years. At present, the city still preserves its look from the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368 — 1911), and is thus hailed as the best preserved ancient Han Chinese city.
The Ancient City of Ping Yao has three valuable treasures, among which, is the ancient city wall. The city wall was established in the third year of Hongwu during the Ming Dynasty (1370), and is 6.4 kilometers around. It is the largest city wall that has a relatively long history in Shanxi Province. The city wall was repaired in the Ming and Qing dynasties, but the style and structure of the early Ming Dynasty has been preserved. The wall is square, and is about 12 meters tall, and is made of bricks with crenels built on the wall. There is also a moat outside the wall, which is four meters deep and wide. There are six doors, two in the east and west respectively, and one in the south and north. A small town was built in the east and west respectively for defense and there are 3,000 crenels and 72 towers, which are said to represent Confucius’ 3,000 disciples and 72 sages. Despite more than 600 years of ups and downs, the city wall remains well preserved.
The streets, stores and houses in the Ancient City of Ping Yao still retain the traditional layout and look. The streets are gridded, and the stores are built alongside. Stores are sturdy and tall with color pictures below the eaves and colored sculptures above the beams, looking very antique like. The houses behind the stores are all courtyard houses with a clear axis and are bilaterally symmetrical. The entire ancient city presents a very old look.
Outside of the north door of the ancient wall, there is the Zhenguo Temple, which is the second valuable treasure of the Ancient City of Ping Yao. The temple’s Buddhist hall dates back to the period of the Five Dynasties (10th century). Spanning over 1,000 years, the temple is the third most ancient wooden building, and the colored sculptures from the Five Dynasties Period placed in the hall are rare and precious works of art.
The third valuable treasure of the Ancient City of Ping Yao is the Suanglin Temple in the southwest. The temple dates back to the second year of Wuping during the Northern Qi Dynasty (571), and there are over 2,000 colored sculptures made during the Yuan and Ming dynasties (13th century to 17th century). The sculptures are still preserved in more than 10 halls, hailed as the “treasure house of colored sculpture art.”
The Ancient City of Ping Yao is one of the origins of the famous Jin Merchants in China’s ancient business history. During the fourth year of Daoguang in the Qing Dynasty (1824), the prototype of China’s first modern bank, the Rishengchang exchange store, was established. Three years later, the Rishengchang established many branches in other provinces, and in the 1940s, their business was further extended to Japan, Singapore, Russia and other countries. Encouraged by the Rishengchang, the business of exchange stores in the city boomed. At its heyday, there were up to 22 exchange stores, and the city was once the financial center of China.
Cultural heritage value:
The Ancient City of Ping Yao is a well-preserved historic city and a model of other ancient Chinese cities. It covers a total area of nearly 2.3 square kilometers and a total population of 42,000 people still lives here because the city has basically maintained its original historical style during the period of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368 to 1911).
The Ancient City of Ping Yao was established during the reign of Xuanwang in the West Zhou Dynasty (827 BC to 782 BC) and has a history of more than 2,700 years. Ping Yao has always been a “seat of county government” since ancient China implemented the “system of prefectures and counties” in 211 BC. It is the most basic level of a first class city. The existing ancient city walls are still in its original state when the city was expanded during the reign of Hongwu in the Ming Dynasty (1370). The existing ancient buildings include six temple complexes, and the Yamen and Shilou which are a kind of building in ancient markets, and they are all original buildings in the city. There are more than 100 streets and alleys with their original historical states, as well as commercial shops along the streets that were constructed between the 17th century and 19th century. In addition, more than 400 traditional houses out of the total 3,797 traditional houses have a high conservation value because of the unique local style.
Unique and rich cultural relics: The Ancient City of Ping Yao has a history of more than 2,700 years. It has preserved many cultural relics over a long time span during the process of long-term development, and is considered as the "county of cultural relics" in Shanxi Province and also the "treasure house of ancient Chinese architecture." The large number of cultural relics in the ancient city represents the architectural forms, construction methods, and timber standards of ancient Chinese cities in different historical periods, and also reflects the artistic progress and aesthetic achievements of different ethnic groups and different regions in ancient China.
Traditional cultural characteristics of the Han ethnic group:
The Ancient City of Ping Yao was established in accordance with the traditional architectural style and planning ideal of the Han ethnic group. It epitomizes the historical and cultural characteristics of the Han people from the 14th century to the 19th century, and has important value in the research of the social pattern, economic structure, military defense, religion, traditional ideology, and the way people lived in this period.
Well-preserved ancient residential communities:
Documents and material objects proved that The Ancient City of Ping Yao has basically retained its original structure since it was reconstructed during the reign of Hongwu in the Ming Dynasty (1370). The main residential areas in the city were constructed during the period from 1840 to 1911. The symmetrical residential construction has a rigorous layout, a clear axis, a clear distinction between primary and secondary units, an undulating contour and a closed appearance. There are also delicate wood carvings, brick carvings and stone sculptures accompanied by lifelike paper-cuts for window decorations with a strong local flavor. These are the best-preserved ancient residential communities of the Han people by far.
Developed financial city:
The Ancient City of Ping Yao was one of the developed financial cities in the late 19th century, and had the most influential headquarters of bill firms and the headquarters of the financial industry. It was also the most concentrated place of the headquarters of financial enterprises and once influenced and controlled the financial industry of China in modern times. The Ancient City of Ping Yao has had a positive impact on China’s modern economic development during the prosperity 100 years of bill firms.