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Ancient cities in Pingyao

03-14-2012 13:46 BJT

The Old Town of Pingyao lies in Pingyao County in central Shanxi Province. It was constructed during the reign of King Xuan of the Western Zhou Dynasty (C.827-782B.C.) and has been a county seat ever since the establishment of the prefecture-and-county system in ancient China. Today, Pingyao looks much the same as it did during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.

Pingyao is known mainly for three historical treasures: the ancient brick city wall, the Zhenguo Temple, and the Shuanglin Temple. The city wall of Pingyao was originally built using rammed earth, and was rebuilt with bricks in 1370 during the reign of Emperor Hong Wu of the Ming Dynasty. The wall extends for six km, and testifies to the profound influence of Confucianism in this region, as the 3,000 embrasures on the wall are said to represent the number of disciples of Confucius, and the 72 small watchtowers represent his 72 top disciples. In the later period of the Qing Dynasty, the Kuixing Pavilion was built on the southeast section of the wall, and became a symbol of the flourishing culture of the ancient city.

The ancient brick city wall

Pingyao occupies an important place in the financial history of modern China. It was the location of the Shanxi Commerce and Rishengchang Piaohao, a kind of banking firm dealing mainly in the transfer of money. The now-defunct firm is considered to have been the predecessor of modern banks in China. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, along with the development of the economy and commerce, several large commercial firms in Shanxi Province opened branches outside the province, thus establishing a trans-regional business network. The circulation of commodities and the transfer of money gave rise to the piaohao.

Streetscape of Pingyao ancient town  

In 1824, the Rishengchang Piaohao, the first banking firm in China, was established on what had been the site of the Xiyucheng Pigment Shop on Xidajie Street. Three years later, Rishengchang opened branches in Shandong, Henan, Liaoning, and Jiangsu provinces. In the 1840s, it expanded its operations to Japan, Singapore, and Russia. Following the example of Rishengchang, more than 20 piaohaos opened one after another in Pingyao, turning the town into the financial center of China.

Rishengchang Piaohao

The original purpose of King Xuan for building Pingyao was to withstand the attacks of the nomads of the north. Afterwards, Pingyao was developed into a multi-functional city, the starting place of commercial business in Shanxi and the birthplace of China's first rudimentary form of a modern bank. Peiyao also retains most of its ancient charm in buildings like the Temple of Confucius, the Qingxu Temple, and a great number of residential buildings.

The Old Town of Pingyao was constructed according to the traditional planning and building style of the Han ethnic group, and was designed according to the functions of its different parts. Four large streets, eight smaller ones, and 72 lanes make a neat grid. Symmetrically arranged along an axis, the private houses were constructed either in the style of courtyard houses or in the style of manmade-cave houses, all with local features. Today, Pingyao still has 3,797 courtyard houses, 400 of them especially well preserved. In addition, richly decorated temples and shops are scattered all over the town. These old buildings bring back a scene of the flourishing town of Pingyao as one of the most prosperous commercial centers during the Ming and Qing periods.

The Zhenguo Temple, located in the northeast part of the city, was built 1,000 years ago, and its Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas (Wan-fo Hall) is the third-oldest existing wooden building in China. The painted statues from the Five Dynasties period (907-960) inside the Wanfo Hall are recognized as precious sculptures.

Zhenguo Temple

The Shuanglin Temple, with its ten halls, is located in the southwest part of the town. It was rebuilt in 571, during the Northern Qi Dynasty (550-577). As the temple houses more than 2,000 painted clay statues from the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) through the Ming Dynasty, it is known as the Treasure House of Painted Sculptures.

Shuanglin Temple

Other treasures in Pingyao include the Hall of Great Achievements (Da-cheng-dian) in the Temple of Confucius (Wen-miao), reconstructed in 1163, and the Qingxu Temple, originally constructed in 657.

Editor:Zhang Hao |Source: chinaculture.org

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