Pingyao Ancient City April 2014

Pingyao is a county in Shanxi province in China and was once the financial center of China during the late Qing Dynasty.  The ancient city at Pingyao is a very well preserved walled city,  typical of a traditional Han city in the Ming and Qing dynasties (14th-20th centuries), and still inhabited by about 50,000 residents although many buildings have now been transformed into shops and restaurants.  Pingyao dates back some 2,700 years and it is where the modern Chinese banking system started.  Most of the city is off-limits to cars and is perfect for wandering around on foot.  Tourists can purchase a common ticket that lasts for 3 days which grants access to about 30 attractions inside the city including the City Walls, Rishenchang Exchange House, County Government Office, and some former residences.

We stayed at the Jing’s Residence inside the walled ancient city.  This boutique hotel is in a renovated former silk merchant’s home with only 19 rooms.  I highly recommend this Relais & Chateaux hotel even though it is much more expensive than any other hotel in the area.  The modern amenities and excellent service far justify the price.  I was very impressed with their international level of service where they anticipate your every need, especially in such a remote small city in China.

DSCF0387Jing’s Residence

DSCF0375Inside Jing’s Residence

DSCF0370Jing’s Residence

DSCF0625View of the inner courtyard of Jing’s Residence from the upstairs bar.

On the evening of our arrival, we ventured out to explore the city.  It was drizzling a bit which added to the bygone romantic feel to the place.

DSCF0627All the city gates light up at night.

DSCF0635 - Version 2One of the many dusty curios shops in the city.

DSCF0406One of the Gates to the city.




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The next morning, the hotel arranged for a local guide to show us around the ancient city and its major places of interest.  The first stop was the Rishangchang Exchange House.  Among the 20 banks, this was considered the first bank in China.  At its peak, it controlled almost half of the Chinese economy and its branches were spread throughout China.

DSCF0417 - Version 2One of the benefits of staying inside the ancient city is you can explore the narrow streets before the busloads of tourists arrive.

DSCF0423Rishengchang Exchange House – the first bank in China.

DSCF0430An example of an early bank draft issued by Rishenchang with its anti-counterfeit printing technology and watermark method. Each draft was also stamped with a seal in key parts and executed with codes where Chinese writing replaced numbers and were regularly changed to secure confidential information.

DSCF0438 - Version 2Old abacus in the accountant’s office.

DSCF0432The small fenced area is actually the entrance to the underground “vault” where gold and other valuables were stored. There is a cover that goes over the fence and guards would sit on top of it at night.

DSCF0452Early form of security where small bells were attached to the net so an alarm would sound if there was an intruder.


DSCF0614 - Version 2There were many armed escort companies (modern day Brinks) that go hand-in-hand with all the banks around.

DSCF0522The County Government Office, Yamen in Chinese, is similar to today’s court with different offices, open courtyards, as well as a prison. This is the trial hall where the local magistrate deals with both major crimes and petty claims.

DSCF0528County Government Office

DSCF0534 - Version 2Beautiful gardens within the County Government Office.

DSCF0563Up on the old city wall of Pingyao which stretches for about 6 km.

DSCF0567 - Version 2Pingyao Old City Wall

DSCF0583Do take a walk on the old city wall.

DSCF0924Do take a walk on the old city wall.

DSCF0915 - Version 2Pingyao Old City Wall

DSCF0592 - Version 3View of the tiled roofs from the old city wall.


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DSCF0496Local sesame peanut snack

DSCF0605Students write their names on these plaques and hang them at the Confucius Temple before exams for good luck.


DSCF0485This little girl insisted that I take a photo of her while she posed :)

DSCF0544Typical entrance to the old residences.

DSCF0887 - Version 2This is typical of most of the courtyard houses here in Pingyao.

DSCF0540These shoes with the lion motif are common in Northern China to provide protection for young children.

DSCF0926Children running around town on a Sunday afternoon.


Having lived in a big city all my life, I sometimes envy these children being able to run wild on their own in the city where it is still safe to do so.

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