Pingyao is a Chinese city and county in central Shanxi province, China. It lies about 715 km from Beijing and 80 km from the provincial capital, Taiyuan. During the Qing Dynasty, Pingyao was a financial center of China. Pingyao still retains its city layout from the Ming and Qing dynasties, conforming to a typical bagua pattern. More than 300 sites in or near the city have ancient ruins. Preserved in Ming and Qing-style residences number close to 4,000, the streets and storefronts still largely retain their historical appearance.
In 1986, the People's Republic of China designated Pingyao as one of the Chinese Historic and Cultural Cities. It became a World Heritage Site in 1997, including the outlying Zhengguo Temple and Shuanglin Temple.
The city walls of Pingyao were constructed in the 3rd year of the Hongwu Emperor (1370). The walls have six barbican gates. The north and south sides have one gate each. The east and west sides have two gates each. This pattern is similar to that of a turtle (the head, tail, and four legs), earning Pingyao the moniker "Turtle City." The walls measure about 12 meters high, with a perimeter of 6,000 meters. A 4-meter wide, 4-meter deep moat can be found just outside the walls. Aside from the four structured towers at the four corners, there are also 72 watchtowers and more than 3,000 battlements. In 2004, parts of the southern walls collapsed but were reconstructed. However, the rest of the city walls are still largely intact and are considered among the best-preserved ancient city walls on this scale. This makes the city walls the centerpiece of the Heritage Site.
The old walled city is 2.6 sq. kilometers (1 sq. mile), inhabited, mostly off-limits to cars, and constructed of cobbled streets and buildings almost entirely from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Picture a period film showing ancient China - and you won't be far off. Wander inside the city by foot, you will be able to know Pingyao in depth. There are many historical sites for you to visit. Walk on the 700-year old city wall to take the view of the old city, visit the City God Temple, the Ancient Government Building, the First bank of China(Rishengchang Exchange Bank), Armed Escort Agency, walk along the Ming and Qing Dynasty Street, and observe the quiet local life in the alleyways outside of the tourist centre. Also take the chance to try the local flavor. Only the dishes made of flour can make one full table!
Pingyao area was rich and famous for the many wealthy merchants and business men living here. Their wealth was shown by noteworthy houses they lived in. Typical of these are the houses owned by Qiao’s and Wang’s family. These mansions are the Chinese equivalent of the English castle, the French chateau and the German schloss.
Qiao’s Compund is located sixty kilometers (37.3 miles) south of Taiyuan, and some twenty kilometers (12.4 miles) north of Pingyao. Built in 1756 during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), The buildings continue to be well maintained despite the fact that the Qiao family had ceased to have any influence since the 1940's.
The family enjoyed a prestigious status during the reign of the Emperor Qianlong (1735-96), one of its patriarchs having been a famous trader, whose travels had taken him far off into foreign lands. The family included banking among its activities and this meant their commercial influence spread beyond Shanxi Province, their private banks being a nation-wide enterprise. The compound's inner courtyards and passageways have been designed to form the shape of the Chinese character for the words 'double happiness' (shuang xi). The architecture has virtually an encyclopedic range, displaying a vast array of contrasting roof styles which vary from gentle slopes to high peaks which swoop down in elegant curves. This mansion covers some 4,220 square yards and consists of six main courtyards and twenty minor ones. There are 313 rooms which are set on a north-south axis. An 80 meter (87 yards) long passageway runs from east to west, dividing the complex in halves. At the western end stands the ancestral temple of the Qiao family.
The compound is contained within a 10 meter (33 feet) high wall that has parapets and battlements on the top. At each of the four corners there is a watch tower that completes the defenses that protect the sealed and private world of the mansion. Within the wall a road has been constructed around three of its sides to give ready access to the various buildings which between them have an array of some 140 chimneys, each with a unique design.
It was this mansion that was used as the setting for the famous film 'Raise the Red Lanterns'.
This compound is situated some 58 kilometers southwest of Pingyao. The Wang business enterprise commenced during the Ming Dynasty and was a flourishing conglomerate by the middle of the Qing Dynasty, encompassing farming and commerce as well as politics. A massive mansion was built as a monument to the glory of this powerful family. The construction lasted for more than half a century and the building extended over an area of 31,956 square meters (7.9 acres), four times the size of the Qiao compound. Consisting of 54 courtyards and 1,052 rooms, the Wang compound is the epitome of Oriental domestic architecture. The buildings have been set into the hillside and protected by a fortified curtain wall upon a loess ramp, thus creating a veritable castle. The east gate faces the Mianshan Mountain which rises to 2,000 meters in height (6,562 feet), while the buildings inside are divided into three distinct groups known as the Gaojiaya, the Hongmenbao and the Ancestral Temples.
The Gaojiaya, or East Courtyards, has a series of dwelling houses that are walled off in the form of an irregular castle, while they each retain the traditional layout of the hall in front with the bedchamber to the rear. Gates stand at each of the four cardinal points, providing access to the various courtyards. The buildings are spread in tiers up the mountainside and are aligned in six parallel complexes. In the centre there are the three main courtyards, which vary in size. The complex to the east is the kitchen, while those on the west served as the private family school and the garden. A secret passage leads into the garden's flower cellar, which provided access in an emergency. At the north of the complex there is a row of thirteen cave dwellings. These command the highest position overlooking the entire area and served also as a watchtower. The arrangement of courtyard within a courtyard, door after door and house above house creates a labyrinthine world.
Shuanglin Temple, originally named Zhongdu Monastery, is about seven kilometers southwest of the ancient city of Pingyao. It has stood there for 1,500 years since the Northern Wei Dynasty.
The most noteworthy artistic achievement in the Temple is the colored figures which are displayed in ten halls. These halls, both large and small, are grouped around three courtyards, and house more than 2,000 exceptional painted Buddhist terracotta and wood statues dating back to the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. They represent the best of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The figures are vivid and remarkably true to life, ranging from Buddha, Bodhisattva, Heavenly Kings, and supernatural beings, to all kinds of mortals from the human world. They are reputed to be a 'treasure reserve of oriental painted sculptures'.