Once the financial center of China and birthplace of the first Chinese bank "Rishengchang," 18th century Pingyao (Píngyáo, 平遥) was China's "Wall Street," with large banks and exchange houses fueling the wealth necessary to build up the city's imposing walls, gates and grand residences, most of which are still extant in their original condition today.
As a result, the city offers surreal, movie-set like immersion into an Imperial Chinese atmosphere visitors often find highly transporting. With its extraordinary number of ancient sites both in and around the city, and well-preserved city walls, Pingyao was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
About 80 km (50 mi) from the provincial capital, Taiyuan, Pingyao still retains much of its Ming and Qing dynasty layout, one adhering to the classic bā guà (八卦) pattern, based on the eight symbols of Taoist cosmology. If a walk through living history is your cup of cha, there may be no better place; preserved Ming- and Qing-style residences number close to 4,000; while streets and storefronts still largely retain their historical appearances from 300 to 1,000 years ago. Many of these historical structures now serve as Pingyao's hotels and guesthouses, steeping them in historical charm.
The Zhangbi Underground Castle (Zhāngbì Gǔbǎo, 张壁古堡), which walks along the Pingyao City Walls, and Wang Family Courtyard are all highlights, but with such a wealth of historical attractions you'll find plenty to fill up 2-4 days before moving on to other sights in Shanxi Province such as the hanging temples of Mian Shan (Cotton Mountain), the Buddist grottoes of Datong, or the sacred peaks of Heng Shan (Mt. Heng).
Shanxi guide | Pingyao attractions
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Pingyao on the China Travel Blog