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Pingyao - The Ancient Town

Besides the appealing house compounds of Wang's and Qiao's families in Shanxi Province, the ancient town Pingyao, about 90 km away from Taiyuan, is typically known for its best preserved city layout. With the advantageous location between north and south of China, it was also greatly benefited by role as the busy commercial and financial center over the country. In 1986, Pingyao was listed the World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO. The town's history can be traced back to the western Zhou dynasty (1066 BC --- 770 BC). The present town is the major restoration of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

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Pingyao's ancient architecture fully reflects the historical feature of those periods. The ancient town has 4 major streets, 8 lesser streets and 72 lanes form a cross shape, which is surrounded by the high city wall with 6 gates and a moat, that all of the construction are still well preserved. The shops, firms and residences were built symmetrically along a 750-meter-long street runs from north to south as the axis, and the Market Tower located in the center. Along the central street there were over 220 banks, inns, pawnshops, medicinal herb shops, silk shops, tea stores, antique stores and restaurants at that glorious time. The most famous one was Rishengchang, the first private banking unit in China and the famous Ming & Qing Street - a best place to explore the traditional Chinese culture.

The City Wall of Pingyao

First built about 2,700 years ago, the ancient city wall was expanded in the Ming Dynasty. The perimeter of this square city is 6.4km long, while the wall is 12m high with an average width of 5m. The wall is rammed earth strengthened with a covering of bricks. Outside the city wall there is a moat, 4m wide and 4m deep. It was the well-preserved wall among the ancient historical and cultural cities in China. There are 72 terraces with battlements. A bird's-eye view of the city on the wall, it looks like a turtle, hence the name 'Turtle City'.

Ri Sheng Chang - The Earliest Bank of China

Ri Sheng Chang was established in the early Qing Dynasty. It was China's forerunner for organizing Chinese finance system, handling remittance, money exchange, deposit, loan and other financial business. There were 35 branches in China's big and medium-sized cities. Its business covered Europe, America and Southeast Asia. The banking company had established a complete and strict management system to maintain their daily operation. For example, when a new employee came into the company, the manager always left several dollars in the yard to test the employee. If he returned the money to the manager, he passed the first examination. Second pass is the abacus, the main tool to calculate. Young people had to stand in the yard to practice abacus for several weeks, even in winter. One of the reasons to keep this bank prosperous was that the owner of the company did not involve in the daily business because he employed a general manager and trusted him entirely, also gave him some shares to attract him working harder to make more money for the bank.

Wang's Family Courtyards

The Wang's Family Courtyards, titled as the "First House of the Chinese Folk Residence", is China's biggest folk-style dwelling house in Lingshi County, the south of Shanxi Basin under the foot of Mianshan Mountian and is the first volume of "Collection of China Folk Residential Buildings". The residence was built from about the 1660s to 1800s, covering area of 150,000 square meters with 54 courtyards and 1,052 chambers, of which 45,000 are defined as provincial preserve. It appears magnificent especially for its exquisite brick, wood and stone carvings, which have attracted experts in the fields of architecture, history, sociology and ethics.

In the early Qing dynasty, Wang's family fortunes reached a pinnacle of success, with 42 members holding high positions in the imperial court. Its business covered Shanxi and Hebei provinces, Beijing and Tianjin up to the beginning of this century. In 1937, when the War of Resistance Against Japan started, the Wang's family moved to south China, leaving the building complex empty. Ever since, villagers had been living in this magnificent house. Later on, it was converted into the museum of ancient architecture. The Wang's Compound is built along with the tendency of the hills, in massive scale, harmonious layout, and completely functional. The construction styles of the South and the North are combined in the building art and decoration skills, formulating a unique workmanship model, presenting a wonderful art as priceless treasure rooted in the land of China.

Qiao's Family Courtyards

Located in a large courtyard in Qiaojiabu village of the Qi County, Qiao's Family Courtyards was the residential house of Qiao Zhiyong, a capitalist in the Qing Dynasty who attained his fortune in financial and commercial business during the periods of Emperor Jiaqing and Daoguang. With typical northern China architectural characteristics, the building compound is divided into 6 big yards and 20 small yards with 313 rooms and covers an area of over 8,700 sq meters. Here you can watch farming activities in every season, ceremonies of sacrifice and ancestral warship, wedding ceremonies and daily life. Through which you'll have a view of the folk customs of the central part of China during the period of late Qing Dynasty. The Qiao's Family Courtyards became well known as a tourist spot in China, largely because the famous movie " The Red Lantern" directed by Zhang Yimou about 10 years ago, which had won award in one of the world movie shows.

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