Throughout the night we tried the light switch but every time to no avail. The air-con wasn’t working and our water was freezing cold. Looking out of the window we could see that our room wasn’t the only one overcome by darkness. The bar downstairs was pitch black and silent and not a sound or an strand of light radiated from the hostel. In the morning we made our way to down to the common room. Pingyao had suffered another power-cut. This was apparently a regular occurrence and sometimes these episodes would last for days. On the streets we could hear the loud wurring of the many back-up generators bought by the most lucrative businesses.
Ping Yao is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a traditional Han Chinese city, founded in the 14th century. Its urban fabric shows the evolution of architectural styles and town planning in Imperial China over five centuries. Of special interest are the imposing buildings associated with banking, for which Ping Yao was the major centre for the whole of China in the 19th and early 20th centuries.The nearly 4,000 existing shops and traditional dwellings in the town which are grand in form and exquisite in ornament bear witness to Ping Yao’s economic prosperity over a century. With more than 2,000 existing painted sculptures made in the Ming and Qing dynasties, Shuanglin Temple has been reputed as an “oriental art gallery of painted sculptures”. Wanfo Shrine, the main shrine of Zhenguo Temple, dating back to the Five Dynasties, is one of China’s earliest and most precious timber structure buildings in existence.
Our hostel provided us with bicycles and so we spent the morning touring the ancient city in this way. It was truly beautiful and well worth the long journey to see. Here are some of the photos which we took of this amazing place.
The exterior walls were really imposing and extremely well preserved. The original walls were made of tamped dirt and were located to the northeast of the present location. The current wall–faced with bricks and stone–was started in 1370, making it over 600 years old. Grass now grows from the dirt along the inside of the wall. It is often said that the city wall is shaped like a tortoise–a traditional Chinese symbol of longevity–with the south gate and north gate representing the head and tail respectively. The east and west walls each have two additional gates, representing the tortoise’s feet. A series of 72 watchtowers are distributed around the wall, and a moat, now dependent on the rains, encircles the city. One can still walk the 6 km long road atop the ramparts, with the outward-facing parapets punctuated by 3000 crenelations, or openings for shooting.
It was a great journey getting to them. We passed beautiful timber structures, gates and temples. Every single house was unique and made in such a special way. I loved walking around Ming-Wing Street and looking at all the fabulous antiques for sale. I bought a lovely hand woven silk scarf and an incredible hand cut picture of a bird which I now have framed and hung up on my wall in addition to wooden fruit bowls and jewellery. This town was really vibrant and full of life. There were loads of massage parlours and some huge food shops which sold very posh gift wrapped foods and herbal medicines. From our window we saw the city and the tightly packed. slate roofs. This was the Old China that I had so hoped to see but hadn’t until now. No wonder it is considered China’s best walled city. I would recommend going into some of the many private houses and looking at their ornate inner courtyards.
It was late afternoon and almost time to go. The power was still not back on, so we showered with cold trickling water. As we waited for our taxi to come pick us up, my last memory of Ancient Pingyao was starring open mouthed as a man plunged his whole arm deep into the hostel’s feng shui aquarium, to remove a dead large floppy orange fish . Apparently it had just died of asphyxiation due to the lack of power. I looked solemnly at the rest of the other fish still bobbing around. I hoped the power would come back on soon, but whether it did or not I never found out.