The Ancient City of Ping Yao is an outstanding example of a Han Chinese city of the Ming and Qing dynasties (14th-20th centuries) that has retained all its features to an exceptional degree and, in doing so, provides a remarkably complete picture of cultural, social, economic and religious development during one of the most seminal periods of Chinese history. The Ping Yao region has been settled by humans since Neolithic times. There has been an urban settlement on the site since at least the Western Zhou dynasty, as it was fortified with earthen ramparts during the reign of King Xuan (827-782 BC).
Ancient City of Ping YaoWith the implementation of the system of prefectures and counties in 221 BC, Ping Yao became the seat of a county administration, and continues to play that role. In 1370, during the reign of the Ming Emperor Hong Wu, the city was greatly extended. It was fortified with a massive new defensive wall and the internal layout was greatly altered, reflecting the strict rules of planning of the Han peoples.
The circuit of walls built in the late 14th century measures 6 km in length, the precise dimension for a city of this grade according to Han prescriptions. There are six fortified gates and 72 massive bastions along its length. Since that time it has evolved steadily as a Han city during the Ming and Qing dynasties. It emerged as one of the leading commercial cities in northern China during the 16th century, and retained that status well into the present age. In the second half of the 19th century the banking community of Ping Yao dominated Chinese financial life.
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Ping Yao City is located at the end of the alluvial fan resulting from the confluence of the Hui Ji and Liu Gen rivers. The area enclosed is 2.25 km2 , comprising six large temple complexes, administrative offices for county and municipal administrations, and other public buildings as well as office buildings. The internal street layout is symmetrical and rectilinear. The main cross-streets are lined with shops built in the 17th-19th centuries which effectively preserve the historic townscape.
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Ping Yao contains a number of cultural monuments protected by national, provincial, or county designation. The 10th-century Ten Thousand Buddha Hall of Zhen Guo Temple is a fundamental reference for the study of early Chinese painted statues, as well as for its architecture. The 12th-century Main Hall of the Confucian Temple is a classic example of this form of structure, where large oblique beams are used to bear the main roof timbers, instead of the more conventional technique using brackets. The Shuang Lm Temple, founded in the 6th century, is also renowned for its collection of over 2,000 decorated clay statues dating from the 12th-19th centuries. The Qing Xu Daoist Temple, founded in the 7th century, consists of 10 main buildings. Its Dragon Hall is noteworthy for the rare constructional technique used, a system of suspension beams and pendant columns. A group of more recent temples include the 19th-century Temple of the Town God, the Auspicious Temple and the Temple to General Guan Yu.
The County Administrative Building is a complex that contains elements from the 14th to the 19th centuries. The two-storey wooden City Tower is the highest structure within the historic city. It owes its present appearance to a reconstruction in 1688. From the same period comes the Hui Ji Bridge, built from stone with stone balustrades on either side.
The prosperity deriving from trade, and later from the draft banks, resulted in Ping Yao being endowed over the centuries with many high-qualities, well-built private houses, and these have survived to a large extent. They follow the feudal and hierarchical Han tradition closely, with distinguishing local features. They are built round four sides of an open courtyard, and fall into three main groups. The first are conventional single-storeyed structures in wood and brick, with tiled roofs. Next come the below-ground structures in brick with corridors lined with wood and extended eaves. The third group is two-storey buildings, in which the underground structure is surmounted by a wooden second storey.