The Ancient City of Pingyao
Day 723 - 724
Two days within the four walls of the World Heritage Site of the Ancient City of Pingyao. With our tickets in hand to explore the Wall and some of the 18 temples and museums, what were we going to discover I wonder?
The next morning after a hearty breakfast of carbs delights with noodles, sweet potato, hard-boiled egg and a few pastries we returned to the North Gate and purchased our tickets to entertain us for the next couple of days. We climbed the 10m high wall enclosing the old city with its 6.2km in length, which tried to keep the likes of Ghengis Khan out.
We enjoyed gazing down at the town from this high perspective. Noising into courtyards, seeing the odd goat, children playing hide and seek and a small vegetable patch with huge cabbages growing. There is a mix of neat, well-kept homes and guest houses where over 30,000 locals live, squeezed between ancient crumbling structures that had seen better days.
The sky was grey which seemed to make the whole place a bit gloomy, a contrast to our previous evening. We still laughed, peering through round windows of the watchtowers which each had weird clay figurines in them, plus our usual antics with some statues.
The wall was blocked for repair, so time to get back into the throngs of the city and use our tickets some more. We visited the City God Temple, which had displays of Tao demons doing atrocious acts to their victims. No photos were allowed, you’d be pleased to know. Why are so many religions fear-based?
Across the road was a splendid ‘Nine Dragons’ screen by the entrance to a vast complex which included many examination rooms for Imperial bureaucrats, a Confucian museum and Dacheng Hall, Pingyao’s oldest surviving building dating from 1163. The majority of information notices were in Chinese, but I did read one in English about the red and yellow tags outside of the Dacheng Hall. People can donate money, choose to write a wish; red for exorcising evil, keeping safe, and having a long and healthy life, or yellow for fortune and success.
After a quick drink, where Tim was very miffed about the price of his coffee (they did give us a free mini doughnut each though which placated him), we meandered around a few museums. There are plenty to choose from, and I can imagine that if you can read Chinese, you’d learn some fascinating facts. Sadly, our Chinese is not up to much, yes, we can now say 1 – 10, but I haven’t a clue what the Chinese characters look like.
The first museum was exhibiting Merchants’ furniture and Toolmaking. We did see one sign in English about the origins of saws. “Once when Luban was cutting trees on the mountain, he was accidentally pulled by the grass, and the blood flowed straight. At that time, a question rose in his heart, why can such a small grass cut his finger? After thinking for a long time, he couldn’t figure out the reason, so he took the grass home, looked left and right, and finally found that there were many small teeth on both sides of the grass” There you go.
Next was an Escort Museum, no, not that kind of escort, Tim! It explained how a Martial Arts Master set up an Armed Escort Agency which became renowned and prosperous all through the country. It was pleasant looking around each small room and wandering around the courtyards.
The pièce de résistance was supposed to be the Rìshengchang Financial House. According to Lonely Planet’s, it was “not to be missed”. Really? Did we go to the right place? From what I have read, there was a small dye shop located here which was somehow transformed into China’s first draft bank in 1823 and expanded to 57 branches across China. The museum showed old offices, original cheques and a model of a bank teller (my Dad, who was a Bank Manager, would be most upset at the state of the desk!).
That was enough for the day, it was raining, and the dreary grey of the place was not cheering us up — time to go back to our nice warm Guest House.
After another hearty breakfast, we ventured out again. We had heard that the China Chamber of Commerce Museum was worth seeing, so thought we'd give this one a go in the morning. After the Opium war in 1840 China was suffering from military and cultural invasion as well as export restrictions. The Chamber of Commerce was established to manage the business affairs, promote economic development and to promote political democracy. This developed rapidly as the most influential commercial organisation and social group. Sorry, I really didn’t find this museum riveting.
Our last museum (we couldn’t cope with any more) was about Martial Arts. It had many old photos of Masters in their prime and examples of some of the weapons that they used. Out of the five museums, this was our favourite, and in the back yard, where students learnt the practice of martial arts and zen meditation, Tim and I had a little play with some of the armouries.
The rest of the day, we wandered around the city, through a food market and along the west wall. Much of this section was being repaired; the wall was made from clay bricks covering tall banks of earth, so, remarkably, it has lasted so long.
We reached the South Gate so that we could climb up again and see some more of the Ancient City, otherwise known as the “Tortoise City” by the locals as the two main gates resemble the head and tail of the animal and the two smaller gates on both the eastern and western walls are the legs.
I also found out that the reason that 72 watchtowers and 3,000 parapet openings were built around this World Heritage Site was that Confucius had 72 disciples and 3,000 students.
And what a lovely walk it was, kites were blowing in the wind above us, and the sun was out, giving the city a golden tinge to the grey tiled rooftops, that’s much better.