Imagine walking through an ancient city, then climbing a gate tower to take in a panorama view of the city and its more than 600-year-old walls. You can hear the city's heartbeat in the air. This is the Ancient City of Pingyao in Shanxi Province, a place that should definitely be on your travel itinerary if you enjoy history or ancient architecture since its origins can be traced back to more than 2,700 years ago and it boasts the most intact Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties buildings than any other city in China.
A famous historic city, the Ancient City of Pingyao beat out three other ancient Chinese cities, Sichuan Province's Langzhong City, Lijiang in Yunnan Province and She County in Anhui Province, to become the only ancient city in the country to be included as a protected historic site by UNESCO.
Simone Ricca, a representative from the International Training Center for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region under the auspices of UNESCO, told the chinanews.com that China has paid a great deal of attention to many rare cultural relics over the past few decades.
Pingyao has continued to play an important role in the administration of superior cultural relics and is regarded as a paragon of heritage conservation all over the world, according to the report by chinanews.com.
"People in Pingyao value their brand of world cultural heritage as much as they value their own eyes. They have protected and developed the value of their cultural relics for the past 20 years," said Shi Yong, Pingyao county head.
'Three Historic Treasures'
Originally named "Gu Tao" (ancient pottery), the city was built during the reign of King Xuan of the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046BC-771BC). In order to defend from invaders, a wall was built around the city in 1370. More than 300 years later in 1703, gate towers were built to celebrate a visit by the Qing Dynasty Kangxi Emperor.
The three most historic sites in Pingyao, often referred to as the city's "Three Historic Treasures," are the ancient brick-made city wall and the Zhenguo and Shuanglin temples.
The first of these historic treasures, the ancient city wall is 6,163 meters long and 12 meters high and separates the city into two parts - an old city enclosed within the walls and the newer modern section of the city. The old town still looks as it did during the Qing Dynasty, with antique streets and buildings along aged roads. Walking along the alleyways, one can appreciate the beauty and symmetrical design of the city and its stylish manmade-cave houses.
In the northeast corner of the city is the second treasure: Zhenguo Temple. Built during the Five Dynasties period (907-960), its Wan Fo Hall (Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas) is the third oldest wooden building in China and houses numerous valuable painted sculptures.
The third treasure is Shuanglin Temple, located in the southwestern part of the city. Built during the Qi Dynasty (479-502) and rebuilt in 571, the temple boasts more than 2,000 painted clay statues created during the Yuan (1279-1368) and Ming dynasties.
The road to UNESCO
Twenty years ago, the Ancient City of Pingyao was officially listed as a world cultural heritage site by UNESCO.
Located in the center of Shanxi Province, Pingyao is the hometown of Jin merchants, a group of entrepreneurs who actively dominated a booming commodity market throughout China for more than 500 years, especially during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the city's agriculture and manufacturing industries developed rapidly.
Following China's reform and opening-up in the 1980s, Pingyao struggled with the transition from a managed economy to the current market-oriented economy.
During this time, the city government sought out new ways to break through this economic bottleneck.
Finally in the winter of 1997, opportunity came knocking.
Through the efforts of Zheng Xiaoxie, Luo Zhewen, Ruan Yisan and four other government officials, Pingyao earned its place on the UNESCO World Heritage list, which cause the entire world to take notice of the city.
Since the city's fame has risen, locals in Pingyao have deepened their understanding of the conservation efforts preserving the historical relics in their hometown. Meanwhile the city administration has continued to upgrade itself through a strategy that follows the pillars of "conservation, entrepreneurship, development and protection."
Currently, the city is focused on establishing a sustainable industry that will enable it to continue to grow while also protecting its relics and introducing them to the world.