A fascinating century-old walled city
The Ancient City of Pingyao in central Shanxi Province was founded in the 14th century and is one of only two ancient cities in China listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Its layout reflects perfectly the developments in architectural style and urban planning of the Han cities over more than five centuries. Today, approximately 40,000 residents still live in the old city and bicycles and walking are still the main means of transportation as cars are restricted in the city center.
Pingyao was located between Beijing and Xian – the start of the Silk Road, and became the most important trading and financial center in China in the late Ming and Qing dynasties. China’s first commercial banks, as well as insurance and security companies were established there. At its heydays, there were as many as 20 financial institutions within the city comprising more than half of the total in the entire country. Pingyao merchants had branches all over China and connections in various countries/cities such as Japan, Singapore, Moscow, Calcutta, Paris and London.
Staying overnight in Pingyao is a magical experience. At night, dramatic street lighting with traditional old red lanterns enhance the almost palpable sense of time and history. It is like traveling back in time several centuries.
10 reasons to visit Pingyao
1. The city wall is one of the very few left complete and in its original state in China.
2. The wall has six barbican gates and the pattern resembles the shape of a tortoise earning Pingyao the nickname “Turtle City” with the two gates on the South and North representing the head and tail of the turtle and four gates on the east and west the four legs;
3. The ancient town had four major streets, 8 lesser streets and 72 lanes. The main street runs from north to south with the Market Tower located in the middle and was the center of banking and trading in the old days;
4. It is said that old Pingyao courtyards are some of the best-preserved traditional Han architecture in the whole of China and many original courtyards can still be visited to this day;
5. The Rishengchang Exchange Shop is considered to be the first bank in Chinese history and was established in 1823 during the Qing Dynasty. It had 35 branches in China and its business covered Europe, America and Southeast Asia.
6. The first checks/bank drafts in China were issued in Pingyao;
7. Following the Boxer Rebellion, Empress Dowager Cixi came to Pingyao and asked rich bankers and merchants to advance the sum of 200,000 taels of silver (traditional silver currency used in old China) to pay the indemnity demanded by foreign powers. This sum that would amount to hundreds of millions in today’s currency was never repaid;
8. There are several famous and well preserved residences clustered around Pingyao within a 25-mile radius including the 313-room Qiao’s compound that was the set for Zhang Yimou’s famous “Raise the Red Lantern” movie that put Pingyao in the international spotlight when it was released in 1992;
9. Similarly important cultural sites such as the 1,300 years old Shuanglin Temple and the 1,000 years old Zhenguo Temple are also within easy access from the city;
10. An international “Photography Festival” takes place every year in mid September in Pingyao and attracts thousands of visitors, Chinese and foreigners alike;
A unique hotel experience
Established in the former siheyuan (courtyard home) of a wealthy Qing Dynasty silk merchant, Jing’s Residence is named after the owner, Yang Jing, a successful woman entrepreneur who made her first visit to Pingyao in the early 90’s. She immediately felt attracted to the old city that has remained largely unchanged since the late Ming and Qing dynasties. She was also drawn to the local people who go about their business in and out of the old city as they have done for centuries. At that time she dreamed that one day she would have her own courtyard. Her dream came true with the opening of Jing’s Residence, a once in a lifetime project that took her several years to complete.
The Residence went through a remarkable floor to rooftop multi-million renovation and refurbishment. It is ideally located in the heart of the old city next to the historic “First Armed Escort Agency” compound on East Street and encompasses a series of grey-brick pavilions built around a set of five courtyards in the authentic architectural style of northern China. Unobtrusive landscaping features bamboo, water element, white stone from northern China and traditional brick-paved alleyways that connect the various courtyards.
A two-storey pavilion along East Street commands access to the Residence with, in addition to the reception area, an elegant dining room and a small bar and cozy adjacent library on the second floor. The unique character of the Residence is best reflected in the 19 meticulously renovated bedrooms and suites. The intention of award-winner architect and designer, Antonio Ochoa, was to respect the 200-year old architecture and preserve the spirit of the courtyard mansion while enhancing the facilities to 21st century international standards. Modern functional features are subtly incorporated in the rooms yet, at the same time, the hotel conveys the sense of being immersed in a historic environment.
Natural materials create a sophisticated yet relaxing environment. Decorative features range from ancient carved wooden window frames and timber structural elements to bamboo flooring and rice paper ceilings. Many touches pay tribute to local culture and traditional handicrafts: bed heads are made of lacquer or silk; beds provide modern comfort but they recall the design of the age-old kang; decorative ceramic panels are reminiscent of the shape of coal briquettes and antique Chinese wash-basin stands are completely at home in the luxuriously fitted bathrooms.