The financial hub of the Chinese nation during the Qing Dynasty, Pingyao is located in the Shanxi Province. A very well preserved city that reflects the bygone era and grandeur of the Qing Dynasty from 1644-1912 was declared a World Heritage Site in 1997.
Founded in the 14th century, this city is a juxtapose of many types of architectural styles, which got evolved over the five centuries. Once a center of active trade from where the owners left to conduct trade across the nation and the world and only returned when they were richly rewarded of their efforts, speaks a different story now.
Located on the south of Pingyao is the busiest street – the Ancient Ming-Qing Street. The street housed many rich families and their businesses during old times. However, thanks to the recent developments and competition from the foreign financial institutions, the once so flamboyant banks and well-off businesses have tanked spiraling the lineage into poverty.
While walking down the paved street you will see that the streets are not too wide. However, the shops are very nicely arranged on the sides. Built from bricks and stones, the shops manifest the Ming and Qing architectural designs. The establishments end into granite thresholds, and this is where one can see marks carved out by the running carriages during ancient times. Also known as the ‘Wall Street of China’ in the ancient times, this street housed over 20 exchange shops.
The street runs for 750 meters and is home to about 100 shops and local houses. While some of the shops are still holding the same old brick and mortar, most of them have been rebuilt. These have now converted into museums and restaurants to keep up with the latest trends and of-course to earn money and keep their owners still in business. The stark example is the Baichuantong Exchange Shop, which now displays a collection of artifacts of the olden age. Yet another interesting example is the Yujincheng Chinese Medicine Shop, which has now a popular food restaurant. Amongst such small establishments you can find the street scattered with lots of small platform from where you pick souvenirs. Today this charming area is home to the largest antique market in the Shanxi Province.
In the center of the Ancient Ming-Qing Street, you will come across the City Hall. According to the history, this is where the entire business of Pingyao City was actually concentrated. There’s a well in the southern part of the City Hall, which is hidden from the mass. According to a myth, the water of this well is golden; thus giving an alternate name to the City Hall – the Golden Well Building. Restoration work is still undergoing in this area.
While you walk down the Ancient Ming-Qing Street, you will not only be held back by its awesome air of ethnicity complete with Chinese red lanterns in front of each establishment, but also by the waft of local gastronomy, which you just cannot miss. If you like you can carry and eat those delicious Wantuo around while indulging into window shopping.