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A county in China’s central Shanxi province, Píngyáo is 715 km away from Beijing and 80 km from its provincial capital, Taiyuan. This city enjoyed the status of being China’s financial center in the Qing Dynasty. In fact, its history dates back to over 2,700 years, and today this ancient city is regarded as one of the best preserved among its contemporaries, worldwide.
Today, 50,000 people inhabit this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even today, Píngyáo retains its original city layout as drawn in the Ming and Qing dynasties. It is one of China’s four entirely protected ancient cities and is considered to be the treasure house of ancient Chinese architectural styles.
The Pingyao Ancient City Wall was first constructed in 827 B.C. According to Chinese historical records, the King of Xuan (1045-256 BC) in the West Zhou Dynasty sent his general Yin Jiefu to fight against the invaders of other kingdoms. The general kept his troops standing in the Ancient Tao and built a large protective wall there.
At the beginning of the Ming Dynasty in 1370, during the early part of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the government reconstructed the city wall, this time enlarging it to make better provision for the military and to defend themselves from invading enemies.
When the Qing Dynasty began in 1703, the emperor was passing through this town, the people honored him by building four city gate towers. This made Pingyao town more majestic than before.
Historical records prove that in the 500 years of the Ming and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, the Pingyao Ancient City Wall had been repaired and rebuilt about 26 times, but its basic style and size remained untouched.
In the spring and Autumn Period, Pingyao County was part of the kingdom of Jin. Later, it was part of the kingdom of Zhao during the Warring States Period. Later in Qin Dynasty, it got the name Pingtao. In the Han Dynasty, it was renamed as Zhongdu County. Finally, in 1986, the People's Republic of China named it Pingyao, one of the country’s celebrated historic and cultural sites. In 1997, it was named a World Heritage Site.
City Wall Features
The Pingyao Ancient City Wall is about six km long, 12 meters high and three to six meters wide at the top. The wall is made of rammed earth inside and stone and brick outside, this rectangular wall gives the impression of a tortoise. It has six city gates, one each in the north and south, and two each on its east and west. While the south gate serves as the tortoise’s head, the two wells outside are its eyes, the north gate is its tail. The tortoise, in Chinese culture, is a symbol of longevity so, by likening it to a tortoise, the Chinese hoped it would be a permanent structure.
It has 72 watchtowers at the top of the wall with 3,000 external battlements. The number 72 represents 72 wise people while the 3,000 battlements stand for Confucius’ 3,000 disciples.
Earlier, there were four more grand watchtowers built on the four corners of the external walls, but they disappeared many years ago. Now, all that remain are the Great Scholar Tower and the Name Roll Calling Platform. There is a moat dug around the walls of the tower that is 3.3 meters deep and 3.3 meters wide with trees planted alongside. In front of each gate is a drawbridge.