What did an “ordinary“ Chinese town look like? The answer may well be Pingyao
Pingyao was an average sized Chinese town that in the 19th century became a centre of banking. However in the early 20th century the banks collapsed due to the rise of Shanghai and Hong Kong on the coast, and Pingyao went into decline – and slept. Fortunately it continued to sleep through the Cultural Revolution and when in so many other towns the walls were demolished, in Pingyao they remained intact, until suddenly in the late 20th century Pingyao woke up and realised it was a gem – a virtually untouched traditional Chinese town that would make the perfect tourist destination.
And today it has indeed become a show town for adventurous tourists: slightly artificial perhaps, and over dependent on tourism, but still in many ways the perfect balance between a tourist attraction and the real thing.
Pingyao is somewhat awkwardly placed on the tourist circuit: it lies nearly half way between Beijing and the other great tourist centre of Xian: 700 kilometres south west of Beijing and 500 kilometres north west of Xian. The nearest big town is the industrial centre of Taiyuan, which is not exactly a tourist attraction and it is not yet served by a bullet train. When we visited it, we followed our visit by an overnight sleeper train from Pingyao to Xian. But having got there, it is indeed a wonderful experience.
On to: The Walls