Pingyao is a county in Shanxi province in China and was once the financial center of China during the late Qing Dynasty. The ancient city at Pingyao is a very well preserved walled city, typical of a traditional Han city in the Ming and Qing dynasties (14th-20th centuries), and still inhabited by about 50,000 residents although many buildings have now been transformed into shops and restaurants. Pingyao dates back some 2,700 years and it is where the modern Chinese banking system started. Most of the city is off-limits to cars and is perfect for wandering around on foot. Tourists can purchase a common ticket that lasts for 3 days which grants access to about 30 attractions inside the city including the City Walls, Rishenchang Exchange House, County Government Office, and some former residences.
We stayed at the Jing’s Residence inside the walled ancient city. This boutique hotel is in a renovated former silk merchant’s home with only 19 rooms. I highly recommend this Relais & Chateaux hotel even though it is much more expensive than any other hotel in the area. The modern amenities and excellent service far justify the price. I was very impressed with their international level of service where they anticipate your every need, especially in such a remote small city in China.
On the evening of our arrival, we ventured out to explore the city. It was drizzling a bit which added to the bygone romantic feel to the place.
The next morning, the hotel arranged for a local guide to show us around the ancient city and its major places of interest. The first stop was the Rishangchang Exchange House. Among the 20 banks, this was considered the first bank in China. At its peak, it controlled almost half of the Chinese economy and its branches were spread throughout China.