Pingyao is a tiny ancient city (about 2km across) located in central Shanxi Province, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of Taiyuan, capital of the province. Originally built in the Western Zhou Dynasty (1045-256 BC), it boasts a history of over 2,700 years.
There are three Key National Protected Relics in Pingyao, namely Pingyao City Wall, Shuangxiu Temple and Zhenguo Temple. Due to its sound preservation of the urban landscape in China's Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, Pingyao was added to the UNESCO's World Heritage List on December 31st, 1997.
"The Ancient City of Pingyao is an outstanding example of a Han Chinese city of the Ming and Qing Dynasties that has retained all its features to an exceptional degree, and in doing so provides a remarkably complete picture of cultural, social, economic, and religious development during one of the most seminal periods of Chinese history."- World Relics Committee of UNESCO.
Pingyao was called Ancient Tao before the dynasties of Qin (221-206 BC) and Han (206 BC – 220 AD). According to the Records of Pingyao County, it had been the manor of Yao, who was the king of a union tribe in ancient China.
In the Spring and Autumn Period (722-481 BC), Ancient Tao belonged to the Jin Kingdom, and later to the Zhao Kingdom. The county system replaced the manor system when the First Emperor of Qin (Qin Shihuang 259-210) unified the whole country. Ancient Tao was then set as the county location and its name was changed to Pingtao.
In the early Northern Wei Dynasty (220-2800, Pingtao was renamed Pingyao to avoid the pronunciation Tao, because the emperor of the time was named as Tuoba Tao. According to ancient rules, the name of an emperor, high official, head of a family, or elder of a clan was regarded as taboo by his subjects or juniors.
According to historical records, in the West Zhou Dynasty (1045-256 BC), the King of Xuan dispatched his general Yin Jiefu to fight invaders of other kingdoms. General Yin stationed his troops in the Ancient Tao and constructed a defensive wall there.
In the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), from the year 1370, the government enlarged and reconstructed the city wall to provide greater space for military purposes. In the last 500 years of the Ming and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, the wall has been reconstructed and repaired 26 times or so, but its basic style and size remained without many changes.
The magnificent wall has been standing there for 600 years through the flames of war and natural weathering. Glints and flashes of swords and spears, and flames and explosions of war all have become things of history. The military function of the strong and high city wall has become redundant. Now the old wall presents to later generations a reminder of the changing dynasties and the events that occurred in the past three thousand years.