Paul's Travel Pics

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ancient City of Pingyao - Part 5: Favorite Photo Locales

I must first clarify that I am not a photographer. Whenever anyone asks about my pictures I always maintain that I'm a traveler first, a food enthusiast second, and a photographer last. But I must admit that I do enjoy photography as a medium for capturing the essence of my trips, for my eyes and for my tastebuds.

Since returning from Northern China I have added the ancient city of Pingyao to my list of favorite destinations -- it's just impossible to leave without a few good pictures for the desktop. This article is a collection of some of my favorite scenery within Pingyao's Ming Dynasty city walls. If these pictures appeal to your taste for vacation destinations, there are plenty of similar locales in my trips to Northern China and West-Central Japan.

The Ming Dynasty city wall at dusk. Picture was taken on a dark afternoon just after one of
Northern China's infamous springtime dust storms.

View towards the City Tower from the City Wall's South Gate. The 6 kilometre long perimeter of the
City Wall is by far the best location for panoramic views.

Pingyao's two-storey skyline. Note the tall walls with inward-sloping roofs designed to keep dust
storms out of the family courtyard.

One of the most picturesque Siheyuan courtyards I've ever come across. This was the inner-most
courtyard at Weihoutai, one of Qing Dynasty China's most successful draft banks.

While the majority of tourists flock to the Draft Bank Museum at
Rishengchang two doors down the street, the tranquil and ornately
manicured Weihoutai awaits the few visitors venturing in. This
is one of Pingyao's most underrated gems IMHO.

Peeking out the Xiulou (upper-floor) balcony of another Qing Dynasty draft bank, Baichuantong.
Traditionally this was the invisible prison for the master's unmarried daughters, who would
practice their embroidery by the balustrade until they were married off.

The highly symmetric roofline of Tianchengheng, yet another Qing Dynasty draft bank. By now you
can see how Pingyao established itself as the proverbial Wall Street of Imperial China with
its dozens of major draft banks, some of which opened branches as far as Moscow, Calcutta
and Kobe.

A view from City God Temple's main performance stage, which curiously faced inward rather than
streetside towards the public. Operas performed here were mainly for the eyes of the patron gods
of Pingyao, and not for men.

The main hall of Confucius Temple and its collection of well-wishing
amulets, laden with prayers to the Teacher of Ten Thousand
Generations, for RMB 10 each, to ensure success in upcoming exams.

The 300-year-old City Tower overlooking the main thoroughfare of Nandajie. Despite its dubious
reputation as an over-commercialized tourist zone, the main street is still utilized daily by
residents as their path to the world outside of the walled city.

Some of the most authentic scenes of Pingyao are often sadly missed by tourists staying outside of
the city. Locals come out at dawn to carry out their usual routines inside their ancestral
hometown, before disappearing back into their Siheyuan courtyards before the daily onslaught of

An ornate sculpture of a Qilin motive at Confucius Temple. Like
many other prominent historical figures, Confucius had his birth
prophesied through the appearance of this mythical beast.

Intricate relief sculpture and stone plaque above a passageway. The Confucian teaching of Du Jing
(trustworthiness and respectfulness) is centered above the Three Friends of Winter (pine, bamboo and
plum), which in turn sits on top of the Three Stars of Good Fortune, Prosperity and Longevity.

One of the common sights in Pingyao is the locally popular roof charms in the shape of dragons. This
would be a rare sight for visitors from nearby Beijing, who traditionally shied away from the usage
of animal-shaped roof charms to avoid conflicting with the designs of the Emperor's own architects.

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