History at close quarters

By Xu Lin and Sun Ruisheng ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-10-26 07:45:33

History at close quarters

Two elderly residents take a rest in front of their houses. [Photo by Kok Mun Hao/China Daily]

In the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties, Shanxi merchants were famous for their diligence in doing business in commodities such as tea and salt.

They even started the Rishengchang-China's first piaohao in Pingyao. Piaohao means a draft bank that allows people to exchange drafts for cash at its branches in the country.

In its heyday, Pingyao had 22 piaohao, and China had 51 in total at that time.

Nowadays, the Rishengchang has become the Piaohao Museum and displays areas showing different functions such as a business hall, a VIP room, an account's office and living quarters of the staff.

The Rishengchang had such a good system to prevent fraud that there were no cases of people falsely claiming money. Besides watermarks and seals on the draft, there were special Chinese characters representing dates, months and figures. There was also special staff handwriting on the drafts to avoid misappropriation.

You can also watch a performance called Another Glance at Pingyao every afternoon and night except on Mondays, to know more about the local culture and the loyalty of Pingyao's people.

The show is staged close to the ancient city and tickets cost 198 yuan ($31). The show tells the story of Zhao Yishuo, a local piaohao owner who went all the way to Russia with armed staff to save a subordinate's son.

The show is more like an unique time-travel experience to the late Qing Dynasty.

The theater has been renovated to look like the ancient town, with a bustling street of different stores and performers dressed in traditional costumes.

And rather than sitting on seats, members of the audience have to walk around and interact with the cast. They can also watch excellent dance shows.

If you go

It takes about four hours by high-speed train from Beijing to Pingyao county, Shanxi province, which is only 80 km from the capital city Taiyuan. A ticket to the ancient city of Pingyao costs 130 yuan ($21). It's valid for three days and includes entry to about 20 cultural heritage sites and scenic spots. The delicious local cuisine includes Pingyao beef, yam, sliced noodles and the province's famous vinegar.

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