Pingyao: an ancient China through French eyes

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, January 27, 2014
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"In Ningbo, Shanghai and Xi'an, tall buildings are everywhere. Pingyao is a very nice change. I like the atmosphere here," said french tourist Elene Bonnet, 60.

In her eyes, all of the old things in China were destroyed by the new, except here.

Elene started her trip in Ningbo in east China, then went on from Shanghai to Xi'an in northern Shaanxi Province until reaching Pingyao, a city in north China's Shanxi Province with almost 3,000 years of history.

Inside Pingyao's walls, narrow stone roads lined with Ming and Qing architecture are illuminated by hundreds of red lanterns; a revelation harking back to Pingyao's thirteenth century heyday.

Well preserved government offices, banks, hotels and famous local food once attracted former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, wishing to discover the "real" China. In April, 2002, Giscard d'Estaing attended the first Pingyao International Photography Exhibition and stayed in Dejuyuan, a traditional guesthouse.

A renovated courtyard off the main street, Dejuyuan started business in 2001 when few foreigners knew of the city, but the statesman's visit was soon followed by the likes of ambassadors from Norway and Sweden, and the president of L'Oreal China. Pierre Morel, former French ambassador to China, called Dejuyuan's services "truly homely" in a visitors' book after staying in the 25-room hotel several times.

Pingyao now has 70,000 foreign visitors every year and a total of 70 guesthouses provide accommodation.

The city was added to the UNESCO's world heritage list in 1997 for its urban landscape from the Ming and Qing dynasties,

Pingyao is twinned with the town of Provins almost 12,000 km away in central France. Provins, a "fossil" which witnessed great changes in the European continent from the 11th to 13th century, has been on the UNESCO list since 2001.

The two cities sealed the twinning agreement in 2006, and now the two are closer than ever. The Pingyao government plans an exhibition in Provins of local crafts, according to Zhao Yongping, president of Pingyao's literary and arts association.

"In the future, we will have more to learn from Provins' experiences in legislative protection of their landmarks, and how to arouse the passion of local people to protect their city," said Zhao.

Provins is only 80 km from Bonnet's home in Paris, and she describes the city as "less beautiful but better-kept" than Pingyao.

"In Pingyao we see what China used to be,"she said,"but discreet renovation is urgently needed."

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