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Grassroots cultural elites keep ancient traditions alive
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An old man in a traditional robe sits quietly behind an antique desk with his wife by the side. When a visitor arrives, he slowly takes out a piece of yellowish paper and writes a couple of artistic characters on it with a brush pen.

Fan Shaozu, 90, is writing checks in the building that was China's first bank, Rishengchang, which was built in 1824 on a street in world heritage city Pingyao in north China's Shanxi Province. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all bank managers.

The checks were written to show how banks worked in China centuries ago and no modern bank will cash them. But it is the work of Fan and others that is keeping alive the charm of the 2,700-year-old city.

Zhang Yuren, the country magistrate

Zhang Yuren, 72, a student of the renowned late Chinese artist Qi Baishi's son, has a gallery on a street of Pingyao. His workshop is in the country's only completely preserved ancient local government office from Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911).

Every morning, Zhang arrives at the gallery where he dons the hat and robe of an ancient official and later walks on the streets to his office.

"Ah, are you the county magistrate? " one visitor asked curiously. And Zhang answered, "Yes, I am making my rounds to see if my people are happy."

Zhang may be the lowest paid "county magistrate" in China with a wage of only 20 yuan (US$ 2.9) a day but he is very devoted to his job.

"I enjoy reading history in my leisure time to make my performance more realistic," he said.

"I love the county magistrate. He is so funny, especially when he blends ancient stories with sarcasm and brings them to bear on modern problems, such as corruption and unemployment," said local resident Wang Xing, "Sometimes I laugh so much that tears come into my eyes."

Zhang is also a kungfu master and has published one book on the martial art of cudgelling.

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