Today we’re continuing with our series exploring some of the most famous street in China. The two-thousand-seven-hundred-year-old city of Pingyao in the heart of Shanxi Province, is a World Heritage Site. Almost every day, its streets are crowded with tourists from all over the world. One of the most popular attractions is South Street, which is commonly known as the ancient city’s backbone. The name comes not only from its central location; it’s also a reference to the dozens of ancient shops, built in a distinctive traditional architectural style, that line it on both sides. According to legend, the city of Pingyao was developed around a well of gold, discovered on South Street. But is there any truth to the legend? And what are the stories behind the old shops that give the street its distinctive appeal?
Perhaps because of the ‘gold well’, business on South Street flourished, especially in the Ming and Qing dynasties. One of the most prosperous businesses on the street was ‘Changshengyuan’, a rice wine and cake shop that was known as ‘Jushengyuan’ in the Ming Dynasty.
For a period of time in the 1950s, the sound of people counting money out loud was no longer heard on South Street. It was a difficult time, when a State grain and cotton monopoly was imposed. At the old shops, like Changshenyuan, people wondered what the future might hold.
South Street in Pingyao has managed to maintain its original role in society, and it retains its economic and cultural vitality. The local authorities and population evidently realize that such ancient streets, as vehicles of history and culture, need to be preserved. And so, thanks to the older generations, South Street in Pingyao is flourishing. And it looks set to continue to do so for a long time to come, with the support of the younger generations.