Art & Culture
The two main streets in the center of the old town are lined with numerous souvenir shops that attract many visitors. Local handicrafts, Chinese memorabilia, clothing, books and antiques - old and not so old -- are among the many items on sale. Hard bargaining is the rule. Below is a non-exhaustive list of traditional handicrafts and folk arts unique to Pingyao.
According to unearthed relics, paper cutting was already a folk art during the Northern Dynasty (386 A.D. - 581 A.D.) and is therefore a tradition in China spanning more than 1,600 years. It is said that, at first, paper cutting was only popular in the countryside where they were used as simple decorations for windows, doors, walls, and also during special occasions such as marriages and different festivals to enhance the festive mood. Over the centuries, a large variety of designs were created featuring animals, plants, astrological signs, scenes from daily life, and even old tales. Simple tools were such as carving knives and scissors, and the patterns were passed down by farmer's wives from one generation to the next. While many places in rural China are famous for paper cutting, Shanxi Province stresses the simplicity of the cutting and incorporates local art forms, such as the famous patterns from Shanxi opera.
According to historical records, China used lacquer as early as the Xia Dynasty, some 4,200 years ago. In those days, lacquer ware was very simple and basically made of bamboo molds painted with a lacquer layer. As civilization advanced, the technique evolved and incorporated pigments to create colored patterns, and more elaborate designs.
The fact that lacquer was waterproof, corrosion proof and could resist high temperatures made it very popular and it soon became part of people's daily life. Different dynasties created lacquer wares with their own styles and features and the production of lacquer reached its peak during the Ming and Qing dynasties. It is during this period that Pingyao became one of the main lacquer centers in China with a large production used for dining accessories, decorative boxes, furniture, musical instruments, jewelry, chessboards and many other daily objects.
Pingyao remains famous to this day for the quality of its lacquer and many lacquer objects can be found in small shops all around the old city. Go a head…
Handmade Cloth Shoes
Handmade cloth shoes from Pingyao have been famous for centuries for their comfort, good ventilation and perspiration absorption. They are still made by local crafts people, who can be seen at work in several shops in the center of the old city. These shoes are often embroidered with figures of animals, flowers and plants that are said to ward off evil and bring good luck and wealth. Children's shoes are especially cute with embroidered cat or tiger faces on them. Pingyao’s handmade cloth shoes are an ideal gift.
Shanxi Opera and Music
Shanxi Opera became famous at the imperial court in Xi’an during the Tang Dynasty and it is said that, at its heydays, the repertoire included over 10,000 operas whose plots often dealt with fighting oppression, wars against invaders, and issues of love and loyalty. In addition to operatic acting and singing, Shanxi Opera also includes special effects such as acrobatics. This ancient art form is still performed today to the delight of visitors. The Shanxi traditional puppet opera is also very famous in China.