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Conservation and revitalisation programme of Ancient City of Ping Yao (China)

The comprehensive conservation master plan aims to enhance heritage conservation and liveability while promoting sustainable social and economic development. Through innovative management and financing models and a combination of conservation actions aimed at both tangible and intangible heritage, the programme aims to make a contribution to the long-term sustainability of the historic city.

About the city of Ping Yao

Ping Yao is a medium-sized city located in the Shanxi Province (China). The city is home to the World Heritage site “Ancient City of Ping Yao”, inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1997 under criteria (ii), (iii) and (iv).

Bird's-eye view of the South Gate of Ancient City of Ping Yao © SHAO Yong 

Ping Yao is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a traditional Han Chinese city, founded in the 14th century. Its urban fabric shows the evolution of architectural styles and town planning in Imperial China over five centuries. Of special interest are the imposing buildings associated with banking, for which Ping Yao was the major centre for the whole of China in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Conservation and Revitalisation Programme of the Ancient City of Ping Yao

The conservation and revitalisation programme of the Ancient City of Ping Yao is a comprehensive plan comprising multiple actions with the overall aim to enhance heritage conservation and liveability while promoting sustainable social and economic development. The official conservation masterplan was approved in 2014 and is currently under implementation. The programme was developed by a consortium of partners including Shanghai Tongji Urban Planning & Design Institute Co. Ltd. / Tongji University, and Pingyao County People’s Government and Bureau of Natural Resources. Global Heritage Fund and UNESCO experts, as well as other institutes and organisations, were invited for expertise and collaboration, promoting the cooperation between public and private partners.

The programme aims to create an integrated plan with three core areas of action:

  • Culture and heritage: Ping Yao is culturally rich and home to many heritage sites. This cultural wealth can be harnessed to generate a positive impact in the livelihoods and quality of life of local residents.
  • Liveability: The World Heritage site of the Ancient City of Ping Yao is a living city, with almost 20,000 residents in an area of 2.4 square kilometres. However, most of the historic dwellings in use are in poor condition and require conservation interventions as well as other infrastructure upgrades, such as electricity and sewage.
  • Economic development and tourism: tourism numbers in Ping Yao have increased in the past 20 years. The uncontrolled commercial development has led to other issues; there is a need to find a balance between tourism development and liveability.

Map of the Ancient city of Ping Yao and its cultural sites and assets © SHAO Yong 

These objectives are translated into several implementation lines:

  • Heritage conservation: to protect the authenticity and integrity, a comprehensive conservation framework has been established to protect and preserve the historical layers of the city. The framework includes the ancient defence system, traditional urban planning layout, street patterns and public spaces, traditional courtyard houses, modern industrial heritage, and intangible cultural heritage.
  • Promoting cultural industries: cultural and community facilities have been developed in brownfields, and new theatres and museums constructed. At the same time, funding schemes and policies have been put forward to promote and conserve intangible cultural heritage and crafts, including through sustainable tourism and cultural events.
  • Improving the liveability of the urban areas: because many of the heritage structures are in private or mixed ownership, the government was unable to carry out the conservation works directly. The response plan includes a policy for subsidies for the restoration of traditional dwellings, the publication of restoration guidelines, and the establishment of a car-free precinct in the historic centre.
  • Raising awareness: many local residents were unaware of Ping Yao’s unique heritage values. On the one hand, the government and institutes like Tongji University organised workshops, lectures and educational activities for local stakeholders, residents and shop-owners, in order to raise awareness about heritage values and promote community participation. On the other hand, the programme focuses heavily on improving the liveability of the urban areas, developing subsidies and guidelines to encourage and guide the private owners of traditional dwellings to restore their own houses.
  • Coordination: as a smaller, county-level city, resources management and capacities were sometimes limited. To address the general lack of information and coordination, an integrated management plan was created, as well as a toolbox combining planning regulation, building permits, finance and governance information.

Workshops with local residents © SHAO Yong 


As a result of the programme, the site managers’ report that the state of conservation and liveability of the city has improved, especially through the restoration programmes, subsidies and restoration guidelines. More than 90 courtyard buildings have been restored in an initiative which received an Award of Merit during the 2015 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

The site has undergone significant economic development, with a measurable increase in the average income for residents and new job opportunities. New cultural industries have been developed in abandoned factory sites such as the former Diesel Engine Plant, now transformed into the Pingyao Festival Palace, a cultural and community centre used for events (see image to the left).

Finally, intangible cultural heritage practices have been strengthened and promoted, thereby enhancing the tourism offer and experience.

Traditional courtyard house before and after restauration
© Pingyao County Urban Planning & Research Center 

Pingyao Festival Palace © XU Yanda

Source: Prof. Shao Yong, Professor, College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Tongji University, 2021.

Contribution towards the implementation of the 2011 Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape

The project aims to contribute to the implementation of the Historic Urban Landscape approach by taking into consideration the diversity of values present in the city, including cultural heritage values and intangible heritage, and developing an integrated approach to urban heritage management which includes planning guidelines, management plan, educational activities and financial mechanisms. 

Historic Urban Landscape Tools

Civic engagement tools Knowledge and Planning tools Regulatory systems Financial tools

Contribution towards Sustainable Development

If fully implemented in accordance with the described plans, the initiative could contribute towards Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

    • Target 11.3: The initiative aims to promote integrated and inclusive urban development.
    • Target 11.4: The initiative aims to strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.

Note: the described potential impacts of the projects are only indicative and based on submitted and available information. UNESCO does not endorse the specific initiatives nor ratifies their positive impact.

To learn more
  • Watch the presentation by Prof. Shao Yong during the Celebrations of the 10th Anniversary of the UNESCO Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape
  • Read the project report on Global Heritage Fund.

Right: Traditional courtyard house in the Ancient City of Ping Yao © XU Kanda 

    © UNESCO, 2021. Project team: Jyoti Hosagrahar, Alba Zamarbide, Carlota Marijuán Rodríguez, Federico Rudari, with the collaboration of WHITRAP Shanghai. 
    Cover image: Craftsperson in the Ancient City of Ping Yao © SHAO Yong 

    Note: The cases shared in this platform address heritage protection practices in World Heritage sites and beyond. Items being showcased in this website do not entail any type of recognition or inclusion in the World Heritage list or any of its thematic programmes. The practices shared are not assessed in any way by the World Heritage Centre or presented here as model practices nor do they represent complete solutions to heritage management problems. The views expressed by experts and site managers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Heritage Centre. The practices and views shared here are included as a way to provide insights and expand the dialogue on heritage conservation with a view to further urban heritage management practice in general.