While staying in Shanxi Province in China, I was able to visit Pingyao Ancient City. Pingyau was built in 1370 AD during the Ming Dynasty and declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1997. It is the largest built and most preserved ancient city in Shanxi Province.
The perimeter of the city is a fortress with 40-foot walls that are 16-feet deep. The wall’s circumference is 4 miles with 72 watchtowers, and 3000 battlements. Pingyao contains a labyrinth of streets and courtyards, with countless shops for buying goods and souvenirs. Most of these items are marketed for tourists and can be found in shops all over China including carved jade, porcelain, cast metal objects, prints, watercolors, enamelware, lacquered objects, silk textiles, and edged weapons. I noticed a few items that were unique to Pingyau like “animal” pelts dyed to look like tigers or leopards.
As I walked the narrow streets, the city appeared ancient in every way. However, I would periodically see something like a hand painted wood sign suspended by wire with the words “Skype” and “CD Burning” and I was reminded that 21st Century amenities do exist here.
The Imperial Japanese Army once occupied Shanxi Province and I thought there might be a chance of finding some Japanese militaria. I located several authentic cavalry swords and countless Arisaka bayonets, but they were all in poor condition with heavy pitting and damage. I was not able to find Japanese insignia, field gear, or uniform items.
There were swords in practically every shop, but almost all of them were fantasy pieces, made to look like an antique Japanese or Chinese sword. Most of the swords wouldn’t fool an experienced militaria or sword collector because the fittings were junk and the blades were clumsy and poorly crafted.
I noticed one sword that was a fairly convincing representation of an original WWII Japanese NCO sword. It was made to look like a first pattern sword with a stamped copper handle, machined blade, and enamel painted steel scabbard. Since original NCO swords were machine made, they are much easier to reproduce than traditionally made swords. The noticeable problems with this sword included a scabbard and handle painted with the wrong paint and color, a crude locking mechanism, and the Arabic numerals used to stamp the blade and scabbard throat were not in the correct place, nor were they the correct font. This sword could have easily fooled a person lacking the experience of owning or handling authentic examples.
Since I glanced at this sword for more than a few seconds, the shop owner saw opportunity and sprang towards me with her calculator wanting to negotiate price. I explained that I was not interested in buying a sword, but she persisted and said I could have it for 350 Yuan. This is less than fifty dollars and I could have easily haggled another 50% percent off the price without any effort. This is actually not a terrible deal considering that copper handled NCO swords sell in the US for well over $1000.00 in nice condition.
Shanxi province is known for beautifully crafted lacquered objects. After sampling several dishes at a local restaurant, I followed my entourage down the street to a lacquer shop that was recommended by our guide for nicer quality lacquered products. It was in this shop that I made my first souvenir purchase, a small lacquered jewelry box with hand painted cherry blossoms.
Chris is a WorthPoint Worthologist.
Read Chris’s articles.