【英语财经】平遥:中国最早的华尔街 Pingyao: the great Wall Street of China

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2014-5-16 06:38

小艾摘要: China’s modern banking industry was born nearly 200 years ago in a small town in the middle of nowhere, a place where today ordinary people still live in the midst of extraordinary architectural sple ...
Pingyao: the great Wall Street of China
China’s modern banking industry was born nearly 200 years ago in a small town in the middle of nowhere, a place where today ordinary people still live in the midst of extraordinary architectural splendour. Other Chinese cities have been more than happy to bury their history under skyscrapers but Pingyao, the original Chinese Wall Street and perhaps the best-preserved ancient city in China, chose not to.

No one quite knows why: maybe it was just too poor after the Pingyao banks went bust in the early 20th century along with the Qing dynasty that they bankrolled. Maybe – stranded more than 350 miles southwest of Beijing – it was too remote or just too unimportant to pave with parking lots. Yet now it is places such as Pingyao that are helping China rediscover the value of preserving what little is left of the country’s ancient buildings – not least because there is so much money to be made from them.

For decades China despised the old and idolised the new but when countries get rich, their citizens always wax nostalgic. Pingyao, which was declared a Unesco world heritage site in 1997, is a perfect vehicle for the burgeoning middle class’s new-found love of the past. The city was founded in the 14th century and has hundreds of Ming and Qing dynasty courtyards where people live much as they did in the time of emperors. Ask middle-aged residents how the city has changed since their childhoods and they often say “not much”: ask the same question in any other city in China and residents may struggle to point out anything that remains the same.

Travel agents happily promote Pingyao’s 6km of intact city wall, 12m tall and wide enough to take a horse and cart. But no dry statistic can capture what is really so special about the place – the fact that history is still alive in it. A young girl does her homework atop a stone wall in a courtyard virtually unchanged since China was feudal; a middle-aged man shows off the upstairs room where the maidens of his family, their feet bound, lived before marriage in a kind of Chinese purdah; the nonagenarian woman who sleeps on the same brick kang – a bed heated from inside by coal – that she has used for 50 years in the same Qing dynasty courtyard where she was married decades ago.

Asia has fewer than 10 intact ancient cities like Pingyao, according to the US-based Global Heritage Fund, which is helping to preserve life in the ancient city. China, perhaps the oldest continuous civilisation on earth, once had thousands of such cities. But only a handful remain and even those with a claim to architectural longevity – such as Lijiang in China’s far west Yunnan province – have been over-restored and over-commercialised to the point where they are more theme park than cultural relic.

Many other cities have sought to make money from their history not by preserving it but by tearing down the original fabric and replacing it. “There is a push to recreate fake historic architecture in China,” says Ben Wood, architect of Shanghai’s Xintiandi, a vast shopping and dining area which is perhaps the best-known historic redevelopment in China. “It’s like DisneyWorld,” he says.

But historic preservation experts say that China’s attitude to ancient architecture is not merely a case of greed colliding with pragmatism. Tearing down old buildings has a long pedigree in the middle kingdom: “China is different from Europe in terms of the way it looks at old buildings,” says Ruan Yisan, a professor of urban planning at Shanghai’s Tongji University and a consultant on the preservation of Pingyao. “Throughout history, whenever a new dynasty replaced an old one, every-thing built by the former dynasty would be destroyed and replaced by new buildings.”

But now all that is changing, says Wood. “They used to just pick the most iconic building [and preserve that] but now they realise the urban fabric also has historic value. They have moved to a more sophisticated assessment of historic artefacts.” Today’s cities are realising that profit lurks in those filthy, crumbling old structures – and in the living culture that exists within them.

Pingyao certainly thinks so. Wei Mingxi is the city’s Communist party secretary and probably the most powerful man in town – and his business cards bear the Unesco logo rather than that of the Communist party, showing how seriously he takes historic preservation. Pingyao’s motto is “to renew and beautify” but, says Wei, “That does not mean tearing down old things and building up new things, it means preserving the ancient city with a new creativity.”

To do that will take money. Wei is not quite sure how much but he says that it will be in excess of the Rmb10bn (£975m) figure cited in the Chinese press. So Pingyao is looking for investors, donors – and even bank loans – to preserve this precious forerunner of the modern Chinese financial system. The city government’s newest project is a subsidy programme whereby it pays half the renovation costs for particularly fine courtyard homes – it estimates that 400 out of nearly 4,000 courtyards in the city are worth preserving. The goal is to keep people living in them, not see them gentrified into boutique hotels.

. . . .

Money has always been the raison d’être of Pingyao: it first rose to fame as a trading centre on the route along which the teas and silks of southern China were transported to Russia and beyond. But carting crates full of silver to pay for all that tea and silk was hard work: eventually one of the city’s merchants thought up a virtual payment system using pieces of paper known as “drafts”.

Thus was born in 1823 the Sunrise Prosperity draft bank – Rishengchang in Mandarin. Its first branch was built on the main street of Pingyao, where it is preserved today, right down to the counting rooms, the silver vaults – and the opium dens where VIP clients were entertained. At the height of its prosperity, Pingyao boasted 22 such “draft banks” or piaohao, with branches all over the country and even overseas. If China seems nouveau riche today, imagine the opulence of a city filled with so many bankers.

The 1.5 million tourists who visit Pingyao each year, most of them mainland Chinese, can see the physical evidence of a simpler global financial system. They can also contemplate a banking industry built on trust (rather than collateral): for many of its earliest years, Rishengchang bank drafts would only be honoured if handwritten by the manager of the Pingyao head office himself. Every Rishengchang manager in the country needed to be able to spot a forgery. Today, the Communist party may have declared war on corruption but the Chinese media have accused the Pingyao local government of using a large part of the town’s tourism receipts to pay for lavish dinners for government officials.

The employment practices of the 19th-century Pingyao banks were less appealing. Staff loyalty was guaranteed by keeping apprentice clerks virtual prisoners for the first three years of their training (they could only visit home if a parent died and were banned from marrying). The banks stashed silver in a brick well built under a kang in a manager’s office and several clerks sat or slept on it at all times. The customer relations officer, however, arguably had a better job: as well as playing mahjong with special clients, he was also expected to smoke opium with them.

Most of the tourists who visit Pingyao this year will stop at the original Rishengchang bank. Many won’t see much more than the old piaohao offices, perhaps the Confucius temple, the city wall – and the curio shops, restaurants and bars that have grown up around them. They will arrive around 10am by the busload, spend a few hours chasing a tour guide’s flag, and depart before sunset. Ji Taiping, head of the city’s urban planning department, calls it “fast food” tourism. Some may also brave a lightning tour of the city’s neighbourhoods, clinging to a golf cart careering through the streets, blaring out pop music. But most will not stop at number 3, Fanjiajie, the courtyard home of 38-year-old Xu Zhouyu and his family.

. . .

Number 3 is like Pingyao itself: a place where China’s past tries not to clash with its future. Yet pride of place in the late Qing dynasty courtyard is given to a satellite dish – right next to the coal stove that heats the water. Xu has made some minor improvements to the home, which he rents for a fraction of the cost of equivalent accommodation outside the city walls. But he is none too keen on government plans to upgrade his pit latrine to a flush toilet. “Ours is perfectly fine, it’s clean, it doesn’t smell, you can go look at it,” he insists, explaining that a flush loo would cost him more than Rmb1,000 (£98) a year.

Outside in the lane, the cart that empties pit latrines like his rumbles by: privies are still the most common form of convenience in the ancient courtyards. But Xu loves the old place: “It’s very cool inside, I don’t need to pay for air conditioning,” he says as he shows off the Qing dynasty wallpaper in his sitting room. The temperature must be at least 10C lower than the near 40C outdoors.

Down the street, next to number 11, is an unnumbered lane clogged with the kind of illegal structures – shanty kitchens and lean-to loos – that used to be ubiquitous in Pingyao. Soon these extensions will be removed, says an urban planning official. He adds that the old city’s population is being reduced from 60,000 to about 15,000 by moving people to new developments, making it possible for families to live comfortably within the original courtyards.

“The challenge of Pingyao is the challenge of authenticity,” believes Vince Michael, executive director of the Global Heritage Fund. “One of the ways you can distinguish between Disneyland authenticity and real authenticity is that the real stuff sometimes is stinky or ugly or unkempt or unresolved. Like reality.” And like many of Pingyao’s loveliest courtyards.

Nancy Shao, an adviser to the local government from Tongji University’s urban planning department, insists it is not too late to save Pingyao from over-restoration. “But it’s very important to maintain a balance between heritage conservation and local development because if we just focus on heritage protection then local people will not accept it. Our challenge will be to develop tourism in a more sustainable way,” she says, adding, “We have to figure out how to develop high-value-added tourism: the quality is more important than the quantity.”

But Wei, the party secretary – whose success in Pingyao will be judged more by short-term results than posterity – seems little concerned with the risk of tourist hordes engulfing his fragile city. “The more tourists, the better,” he says. Visitor numbers, which could swell with the opening of a high-speed rail link from Xi’an, home of the terracotta warriors, are just “a management problem”. Lovers of ancient cities might be advised to fit in a quick trip to “the country ancestor of China’s financial industry” before he has time to test that hypothesis.

Patti Waldmeir is the FT’s Shanghai correspondent. Additional reporting by Zhang Yan.

将近200年前,中国的现代银行业在平遥这个偏僻小镇诞生。如今,这里的老百姓依然生活在极富特色的建筑景观中。中国其他城市巴不得将它们的历史掩埋在摩天大楼之下,但平遥却没有选择这么做。平遥拥有中国最早的“华尔街”,或许也是中国保存最为完好的古城。

没有人特别清楚其中的原因。也许只是因为平遥太穷了——平遥票号在20世纪初走向没落,与之相伴的还有这些票号资助的清王朝。也许是因为平遥太远(它位于北京西南方,距离超过560公里)或者太不重要,连停车场都不值得多建。但如今,正是平遥这样的地方正在帮助中国重新认识到保护其所剩无几的古建筑的价值,这主要是因为人们从中可以赚到很多钱。

数十年来,中国一直喜新厌旧。但是当国家富裕起来的时候,人们总是越来越怀旧。在满足中国迅速崛起的中产阶级的怀旧之情方面,平遥是个完美的载体。1997年,世界教科文组织(Unesco)将平遥列为世界文化遗产。平遥建于14世纪,现存数百座明清院落。如今仍有人住在这些院子里,他们的生活和皇帝当政的时代基本没什么两样。问一问这里的中年居民,这座城市从他们小时候起发生了怎样的变化,答案往往是“变化不大”。但如果在中国其他城市问同样的问题,那里的居民可能很难说出什么历久不变的东西。

导游们兴致勃勃地宣传着平遥保存完好的古城墙。它的周长达6公里,高12米,而且上面也很宽,足以容下一辆马车行驶。但干巴巴的数字未能体现出这个地方真正的特色——历史其实在这里依旧鲜活。在一座院子的石墙上面,一位小女孩正在做着家庭作业,这座院子其实从中国封建时代起就没怎么变样。一名中年男子向我们炫耀着他家楼上的几间屋子。过去,他家的姑娘(她们要裹小脚)在出嫁前就在这里过着中国式的深闺生活。90多岁的女人还睡在50年前的那张砖炕上(一种用煤从内部加热的床),她家的院子还是几十年前她结婚时的那座清朝院落。

总部位于美国的全球遗产基金会(Global Heritage Fund)正为保护古城风貌提供帮助。该机构的统计显示,像平遥这样保存完好的古城,在亚洲不到10处。作为可能是世界上最古老且绵延不绝的文明,中国曾有数千座这样的城市,但如今只有少数保存了下来。即便是那些号称拥有历史悠久建筑的城市(比如位于中国偏远西部云南省的丽江市),如今也已过度重建和商业化,它们更像是主题公园,而不是文化遗产。

还有许多城市设法从历史中获利,但它们采用的方式不是保护城市,而是推倒旧建筑,用新建筑取而代之。上海新天地的设计师本?伍德(Ben Wood)说:“中国出现了一股兴建仿古建筑的热潮。”新天地是一个巨大的购物和餐饮区,可能是中国最著名的历史遗迹改造项目。“这儿有点像迪士尼乐园。”

但历史文化保护专家表示,中国对古建筑的态度不仅仅是贪婪撞上实用主义的问题。推倒古建筑在这个“中央王国”有着悠久的传统。上海同济大学(Tongji University)城市规划学院教授、平遥保护顾问阮仪三说:“中国看待古建筑的方式与欧洲不同。纵观历史,每当新王朝取代旧王朝时,所有前朝建筑都会被摧毁,为新建筑所取代。”

但伍德表示,一切正在发生改变。“过去,他们往往只挑出最具标志性的建筑(并加以保护),但现在他们意识到,普通城市建筑同样具备历史价值。他们转而对历史文物进行更复杂的评估。”今天的城市正逐渐明白,利益就潜藏在那些肮脏破败的老建筑——以及其中充满生机的文化当中。

平遥显然是这么想的。该县县委书记卫明喜或许是这里权力最大的人。他的名片没有印中国共产党的标志,而是印了联合国教科文组织的会标,这表明他对历史保护非常重视。他说,平遥的口号是“优先城乡建设,助推美丽平遥”,但“这并不意味着要推倒重建,而是要用创新的方式保护古城。”

这需要很多钱。卫明喜不太确定到底要多少钱,但他表示,这个数字将超过国内媒体报道的100亿元人民币(合9.75亿英镑)。因此,平遥正在寻找投资者、捐助人,甚至银行贷款来保护这处弥足珍贵的中国现代金融体系发源地。平遥县政府的最新计划是推出一个补助项目,对一些特别有价值的宅院承担一半的翻新费用。平遥县政府估计,在当地近4000座庭院中,值得保护的有400座。政府的目标是让人们继续在那里生活,而不是沦为精品旅馆的房客。

……

金钱始终是平遥存在的价值:它最初作为一条商道上的贸易中心而声名鹊起,通过这条商道,中国南方的茶叶和丝绸被运往俄国乃至更远的地方。然而,为了支付货物价款,人们不得不用大车运送装满银子的木箱,这非常辛苦。最终,平遥的一位商人设计了一套虚拟支付体系,即用一种被称为“汇票”的纸张进行交易。

于是在1823年,日升昌票号(Sunrise Prosperity)诞生了。它的首个分号设在平遥的主大街上。该分号从账房、银库一直到为贵宾客户准备的鸦片烟房均保存完好。在鼎盛时期,平遥有22家这样的票号,其分支遍布全国各地乃至海外。如果中国现在像是个暴发户,那么想象一下拥有众多票号老板的平遥当年的繁盛景象吧。

每年有150万名游客来平遥旅游,他们大多来自中国内地。他们在这里可以看到一个较为简单的全球金融体系的实物证据,也可以遥想一个建立在信任(而非抵押品)基础之上的银行业是什么样子。在成立之初的许多年里,日升昌的汇票只有经过平遥总号经理的手写背书才能得到承兑,每家分号的经理都必须具备识别伪票的能力。现在中共或许已对腐败宣战,但中国的媒体指控平遥当地政府挪用大量旅游收入来支付官员们的奢侈酒宴。

平遥票号在19世纪的用工行为并不那么吸引人。为了保证员工的忠诚度,票号一开始会对学徒进行为期三年的封闭式培训,在此期间这些学徒其实和囚犯没什么两样(他们只有在双亲去世时才能回家,而且还不能结婚)。票号将银子藏入经理办公室的土炕下一块精心设计的砖头内,数名职员不分昼夜地守在那里。不过,客户关系经理的工作可以说要惬意得多:除了陪特殊客户打打麻将,他还会和他们一起吸鸦片。

到平遥参观的游客大都会在日升昌票号前驻足。许多人看到的不过是古老的票号账房、或许还有孔庙、城墙,以及周边林立的古玩店、饭馆和酒吧。一车游客会在上午10点左右抵达平遥,接着花上几个小时跟着导游游览,然后在日落前离开——平遥城市规划部门的季太平(音译)将此称为“快餐式”旅游。有些人可能还敢去平遥城里转转,坐上小型电瓶车在街道上穿梭,车上的喇叭里高声放着流行音乐。但大多数游客不会到范家街3号院来看一看。这处院子里住着38岁的徐周宇(音译)和他的家人。

……

3号院和平遥一样,是个尽力不让中国传统与其未来发生冲突的地方。不过,这座晚清庭院的自豪感还是没能抵过一台碟式卫星电视接收器——它就被安置在烧水煤炉的一旁。徐周宇对宅院作了一些小规模的改造,然后对外出租,所得收入用来支付城外一处相同住宅的一小部分房租。对于政府将他的旱厕升级为冲水式厕所的计划,徐周宇并不是很买账。他坚称:“我们的厕所相当好,既干净、也没味儿,你可以去看看。”他解释说,一个冲水式厕所每年会让他多花1000元多人民币(合98英镑)。

在外面的街道上,清理像徐周宇家这种旱厕的拉粪车轰鸣而过。旱厕仍是古老庭院里最常见的方便之地。徐周宇热爱这个老地方:“屋子里头特别凉快,我不用花钱安空调。”说这话时,他不无得意地让我们看他客厅里清朝的墙纸。屋里比外头40摄氏度的高温起码要低10度。

沿着范家街往前走到11号院,旁边一条未编号的胡同里盖满了违章建筑——简陋的厨房和有着单坡屋顶的厕所。这些建筑过去在平遥比比皆是。一名城市规划官员表示,这些加盖出来的建筑很快就会被拆除。他还说,通过将古城居民迁至新城,平遥古城的人口会从6万减至1.5万,这有可能让那些住户们舒舒服服地住在旧有的宅院里。

全球遗产基金会的执行主任文斯?迈克尔(Vince Michael)认为:“平遥面临的挑战是一种来自真实性的挑战。你将迪士尼乐园的真实性与现实的真实性区分开的一个方法是,真实的东西有时是难闻、丑陋、凌乱或无法解决的,就像现实一样。”平遥许多最怡人的院落也是如此。

平遥政府顾问、同济大学城市规划系的邵甬(Nancy Shao)认为,要让平遥避免过度改造,现在还为时不晚。“但特别重要的一点是在遗迹保护和地方发展之间保持平衡,因为如果我们只着眼于保护遗迹,当地人是不会接受的。我们的挑战是以一种更可持续的方式发展旅游业。”她还补充道:“我们必须想出一条发展高附加值旅游业的道路:质量比数量更重要。”

但卫明喜似乎不怎么担心大批游客涌入这座小城带来的风险。评判其政绩的是平遥的短期经济表现、而不是后代子孙。他表示:“游客越多越好”,数量只是“一个管理问题”。随着从兵马俑所在地西安到平遥的高铁的开通,平遥游客数量可能会大幅增加。在卫明喜有时间检验其假设之前,古城爱好者们或许就会接受推荐,踏上一条前往“中国金融业发祥地”的短期旅途。

帕提?沃德米尔(Patti Waldmeir)是英国《金融时报》驻上海记者。张嫣补充报道

译者/何黎

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