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Píngyáo was a thriving merchant town during the Ming dynasty and centre of a large network of trade that extended from the south of China to Mongolia. Local businessmen had become so successful by the Qing dynasty that they created the country’s first banks and cheques, in order to facilitate the transfer of enormous amounts of silver from one place to another. The city fell into poverty in the 20th century, and, without the cash to modernise, Píngyáo’s streets have since gone unchanged.