China strikes chord on instrument production stage

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Examining at most entry-level music instruments being used by the western world's future popstars, one might have good chance to find labels of Made in China.

While the United States used to dominate large-scale manufacturing of popular instruments such as guitars, pianos and violins, China becomes the largest producer with 50 to 70 percent of classic instruments bearing the Made in China tag, said Zeng Zemin, general-secretary of the China Musical Instrument Association.


The sales value for Chinese musical instrument enterprises is expected to exceed 30 billion yuan (4.9 billion U.S. dollars) in 2014, while ten years ago the figure was just more than eight billion yuan, he told Xinhua.

The export value in 2014 is expected to reach 10.7 billion yuan, he said.

"The significant growth lies in the change of the Chinese market. With the improvement of people's lives, they spend more on cultural products and musical education," Zeng said.

In addition to exports, many of the country's musicians have migrated away from traditional Chinese instruments toward more internationally recognized instruments in the past two decades.

The Chinese are inspired by young musicians such as pianist Li Yundi, who was the youngest pianist in 2000 to win the International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition.

Under such a drive, the production and sales of both classical and tradition Chinese musical instruments have flourished for years.

Wu Tianyan, president of China's leading musical company Parsons Music Corporation, said nearly 500,000 pianos are made every year worldwide, one seventh of which are produced in Yichang, dubbed China's piano city, in Hubei Province.

Having the world's largest grand piano manufacturing base, Yichang produces 8,000 grand pianos and 8,000 high-end upright pianos, sold to more than 40 countries and regions.


Working quietly at his studio, 48-year-old Qin Hongbai is hand-making a violin.

"Here we have no machines," Qin said, "we only make high-end violins."

Located in a resident building in western Beijing, Qin's workshop is small but neat, with half-finished violins hanging on the wall.

With 32 years of violin-making experience and winning several international prizes, Qin's violins have attracted buyers from Germany, the U.S., New Zealand, Hong Kong and Taiwan, with each sold at about 10,000 U.S. dollars.

"I make only five to six violins a year, as tone quality will always be the top element for a violin," Qin said.

Although being recognized by more international professionals, China takes a small proportion of high-end musical instrument manufacturing and still has much to learn, Qin said.

Zeng said developed countries still monopolize the high-end instruments market -- a violin will easily cost millions of yuan -- as manufacturers in those countries possess eligible raw materials and advanced techniques.

"China still has a long way to go," Zeng said.


Playing the traditional Chinese Zhongruan for 12 years, French musician Djang San is adept at making various styles of music with the four-stringed plucked instrument.

"Since I stared to play music, I have always dreamt of exploring more music styles and Zhongruan is the right instrument," San said.

He has released 28 albums and performed at musical festivals such as MIDI, Zebra and 9 Gates.

"I hope to perform when I am back in Europe," San said.

Wang Guozhen, head of the Shanghai No. 1 National Musical Instrument Factory, said overseas sales of traditional Chinese instruments in 2013 reached 20 million yuan while the figure was one million yuan in 1998.

"It usually takes a while for foreigners to accept the culture when playing Chinese instruments. Overseas sales increase by at least 10 percent every year," Wang said.

Since 2007, the Ministry of Finance and other ministries encouraged Chinese enterprises to participate in international musical instrument competition, and to expand export of cultural products and services.

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