A sweeter tune

Updated: 2012-09-14 07:45

By Liu Lu (China Daily)

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 A sweeter tune

A worker finetunes the design for a violin at a manufacturing unit in Pinggu district, Beijing. Liu Lu / China Daily

Violin makers from Pinggu district are adding top quality strings to their bows

Violin making is not something people would normally associate with a Beijing suburb.

But the nimble fingers of farmers in Pinggu district, in the capital's east, have helped distinguish their hometown - more famous as Beijing's agricultural base - as one of the world's major violin production centers.

With an estimated production of more than 350,000 violins each year, about one-third of the world's violins are manufactured in Pinggu.

According to the local government, the area's more than 50 violin makers have achieved an output value of 400 million yuan ($35 million, 33.3 million euros) a year, selling to more than 40 countries and regions, with most of the instruments exported to the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Japan.

In September 2009, the China National Light Industry Council called Pinggu the "Violin Manufacturing Base of China".

Pinggu's violin industry was also included in the development plan for Beijing's key cultural and creative industries during the city's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15).

But musical instrument makers in Pinggu are not just satisfied with mass production. They are striving to turn the local brand into something that is famous the world over, as well as nurturing world-class master violin makers.

"The future of violin-making in Pinggu lies in recognized brands and better quality," says Geng Zhanhua, manager of Beijing Huadong Musical Instrument Corp, which is the district's largest violin making company with an annual production of at least 220,000 pieces.

Geng says the development of Pinggu's violin industry began in the 1980s when there were just a few violin workshops that could only produce simple parts. After almost 30 years of constant development, what used to be small workshops with several workers have evolved into big factories with more than 3,000 employees, making all ranges of musical instruments.

Before 2007, he says, the vast majority of the local violin factories were original equipment makers for foreign musical instrument companies, meaning their business relied heavily on overseas orders.

"Local companies did not have their own brands, so foreign distributors bought products from us and then put their own brands onto them. Although it is the same product, the price gap is huge between those with and without brand tags," Geng says, explaining that she would often notice her company's products with other brand labels when she was traveling abroad.

Seeing the huge effect of an established brand and the mounting market demand for a wide range of violins, Geng says her company began to build their own brand from 2004, and more local violin makers followed suit.

She says it was initially very difficult to promote a new brand, but through active participation in trade fairs at home and abroad, the market has increasingly recognized her company's brand of violin.

"In the past two years, in order to improve the brand awareness of our products, we have shifted the business focus from the pursuit of production volume to the quality of the violin," she says, adding that better product quality had also helped boost sales revenue to 70 million yuan in 2011, 17 percent higher than 2010.

"A low-end violin costs only 200 yuan, but a well-made branded violin in our factory may cost more than 60,000 yuan," Geng says.

Apart from improving quality, Geng says another opportunity for Pinggu's violin makers is the rising demand from China's domestic market.

"The domestic market is growing at a very fast speed and Pinggu's musical instrument producers have taken advantage of this trend," she says.

Geng says her company's business has been slightly affected by the sluggish economy in Europe, but this is offset by increases in domestic demand due to the growing number of Chinese interested in learning to play musical instruments.

"We are aiming for 60 percent of our instruments to go abroad, and 40 percent to China this year," she says.

However, although branded violins made in Pinggu have gradually received more and more market recognition at home and abroad, Pinggu's violin manufacturing business still suffers from a lack of violin making talent, which has become the biggest bottleneck hindering the business' development, says Wei Xiaoyu, director of Pinggu's publicity department who is also in charge of the district's creative industries.

"We need to nurture local masters who can lead the development of Pinggu's violin industry and enhance the brand awareness of Pinggu-made violins," Wei says.

She says each year Spain imports 26,000 violins from Pinggu and a considerable number have been used by artists in established orchestras.

"The vast majority of Pinggu-produced violins can be used in concerts," she says. "Our goal is to produce world-class master violins and to cultivate world-renowned master violin makers."

To achieve these goals, Wei says the Pinggu district government and the Central Conservatory of Music will jointly organize the first China International Violin Making Competition next year in Beijing, where Pinggu's outstanding violin makers will compete with master violin craftsmen from the world.

"Only through constant exchanges with international master violin makers will we improve our level of violin making," Wei says, adding similar exchange activities will become frequent in the future.

She says Pinggu will vigorously develop the district's music industry on the basis of its increasingly stronger violin industry. Also, the Beijing government will invest 15 billion yuan to build an international music park and establish a Music Valley in Pinggu, which is an industrial zone that will gather hundreds of musical instrument enterprises employing more than 10,000 professionals and make a wide range of musical instruments.

Wei says that when the zone is completed by 2020, it will include facilities for research and development, production, trade, performance, exhibitions, tourism and other related services.

On top of this, preferential policies and top-notch facilities will be offered to famous domestic and foreign musicians and instrument makers to lure them to the region.

"Apart from becoming the world's largest violin-manufacturing base, we also intend to turn Pinggu into China's 'music capital', which is China's premiere base for the music industry," Wei says.

The 10-square-kilometer Music Valley, which is slated for completion in 2020, will aim to satiate Beijing's huge demand for music, Wei says.

"Pinggu will provide Chinese, especially Beijingers, one more place to enjoy cultural life at cheap prices but at world-class standards."


(China Daily 09/14/2012 page15)