Chinese drum producer makes beats around the world

Source:Xinhua Published: 2018/12/5 18:28:41

Workers fine tune drums at a commercial event in Xiangyang, Central China's Hubei Province on November 24, 2018.

A hundred drums are set up for a commercial event in Xiangyang on November 24.

The struggles of a musical instrument maker in Tianjin to gain recognition for his products on the global stage illustrate China's journey during the past four decades of reform and opening-up. Now, private enterprises are an essential engine of prosperity and economic transformation across the nation.

On the wall of Liu Ming's office hangs a map thickly dotted with small flags to show the drum maker's sales network across the world.

As the founder of Jinbao, a Tianjin-based musical instrument enterprise with over 1,800 workers, Liu has sold his products to more than 90 countries and regions.

"But we had a tough time at first," said 74-year-old Liu.

China's private businesses have witnessed booming growth thanks to the country's reform and opening-up process of the past four decades. Liu's business started in 1984 when he rented several shabby houses and hired a dozen workers to cast molds.

Once on his way to deliver screws to a musical instrument factory in Beijing, he happened to see the workers were studying an imported snare drum. At that time, few Chinese companies were able to manufacture snare drums.

"Can I try?" Liu asked the factory owner. The factory owner allowed Liu to bring the drum home. Thanks to his background in mechanical engineering, the factory approved of Liu's design, and he obtained his first order just a week later.

Drums produced by Jinbao made their public debut at a musical instrument exhibition in Tianjin the same year, but they were ignored by exhibitors and visitors. Liu was torn with anxiety.

He jumped on a drum and shouted, "I can't believe no one is paying attention to such good drums."

To his surprise, his dramatic display drew a crowd of merchants.

Sticks and stones

However, he suffered a setback on his first overseas endeavor to sell drums. In 1997, he and his colleagues brought a set of drums to a musical instrument exhibition in Germany.

Not being able to speak any foreign languages, they took a dictionary and communicated with foreign exhibitors through body language. At the exhibition, Liu noticed a huge gap between their products and the others on display.

He attempted to sell a drum kit for about $100-200 to a customer, but the customer rejected him, instead proposing that he would help Liu throw the kit into a trashcan for free.

"So right then and there, I made up my mind to establish a strong brand with standards and high-quality drums," Liu said. He started a drive to rebuild his company by introducing more advanced production lines and improving management.

Today, an electronic screen in Jinbao's workshop displays real-time data for each production line. Machines are running at high speed with just a few employees monitoring the operations.

"We have 12 workers and over 60 machines in our workshop," said Wu Dingjun, who works in one of the four Jinbao plants where they can produce more than 1,000 drum sets each day.

Now Jinbao has turned into a company with assets of more than 600 million yuan ($88 million). It has over 400 product lines, including drums and wind instruments, with 60 percent sold to overseas markets.

Each year, Jinbao invests over 10 million yuan on research and development and has been awarded more than 400 patents.

"Now, so many foreign merchants want to talk to us when we appear at international exhibitions, they have to make appointments in advance," Liu said.

Vibrant force

Private businesses have emerged as a vibrant force in China's national economic and social development, currently providing more than 60 percent of China's GDP, 60 percent of fixed-asset investment, 75 percent of technological innovation and 90 percent of new urban jobs.

Jin Jiguang, president of the Percussion Institute affiliated with the Chinese Musicians' Association, said a growing number of Chinese musical instrument companies have developed awareness of the need to seek innovation and make cutting-edge designs so as to better meet international demands.

China's big market potential for musical instruments has also supported the industry's development. The country has become the world's second-largest musical instrument market.

Last year, the value of the market reached 44.8 billion yuan, accounting for about one-third of the world's total and coming in second only after the US, according to data released at the Music China 2018 Expo in East China's Shanghai  from October 10 to 13.

There are both opportunities and challenges. "We will keep learning and improving ourselves. Innovation is always key to enhancing the competitiveness of our products," Liu said.

Newspaper headline: Hitting the high note

Posted in: INSIGHT

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