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May 7, 2024  WFP China COE  

Zheng'an Guitars Resonate Around the World, Boosting Incomes in the Eponymous Mountainous County

Story; Innovative Poverty Alleviation Initiative; Guitar; Zheng’an County; Rural Vitalisation

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Guitar Production Talents Help Facilitate High-Quality Poverty Alleviation

Nestled among lofty mountains and deep valleys near the Chongqing Municipality border, Zheng’an County, Zunyi City, Guizhou Province, is a landlocked administrative area that lacks significant quantities of arable land. Prior to 2020, it was one of the most impoverished counties in Guizhou and the only county that was mired in poverty in Zunyi. It became apparent that attracting talent would be key to achieving high-quality poverty alleviation and rural vitalisation in the area.

A sustained campaign to pursue and develop the guitar industry was eventually launched, and guitar culture began flourishing in Zheng’an’s borders. The efforts led to the small southwestern Chinese county becoming the thriving epicentre of the country’s guitar manufacturing industry and home to the world’s largest guitar industrial park, which enabled it to emerge from poverty in 2020 and export 8 million guitars in 2022.

In 1987, a great number of Zheng’an residents began working as migrant labourers in south China’s Guangdong Province, which marked the beginning of Guizhou’s organised labour export to other regions. More than 200,000 people out of the county’s total population of over 660,000 gradually began working outside of their hometowns year-round. About 60,000 became involved in the guitar industry in the large-port megacity of Guangzhou, which is situated about 120 km north-northwest of Hong Kong, alone and often became skilled technical professionals or secured managerial roles.

Zheng’an ultimately embarked on an arduous journey of attracting investment and attempting to entice people who were from the county but involved with guitar production elsewhere to return in order to manufacture guitars locally and spread their melodies throughout China and even abroad. Government leaders began rolling out a long list of preferential policies and personally visiting such people and encouraging them to help build and develop the industry in and around their hometowns.

In 2012, the new head of the Zheng’an government travelled to Guangzhou in order to invite the owners of a company known as Guangzhou Shenqu Musical Instruments Manufacturing Co. Ltd, luthiers Zheng Chuanjiu and older brother Zheng Chuanxiang, to engage in guitar production in Zheng’an and explain the potential benefits of doing so. The brothers were sceptical of the idea, however, because they were doing quite well in Guangzhou and did not see any reason to engage in production in Zheng’an, so they told the government leader that they would think it over and get back to him.

They eventually decided to accept the offer, however, and devised a plan in which Zheng Chuanjiu would engage in a trial acoustic guitar production run in Zheng’an and become the first person who dared to pursue the guitar industry in the county in the process while Zheng Chuanxiang would continue with electric guitar production in Guangzhou. The endeavour proved to be a success, which helped power the rise of an entire guitar manufacturing industry in Zheng’an as other natives who had been living and working elsewhere began returning to the county in order to also get involved, resulting in a virtuous cycle that led to the establishment of a production site known as the Zheng’an International Guitar Park. Years of efforts, including a robust campaign to attract investment, have made it possible for Zheng’an’s guitar industry to provide employment opportunities for 14,000 people and 6,690 of them to emerge from poverty as of early 2022, annual sales to top RMB6 billion at the end of 2022, and 126 guitar companies and supporting enterprises to be established or otherwise maintain a presence at the industrial park as of spring 2023.

Service-oriented Government Promotes Industry Development

Founded over 50 years ago, Yufeng Musical Instruments Co. Ltd has mostly focused on overseas orders, including during its 20 years of operation at a facility in southeast China located in Zhangzhou City, Fujian Province. Limited production capacity had forced the company to repeatedly turn down orders for some time, however. In 2018, Yufeng manager Wu Zongyuan contemplated the situation during the Spring Festival holiday, which landed in mid-to-late February that year. He happened to come across a media report about Zheng’an International Guitar Park at the time and conducted a low-key inspection of the site and decided to establish a new factory on the premises not long after.

A native of Taiwan, Wu initially found life in the poverty-stricken county a little inconvenient. Officials working at the local support centres had not dealt with people born in Taiwan before, for example, and an option did not even exist for them in their system. The local government sent a staff member to help him get his driver’s license after he reported the problem, however; and a government employee also accompanied him when he went to Zunyi to deal with entry and exit procedures.

The Zheng’an government has grown and developed along with the guitar enterprises that have taken root in the county over the years, and service-oriented government has gradually taken shape. A person in charge at the Zheng’an County Economic and Technological Development Zone Management Committee noted that a one-to-one accountability system in which an official is assigned to a particular company and is responsible for coordination between relevant departments, addressing production problems in a timely manner, and tracking procedures throughout the entire process has been implemented so that enterprises can devote more time and resources to product development and less on other aspects of doing business.

A self-taught guitarist who is also one of the few owners of the many enterprises at the park who can play the instrument, Chongqing native Zhao Jianfeng has immersed himself in the industry for more than 10 years and has been involved with everything from teaching people to play guitar to selling the instrument.

Dissatisfied with the quality of most of the guitars that he came into contact with, Zhao opened his own guitar factory in Guangzhou in 2017. He was paying RMB120,000 a month in rent at the time and receiving many orders, but his production scale could not keep up with the demand he was experiencing even if he poured millions of RMB into rent per year. The preferential policies that the Zheng’an government enacted greatly appealed to the talented entrepreneur, however, including one that exempts the first three years of rent for guitar manufacturing companies and allows subsequent payments to be applied to the purchase of factory buildings via a rent-to-own system.

In 2018, Zhao relocated from Qingyuan City, Guangdong Province, to Zheng’an  with his production equipment and more than 50 of his employees at a cost of more than RMB500,000 on transportation alone. The guitar park had already grown to a considerable scale when he arrived – a total of 54 guitar manufacturing companies and supporting enterprises existed, and over 6 million guitars were being produced and sold annually.

Zhao’s company gained greater capacity to engage in product development since it did not have to worry about rent or mortgage payments any time soon. Over a year was spent developing a new product line known as the Solar System series, and improvements continued to be made based on consumer feedback after it was launched.

“We have to take various scenarios into account when testing guitars because customers may not necessarily treat them [in an ideal manner],” Zhao mentioned.

His staff, therefore, conducted experiments in extremely dry and extremely humid conditions and otherwise mistreated the instruments that they were making in a variety of ways in order to gain information that they could use to produce guitars that could hold up under such conditions. Their efforts were a success, and the quality of the resulting instruments they produced even surprised themselves at times. A customer living in frigid northeast China was pleasantly surprised to discover that a guitar that had been left in the trunk of their car for more than 20 days still sounded the same the next time they played it. The customer even recorded a video and posted it online, for example, to the delight of Zhao and his staff.

Preferential Policies, Talent Cultivation, Industry Development: Crucial Keys to the County’s Success

The plan designed to boost the local guitar industry that Zheng’an has been implementing as it consolidates its poverty alleviation achievements and promotes rural vitalisation has also involved developing new talent, focusing on independent guitar brand R&D, boosting guitar manufacturing, and advancing the creation of a standardised system designed to stimulate mutual development of the guitar manufacturing industry, guitar culture, and guitar tourism in addition to enticing talented individuals who were born in the county but working in the industry elsewhere to return. It is intended to comprehensively enhance the competitiveness and market share of the Zheng’an Guitars brand, promote continuous industrial transformation and upgrade, help enable the county’s guitar manufacturing industry to evolve into a broader guitar culture industry, improve innovation capacity, accelerate technological and intellectual transformation, and extend the industry chain in order to take full advantage of Zheng’an Guitars and their positive spillover effects.

In 2016, an entrepreneur who was born in Zheng’an in the 1980s and grew up in the county but had been living and doing business elsewhere named Zhao Shan was intrigued by the county’s plan to pursue the guitar industry and returned to the administrative area in order to establish an enterprise known as the Baikal Musical Instruments Manufacturing Co. Ltd. He was able to sell 2,000 guitars online to buyers located throughout China every day using sales and marketing methods related to the “Internet Plus” strategy, which consists of an open-ended equation in which technologies such as cloud computing, big data, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are applied to industries and undertakings like manufacturing, commerce, banking, agriculture, and rural development as a means of invigorating and advancing them. The magic that he has achieved with online sales has extended offline as well. Zhao explained that his factory has become a bustling tourist attraction, elaborating that a constant stream of people have been coming to visit, study, and do research since 2018 and that the government even launched a special programme designed to promote industrial tourism in the county when they noticed the success that he had been having in this area.

Preferential policies attract talents; high-quality talents strengthen industries; and strengthened industries buttress brand building. In 2020, the Zheng’an government issued a document known as the “Implementation Guidelines on Supporting the Normal Production of Guitar Enterprises” in order to help local guitar enterprises weather the COVID-19 pandemic. Utility bills were deferred, financial support was provided, and other assistance measures were enacted and intensified, which helped them experience a quick recovery.

Many other high-quality enterprises have moved to, established a presence at, or been founded at Zheng’an International Guitar Park, such as Kaifeng Musical Instrument Co. Ltd. and Natasha Musical Instrument Co. Ltd., in addition to companies like Shenqu, Yufeng and Baikal. Years of hard work have resulted in the park achieving leapfrog development as it has expanded and its quality and strength have improved. Zheng’an Guitars have also won honours such as the Ministry of Light Industry’s “2019 High-Quality Music Industry Resource Award” and the Guizhou Provincial Cultural Reform Office’s “Top 10 Guizhou-Based Cultural Industry Brand” prize.

For more information, please contact WFP China COE (wfpcn.coe@wfp.org)


Zheng'an Guitars Resonate Around the World, Boosting Incomes in the Eponymous Mountainous County


Zheng'an Guitars Resonate Around the World, Boosting Incomes in the Eponymous Mountainous County