Piano notes drift up the stairs in a Beijing branch of the Liu Shih Kun Piano School. Perched near the East Glorious Gate of the Forbidden City, the school does a brisk business educating the children of the affluent. In a practice room downstairs, a little girl is flanked by two adults–her teacher and her mother, who watches the proceedings intently. Lessons cost about 150 yuan ($22) per hour, and upright pianos sell for more than 13,000 yuan, substantial sums even for upper or middle-class families.
Still, they come en masse with their children. “Almost every student is accompanied here by the parents,” explains Ba Shan, the young woman manning the reception desk at the school founded by one of China’s first famous pianists. “Almost all of them have pianos at home, too.”
Between several established chains like Liu Shih Kun, thousands of individual schools and uncountable private teachers, there are still no firm figures on the actual number of music students in China. In an interview with the New York Times this year, Jindong Cai, a conductor and professor at Stanford University, estimated that there are 38 million students studying piano alone. A 2007 estimate put violin students at 10 million. And the trend is clearly upward.