Porcelain manufacturers are exporting products to economies across the world
Fang Meng, a 32-year-old mother who took her son on a trip to Dehua county, East China's Fujian province, was dazzled by the sea of cartoon figures in Shunmei Group's display center.
From Mickey Mouse to Minions, from Hello Kitty to Snow White, Fang and her son could not believe that these well known cartoon figures from all over the world were made in a mostly rural Chinese county.
"It's as if we are taking a tour in a theme park. It's just like the porcelain version of Disneyland!" Fang exclaimed.
Shunmei Group is a major ceramics manufacturer for an array of widely known global brands including Disney, Walmart, Universal Studios and Coca-Cola.
More than 2,600 local companies in Dehua county are involved in the ceramics industry, exporting their products to economies across the world, especially countries and regions involved in China's Belt and Road Initiative.
Dehua county, along with Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province and Liling in Hunan province, has long served as a major national porcelain hub.
More than 100,000 villagers out of 330,000 in the county work in the ceramics industry. Products from Dehua were popular along the ancient Maritime Silk Road, which started in Fujian province.
The latest data from local authorities show that about 80 percent of Dehua's products are sent abroad to more than 190 countries and regions.
"Right now in Dehua, the ceramics industry has become more globalized with opportunities brought by the Belt and Road Initiative," said Zheng Pengfei, general manager of Shunmei.
Since the launch of the initiative in 2013, an increasing number of local companies have scrambled to take advantage of this new opportunity.
Zheng said that his company's products alone have been exported to more than 80 countries and regions, including Germany, France, the Netherlands and the United States, even though the company was just a small family workshop several years ago.
"It is innovation that drives us to combine traditional ceramic techniques with modern designs, so that our products can meet the demand from global markets," Zheng said.
To encourage more businesses to export products overseas the local government has launched a series of policies, including participating in world exhibitions, to promote the growth of local small and medium-sized businesses.
In the first five months of this year, more than 90 companies have expanded their ceramics businesses to 39 Belt and Road economies. The total export volume exceeded $13.43 million, which was a 41.2 percent increase year-on-year.
"During the process, we also realized that companies need to improve quality to gain momentum when facing fierce competition in global markets," said Zheng Fuyao, assistant to chairman of Fujian Dehua Hiap Huat Koyo Toki Co Ltd.
"Therefore, we focused on research and development of products and we brought over R&D teams from Japan, the United Kingdom and Singapore to jointly develop products," he added.
Through such efforts, the company has greatly improved product quality and technological processes, lifting prices.
A common plain white ceramic plate used to sell for 5 yuan (72 cents) but now fetch $10, Zheng said.
The company mainly targets global high-end hotels and has developed products using world-class techniques. "The traditional Maritime Silk Road once helped made-in-China porcelain products to go global. In recent years, the Belt and Road Initiative has created a new opportunity to access the world stage," Zheng said.
"We will definitely continue to make more quality improvements and innovations to promote products from Dehua county to more Belt and Road economies in the coming years," he added.