What this article is NOT about: the traditional chinese harps, i.e. the Konghou or the Guzheng.
What this article IS about: Chinese-made standard harps like those that are most commonly available in the U.S. or Europe.
The Republic of China's folk harp sound has been characterized as thin but clean. Very little is known about these harps, construction or longevity. (Aside: yes, harps do die; the relatively high string tension tears poorly constructed and cheap materials apart quite quickly.) Some have questioned the lack of adequate internal bracing on the Chinese knock-off harps, which was included in the copied North American design.
Be cautious about the "Linden" wood in the soundboards. Linden is the same as basswood, which is very light and flexible, but not particularly strong. It is a nice carving wood, but unless it's cross-plied and made thicker, it may not be particularly suitable as a soundboard.
A number of harpists have noted that the soundboards are too thick, and therefore have the "thin" sound as mentioned above. One USA retailer returned some Chinese harps for soundboard failures on new harps—the SB's were literally ripped off the harps.
The Chinese folk harps are manufactured (i.e. they come from a factory), unlike the Pakistani Harps that are essentially a cottage industry item being cobbled together in different individual's backyard sheds in Pakistan. Time will tell if the factories eventually get it right. Making a light-weight, nice sounding harp is a complex and unforgiving exercise in physics and materials science.
The ethical issue of these Chinese harps was compounded by the counterfeit Loveland levers used on some harps. Robert Bunker (USA) designed and currently manufactures the true Loveland lever. He revolutionized the lever harp world with the first lever that worked well. It is difficult and expensive to enforce copyright in China, so Robert's levers have been knocked-off, and Bunker is without any recourse.
There are also folk harps being built in Taiwan, Republic of China (not the People's Republic) by a company called Tenon Industrial Co who have three models of Artone harps (from 36 to 40 strings). These look similar to the Aoyama lever harps, but sound very different. They are relatively inexpensive to buy, but the company only wholesales in very large quantities so they are rare in North America.
Dusty Strings introduced their Ravenna harp models in direct competition with the Chinese imports. Their primary concern was to come up with a design which would be: a quality harp, well built, American-made, priced competitively, compared to a range of Chinese manufactured harps. They have successfully done so. Other makers have also been been innovating economical harp models.
Chinese Pedal Harps Edit
China also makes full-sized pedal harps with a Western appearance. These are being built in Shanghai and Beijing. Chinese technicians were trained by Russian artisans how to make these harps. When the Russians left years ago, the Chinese continued to make them. They are beautifully carved with dragons and flowers, etc. but the woods may not withstand weather well, and the necks experience considerable warping. These harps are still widely used in China by classical pedal harpists. 
Further Reading Edit
- ↑ Stephen Vardy - Original author of this opinion piece.