Skip to main content

Traveling Entrepreneurs, Traveling Sounds: The Early Gramophone Business in India and China

  • Christina Lubinski and Andreas Steen

During the first global economy, roughly from Western industrialization to World War I, the gramophone, much like other consumer goods, circulated relatively freely around the world. This paper compares the market in India and China asking how gramophone companies established themselves there and focuses on the interaction between Western businesspeople and local partners. The article first shows how agents started exploring strategies for “localizing” music and, second, how in both countries their interaction with local partners was first shaped by curiosity and commercial interest, and later by traditionalism and nationalism, the latter of which paradoxically both inhibited and enabled Western business. Based on diaries, corporate files, trade journals, and consular reports, the paper shows that the highly localized and politicized demand for music made access to local knowledge a crucial competitive advantage.

Corresponding author
Hide All

Christina Lubinski is associate professor at the Centre for Business History at Copenhagen Business School. Her main research interest is the history of foreign business in India. Her article “Global Trade and Indian Politics: The German Dye Business in India before 1947” (Business History Review) received the Henrietta Larson Article Award in 2016. Andreas Steen is associate professor of Modern Chinese History and Culture at Aarhus University, Denmark. He studied Sinology, English Philology, and Modern Chinese Literature at the Free University of Berlin and Fudan University, Shanghai. His current fields of interest and research concentrate on modern Chinese history and popular culture, in particular popular music, the cultural industries, sound, and memory studies.

Hide All
Unpublished primary sources
EMI Group Archive Trust Hayes, UK (EMI), Courtesy of EMI Group Archive Trust.
Federal Archives Germany [Bundesarchiv] Berlin, Germany.
Siemens Archiv-Akte [Siemens Corporate Archives] (SAA), Munich, Germany.
Thomas Edison Papers, Rutgers University, US, Available online:
Published primary sources
Record catalogues, British Library Collection (
Trade journals of the gramophone industry:
Germany: Zeitschrift für Instrumentenbau, Phonographische Zeitschrift, Die Sprechmaschine
US: Talking Machine World
UK: Talking Machine News, The Voice
Times of India
Ray Choudhury, R., comp., Early Calcutta Advertisements, 1875–1925 [a Selection from the Statesman]. Bombay: Nachiketa Publications, 1992.
Government reports:
Commercial Intelligence Department. Prices and Wages in India, 24th issue. Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, India, 1907.
U.S. Department of Commerce, and H. D. Baker. Special Consular Report No. 72: British India with Notes on Ceylon, Afghanistan and Tibet. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1915.
U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor. Special Consular Reports No. 55: Foreign Trade in Musical Instruments. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1912.
Great Britain India Office. Statistical Abstract Relating to British India from 1892/3 to 1901/02, Compiled from Official Records and Papers Presented to Parliament. London: 1903.
Great Britain Trade Commissioner for India. Trade of India: Report on the Conditions and Prospects of British Trade in India, at the Close of the War, by His Majesty’s Senior Trade Commissioner in India and Ceylon. London: H. M. Stationery off. printed by Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1919.
Arnold, D. Everyday Technology: Machines and the Making of India’s Modernity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.
Bhattacharyya, A. Swadeshi Enterprise in Bengal. 2 vols. Calcutta: Mita Bhattacharyya, distributed by Seagull Bookshop, 1986.
Caso, Frank. “Emile Berliner.” In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 2, edited by William J. Hausman. German Historical Institute. Last modified March 25, 2014., 2012.
Domosh, M. American Commodities in an Age of Empire. New York: Routledge, 2006.
Du Jun, Min. “BEKA China Records (1906–1949).” In The Lindström Project. Contributions to the History of the Record Industry. Vol. 6,Our Trip Around the World: the Oriental Expedition of Beka Records in 1905/06 = Unsere Reise um die Welt, edited by F. Wonneberg, H. Bumb, P. Gronow, and C. Hofer, 86103. Vienna: Gesellschaft für Historische Tonträger, 2015.
Du Jun, Min. “The Development of Chinese Records to 1911,” Antique Phonograph News, Jan.–Feb. 2008. See, accessed 13 Sept. 2016.
Farrell, G. Indian Music and the West. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Gaisberg, F. W. Music on Record. London: Robert Hale, 1946.
Gauss, S. Nadel, Rille, Trichter: Kulturgeschichte des Phonographen und des Grammophons in Deutschland (1900–1940). Cologne: Böhlau, 2009.
Ge, Tao. Changpian yu jindai Shanghai shehui shenghuo(Music Records and Social Life in Modern Shanghai). Shanghai: Cishu Publishing House, 2009.
Gerth, Karl. China Made—Consumer Culture and the Creation of the Nation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.
Goldstein, Joshua. Drama Kings—Players and Publics in the Re-Creation of Peking Opera 1870–1937. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.
Gracyk, Tim, with Frank Hoffmann. Popular American Recording Pioneers, 1895–1925. London/New York: Routledge, 2008.
Jones, A. F. Yellow Music: Media Culture and Colonial Modernity in the Chinese Jazz Age. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001.
Kenney, W. H. Recorded Music in American Life: The Phonograph and Popular Memory, 1890–1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Kinnear, M. S. The Gramophone Company’s First Indian Recordings, 1899–1908. Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1994.
Kittler, F. A. Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.
Lubinski, C. “Local Responsiveness in Distant Markets: Western Gramophone Companies in India before World War I.” Management and Organizational History 10:2 (2015): 170188.
Lubinski, C.. “Siemens’ Early Business in India: A Family Multinational’s Quest for Unity, 1847–1914.” In Family Multinationals: Entrepreneurship, Governance, and Pathways to Internationalization, edited by C. Lubinski, J. Fear, and P. Fernández Perez, 3854. New York: Routledge, 2013.
Luo, Liangsheng. “Xiqu changpian shihua (Historical Account of Beijing-Opera Records).” in Jingju tanwanglu sanbian (Beijing Opera Stories and Memories, Vol. 3). Beijing 1996, 397416.
Martland, P.Caruso’s First Recordings: Myth and Reality,” ARSC Journal 25:2 (1994): 192201.
Martland, P.. “Gaisberg, Frederick William (1873–1951).” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Martland, P.. Recording History: The British Record Industry, 1888–1931. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2013.
Martland, P.. Since Records Began: Emi, the First 100 Years. London: Batsford, 1997.
McKee, Delber. “The Chinese Boycott of 1905–1906 Reconsidered: The Role of Chinese Americans.” Pacific Historical Review 55:2 (1986): 165191.
Mei, Lanfang. “Xiqu changpian” (Opera Records), 1961. In Quanji (Complete Works), edited by Mei Lanfang, vol. 3. Hebei: Hebei Education Publishing House, 2000.
Millard, A. J. America on Record: A History of Recorded Sound. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Moore, J. N. A Voice in Time: The Gramophone of Fred Gaisberg, 1873–1951. London: Hamilton, 1976.
Neuman, D. M. The Life of Music in North India: The Organization of an Artistic Tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.
Ng, Wing Chung. The Rise of Cantonese Opera. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015.
Parthasarathi, V.The Scramble for Sound.” ArtConnect: The IFA Magazine 4:1 (2010): 4055.
Qian, Nairong. Shanghai Changpian 1903–1949 (Shanghai Music Records 1903–1949). Shanghai: People’s Publishing House, 2014.
Ray Choudhury, R. Early Calcutta Advertisements, 1875–1925 [A Selection from the Statesman]. Bombay: Nachiketa Publications, 1992.
Robinson, A. Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye—the Biography of a Master Film-Maker. London: I.B. Tauris, 2004.
Sampath, V. “My Name Is Gauhar Jan!” The Life and Times of a Musician. New Delhi: Rupa, 2010.
Sarkar, S. The Swadeshi Movement in Bengal, 1903–1908. 2nd ed. Ranikhet: Permanent Black, distributed by Orient Blackswan, 2010.
Schafer, R. Murray. The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. 1977. Reprint, Rochester: Destiny Books, 1994.
Shapiro, C. and Varian, H. R.. Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1999.
Sharma, A. N. and Joshi, M. B.. Bajanaamā: A Study of Early Indian Gramophone Records. Lucknow: Kathachitra Prakashan, 2012.
Steen, A. “Heinrich Bumb and Beka in China: A Strange Artistic Experience.” In Contributions to the History of the Record Industry. Vol. 6, Our Trip Around the World: the Oriental Expedition of Beka Records in 1905/06, The Lindström Project. Contributions to the History of the Record Industry. Vol. 6, Our Trip around the World—the Great Beka Expedition in 1905/06, edited by F. Wonneberg, H. Bumb, P. Gronow, and C. Hofer, 122–29. Vienna: Gesellschaft für Historische Tonträger, 2015.
Steen, A.. Zwischen Unterhaltung und Revolution: Grammophone, Schallplatten und die Anfänge der Musikindustrie in Shanghai, 1878–1937. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2006.
Steen, A.. Zai yule yu geming zhejian: Liushengji, changpian yu Shanghai yinyue gongye de chuqi. Shanghai: Cishu Publishing House, 2015.
Su, Yi. Jingju erbai nian gaikuang(200 Years of Beijing Opera: An Overview). Beijing: Yanshan Publishing House, 1995.
Suisman, D. Selling Sounds: The Commercial Revolution in American Music. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.
Tripathi, D. The Oxford History of Indian Business. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Washington Post. “Phonographs in the Orient: Consul General Sammons Reports that they are Growing in Favor.” Dec. 29, 1905, p. 1.
Wong, Sin-Kong. “Die for the Boycott and Nation: Martyrdom and the 1905 Anti-American Movement in China.” Modern Asian Studies 35:3 (2001): 565588.
Yeh, Catherine Vance. Shanghai Love: Courtesans, Intellectuals and Entertainment Culture, 1850–1910. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0165-1153
  • EISSN: 2041-2827
  • URL: /core/journals/itinerario
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed