Remembering Shi Wen-Long, founder of the Chimei collection

By Jason Price November 21, 2023

Beloved instrument collector Shi Wen-Long passed away Saturday, November 18th at the age of 96. The founder of Taiwan based Chimei Corporation, Shi was an amateur violinist and a devoted collector of fine instruments. I met Mr. Shi in 2019 on a visit to the Chimei collection and was impressed by the boldness of his vision, by his passion for music and, most importantly, by his humility and kindness.

Born in Tainan City in 1928, Shi grew up in humble circumstances and rose to become one of the world’s wealthiest individuals. The company he founded, Chimei Corporation, started as a small plastic and rubber manufacturer and grew to become the world’s largest producer of ABS resin, a plastic widely used in the household, automotive and computer industries. The success of his business provided him an opportunity to pursue his passion: the violin.

Growing up in wartime Taiwan with ten siblings, Shi escaped into music and museums. He taught himself to play the violin and started his own ensemble as a teenager. Shi purchased his first violin from a roadside salesman and when the strings broke, he replaced them with wires salvaged from the wreckage of a Japanese fighter plane that had been shot down over Taiwan during World War II.

When his plastics company found success in the late 1980s, Shi returned again to his love for violins. In 1990, he bought his first fine instrument from Cho-Liang Lin, the ‘Dushkin’ Stradivari of 1707. From there, the obsession only grew.

The violin is the greatest human invention.” – Shi Wen-Long to Forbes Asia, 2012

Over the next three decades, Shi amassed the most comprehensive – and arguably the most important – private collection of fine instruments in the world. Rather than hide them away, Shi believed his instruments deserved to be shared with others. He started displaying his collection in the administration building of his factory in 1992. In 2015, he moved the collection to the newly built Chimei museum in his hometown of Tainan city.

In the beginning, Shi’s mission was to acquire at least one example of each of the major instrument and bow makers. This in itself is a monumental ambition. Shi appointed the visionary and indefatigable Chung Dai-Ting as curator of the collection. Under Chung’s guidance, the collection has made strategic acquisitions and now comprises over 1,300 instruments by over 900 makers. The instruments are frequently loaned to notable musicians free of charge. More than 3,000 musicians have borrowed instruments from the collection to date.

Visiting the Chimei museum in 2019. With curator Chung Dai-Ting and my friend Wang Leehom.

The collection is vast and inspiring. Anyone who cares about the history of instruments and bows will find it exhilarating. Among other highlights, we find the ‘Ole Bull’ Guarneri del Gesù, the ‘Marie Hall, Viotti’ Stradivari, the ‘Perkin, Burnford’ Bergonzi and one of the first cellos ever made, the ‘Carlo IX’ cello by Andrea Amati.

The Chimei collection will carry Shi’s love for fine instruments forward into future generations. In lieu of a funeral, Shi requested he be remembered with a concert. A five-day memorial service begins today. A private concert for family and close friends will be held at the Chimei museum on December 2.

In the Chimei instrument vault: Leehom and I were kids in a candy shop. Thank you Shi Wen-Long for this monumental life’s achievement.

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