Wang Wen-ching (王文清), an 83-year-old former political prisoner, sighed as he recalled the years he spent in the Green Island prison after being convicted for no reason in the 1950s.
He said the one thing that made him proud was the violin he pieced together from whatever materials he could get hold of, and that kept him company during his 15 years behind bars.
Wang was born under Japanese rule and worked for the post office. When the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) took over Taiwan in 1945, the Japanese language was banned, and people had to attend classes in Mandarin Chinese. When Wang was 23, his Mandarin teacher was accused of being a communist spy. All 34 students in Wang’s class were found guilty by association and sentenced to 15 years in Green Island Prison without even being questioned.
One of Wang’s fellow prisoners had a violin that started to rot in the damp conditions. The moldy fiddle seemed symbolic of the prisoners’ own sorry condition, and Wang decided to give it a new life. Wang, who knew nothing about music, said he borrowed the old violin and examined its structure. Then, through the prison shop, he had some juniper wood, bowstring and a wooden hoe handle brought over from Taiwan proper. Wang said it took him a whole month to fashion the hoe handle into a bow.
Lacking tools, Wang gathered washed-up glass from the beach to make implements for sawing, gouging and sanding. To give the wooden parts the required curves and contours, he got access to the kitchen and heated them over a stove.
It took him six months to finish the instrument, Wang said, adding that then he got hold of a Japanese violin music book and went to practice in the pigsty, where his amateurish playing would not disturb the other inmates.
At the end of his sentence, Wang took his precious violin home, where it gathered dust for more than 40 years before he took it out of its case two years ago and restored it to its original condition.