| A portrait of Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙) by the famous Taiwanese painter Li Mei-shu (李梅樹), set in a frame made by well known sculptor Huang Kui-lee (黃龜李), has been discarded as garbage, thrown away, and is now lost for ever.
"We have handed the case over to the ethics department," Sansia Township Administration Chief Secretary Chan Yi-shu (詹亦樹) said.
The size 30 painting -- painting size in Taiwan has traditionally been determined by the size of a postcard, with a painting the size of one postcard being a size one, a painting the size of 30 postcards a size 30, and so on -- has been valued between NT$8 million (US$243,000) to NT$9 million.
Postcard counting is traditionally also included when calculating prices: In Li's case, one of his size 1 paintings once sold for NT$400,000, which means that a size 30 painting by him might sell for 30 times that price, or as much NT$12 million.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Li painted a series of portraits of Sun and former dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), and then gave one of each to the Taipei County Council, the Sansia Township Administration and the Sansia Elementary School.
The county council has treated the paintings as valuable pieces of art that are now hanging on the its walls.
The portrait of Sun has also faired fairly well at Sansia Elementary School, but a few years ago, their portrait of Chiang was "improved" to the point were it lost much of its semblance to Chiang.
That painting has now been given to the Li Mei-shu Memorial Gallery.
The two paintings at Sansia Township Government have fared worse. The portrait of the dictator was lost several years ago, while Sun's portrait was stored inappropriately -- it was cracked and full of holes, and the frame had began to rot away.
Prior to the inauguration of the new township mayor in March this year, another picture of Sun was hung in its place in the auditorium and it was sent to a Sansia frame maker for restoration.
Although that was seven months ago, the township administration didn't seem to be in a hurry to get the painting back; when asked, the reply was that it had been sent to a frame maker for restoration.
"That old painting of Sun Yat-sen? I threw that away a long time ago,"the framemaker said. "When they sent it over, it was so full of holes after having been thrown around during transport that the guy from the township office who brought it said we'd just as well throw it away."
He said he dumped it at the local garbage dump, and that it probably had been incinerated at the Shulin incinerator.
When told that it was a Li Mei-shu painting, he said, "If I'd known that, I'd have kept it."
After seven months, the township administration still thought the painting was being restored, completely unaware that the person they'd sent to have it restored had taken it upon himself to determine the fate of a painting by one of Taiwan's greatest masters.
Li's son, Li Chin-kuan (李景光), now in charge of the Li Mei-shu Memorial Gallery, shook his head in regret when hearing the story.
"When my father made these paintings, he didn't sign them since that would have been disrespectful to the portrayed giants," he said.
He said he knew the portrait of Chiang had disappeared years ago but had done nothing about it at the time.
But when he learned of the decayed state of Sun's portrait, he wrote the township administration to offer help restoring it and even keeping it in the memorial gallery.
Li Mei-shu was born in 1902 in Sansia. In March, 1929, he was admitted to the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, and he never abandoned the realism he learned there. From 1947 through 1982, he chaired the Reconstruction Committee of Sansia Zushi Temple where he created what has been called a "Temple to East Asian Art."