Chaozhou Jiukuaicuo Catholic Church 潮州九塊厝天主堂

While I was out riding in southern Taiwan last year I chanced upon an abandoned church by the roadside in a small village outside of Cháozhōu 潮州, Pingtung 屏東. I only spent about ten minutes there and didn’t shoot many photos but have since realized that the story to tell is interesting enough to devote a full post to it. The formal name of this place is Jiǔkuàicuò Catholic Church 九塊厝天主堂, though this is commonly prefixed with Cháozhōu 潮州 to distinguish it from the many other villages with the same name in Taiwan 台灣. Details are scant but I should be able to provide a broad overview of how this church came to be here—and why it was left to the elements.

Most Taiwanese follow a syncretic blend of Buddhism, Taoist, and Chinese folk religion so you might be wondering what a Catholic church is doing out there on the plains of Pingtung 屏東. As it so happens the majority of Taiwanese aborigines identify as Christian, largely the result of missionary work in the late 19th century. From what little I’ve been able to find about this particular church it was likely built for a small congregation of plains aborigines (píngpǔzú 平埔族 in Chinese) from the Makatao 馬卡道 tribe. This same tribe gave their name to Kaohsiung 高雄, originally known as Tá-káu 打狗 in Taiwanese Hokkien, from an aboriginal word for “bamboo forest”. Over the centuries the Makatao were forced eastward to the foothills of the Central Mountain Range 中央山脈 through conflict with Chinese settlers.

From this post it sounds as if the church arranged for members of the Makatao tribe to migrate to this village to work in the nearby sugarcane fields. Whether this occurred before or after the war isn’t clear—but the church building itself looks to be constructed in a post-war style. Taiwan’s sugar industry was a huge boon to the economy in the Japanese colonial era and, after the disruption of the war and reorganization under the KMT, production levels peaked in the mid-1970s. By the mid-1980s the industry was in steep decline and chances are the sugar fields in the area were put to other uses and the Makatao probably moved on to nearby Wanluan (for more on that follow these links here, here, and here). The details are hazy but from Google Street View you can tell this church was long-abandoned by 2009.

This small church in Cháozhōu 潮州 is one of several built for aboriginal workers in Pingtung 屏東. From that same post I found out about several more: Yùhuán Church 新埤玉環天主堂 in Xīnpí 新埤, Yánbù Church 東港鹽埔天主堂 in Xīnyuán 新園 (not Dōnggǎng 東港 as the name implies, though it is nearby), and Xīnzhōng Church 萬丹新鐘天主堂 in Wàndān 萬丹. All of these look abandoned from a quick look on Google Street View. I suppose I’ll have to check those out too if I return to Pingtung 屏東 with wheels and some spare time!