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 Chaozhou to distinguish it from the many other villages with the same name in Taiwan. 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.

Rusty cross over an abandoned Catholic church in Pingtung
A rusty cross over an abandoned Catholic church on the plains of Pingtung.
An abandoned church on the edge of Chaozhou
The abandoned church from the roadside. Some effort has been made to wall it off but the passage of years has worn out one section.

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. As it so happens the majority of Taiwanese indigenous people 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 indigenous people (píngpǔzú 平埔族 in Chinese) from the Makatao 馬卡道 community. This same indigenous group gave their name to Kaohsiung 高雄, originally known as Tá-káu 打狗 in Taiwanese Hokkien, from an indigenous 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.

Overgrown courtyard at an abandoned church in rural Pingtung
The courtyard in front of the old church is totally overgrown. Here you can see the unusual architecture of the church: blocky and functional but also appealing to the eye in some ways.
Beneath the awning at the abandoned church
Beneath the awning at the abandoned Catholic church in rural Chaozhou.
Shadows and the light
Shadows and the light.
Let the light shine in
A first quick look inside.

From this post it sounds as if the church arranged for members of the Makatao community 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.

Inside the abandoned church in Jiukuaicuo
Inside the abandoned Catholic church on the southern outskirts of Chaozhou.
A Catholic church on the outskirts of Chaozhou
One last look at the abandoned Catholic church from the back of the courtyard at sunset.

This small church in Chaozhou is one of several built for indigenous workers in Pingtung. 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 (technically 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 (which isn’t all that interesting). 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 with wheels and some spare time!