Fri, Dec 28, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Highways and Byways: A church tour of the Chianan plain

Southern Taiwan has many fascinating churches that blend Christian and traditional Chinese motifs

By Steven Crook  /  Contributing reporter

Looking from the back of Yanshui’s Holy Trinity Catholic Church toward the altar.

Photo: Steve Crook

The lower stretch of the Bajhang River (八掌) divides Chiayi County from Tainan City, and life on either side of the waterway remains quite traditional. In this corner of the Chianan Plain (嘉南平原), fishing, aquaculture and agriculture are important components of the rural economy

Every village has at least one temple representing popular religion, yet there’s also plenty of evidence to support a conclusion drawn by Pew Research in 2014: After Singapore, Taiwan is the most religiously diverse society in the world. In Western countries, one is unlikely to find a mosque or a Hindu temple in a rural area. In Taiwan, by contrast, there are Christian places of worship everywhere — and no friction, or none worth speaking of, between monotheistic Taiwanese and their polytheistic neighbors.

Beimen District (北門) in Tainan has what some reckon to be the country’s most-visited religious site, Nankunshen Daitian Temple (南鯤鯓代天府). At the same time, Beimen is the location of a museum that celebrates the work of a Christian medical mission.

Taiwan Black-foot Disease Socio-Medical Service Memorial Hall (台灣烏腳病醫療紀念館) is next door to the former clinic that local doctor and lay preacher Wang King-ho (王金河, 1916–2014) operated from 1960 to 1986. Wang devoted himself to treating the peculiar local health problem known as black-foot disease (BFD). Victims of this chronic progressive disease, which was caused by drinking well-water contaminated with arsenic, suffered great pain; their feet often turned black, and many had extremities amputated. Now the afflicted areas are supplied with water from elsewhere, BFD is no longer a threat.

The Presbyterian Church with which Wang was affiliated is at 31 Yonglong Borough (永隆), just up the road from the memorial hall at number 27. It’s an elegant building, but less intriguing than another Presbyterian landmark 20km to the northeast.


Donghouliao Church (東後寮教會) is in Chiayi County’s Yijhu Township (義竹). If you’re coming from the south, you’ll find it on the right side of Highway 19, a short distance north of the 94km marker. If you’re approaching from the north, look for it on the same side of the road as, and just past, Guangrong Elementary School (光榮國小).

The church was founded in 1917 and grew rapidly. By 1928, about 300 people were attending services. The main attraction here is the redbrick chapel near the main road. Built in 1926 to a simple rectangular design, it lacks a steeple, and is no taller than many of the single-story houses in the village. The buttresses along the sides and at the back were added after the building sustained damage in earthquakes in 1927, 1930 and 1935.

If you stand in front of the old church you’ll see a modern activity center on the left, and behind that the current church. The latter, built in the 1960s, has about three times the capacity of the redbrick hall. According to the Web site of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, as of last year the congregation numbered 162, with women outnumbering men.

Photos of the facade taken in the 1930s show the English words, “The Christian Church of Togoryo.” These were erased long ago, perhaps because that toponym was a relic of Japanese rule. Inside, above where the altar was once placed, there’s a four-character inscribed tablet. Unlike similar tablets in local temples, this beautiful item isn’t besmirched by soot and grime from incense smoke. From right to left it reads “Christ’s teachings” (基督聖教).

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