With more than 1,300 temples and churches, Pingtung County is ranked among the top three counties with the most places of religious worship.
According to Ministry of the Interior data, Pingtung has 1,089 temples and 252 churches, adding up to 1,341 registered places of worship.
Ministry officials said the figure is the third-highest in the nation, behind Greater Tainan and Greater Kaohsiung.
Because Pingtung is a mostly rural county with a low population density, it might come as a surprise that it has such a large number of places of worship, which is equivalent to 15.6 places of worship per 10,000 people.
Officials said that because Pingtung has a long coastline, and its inhabitants depend on the fishery trade, many temples have been built in seaside villages, adding that the county has eight Aboriginal townships, which have many Christian churches.
Taoist temples and shrines account for more than 90 percent of the temples in the county, with a total of 925.
The ministry’s data showed that there are 160 Buddhist temples in the county, along with 187 Protestant churches and 65 Catholic churches.
“Fishermen heading out to sea faced many dangers and unpredictable natural disasters, so they relied more on unknowable religious forces for spiritual sustenance,” said Wu Hui-ling (吳惠玲), section head of Pingtung County Government’s Civic Affairs Bureau.
“As a result, many temples were built along our coastline. Places like Siaoliouciou (小琉球), and Donggang (東港) are obvious examples of this. There are all kinds of temples in these areas that have developed their own unique religious and cultural rituals and festivals,” she said.
Siaoliouciou, a small island southwest of Donggang, has a population of just over 5,000.
The island is known for having a lot of temples and, as nearly all of its inhabitants make a living from the sea, there are a vast number of fishing ships and captains there.
However, some parents encouraged their children to study and stay away from the hazards of the sea, so many island residents have gone into education.
As a result, the island produces many teachers, education officials and principals.
Following Typhoon Morakot in 2009, a number of Aboriginal villages in the mountains of Pingtung County were relocated to safer areas.
Officials said Rinari Aboriginal Village in Majia Township (瑪家) was relocated and now has nine churches for about 480 households.
The relocated Baihe Village (百合) of Changjhi Township (長治) has allocated land for the construction of 10 churches for its 250 households. Once the churches are completed, the village will have the highest concentration of churches in the nation.
By number of temples, Greater Tainan ranks No. 1 with 1,627, Greater Kaohsiung second with 1,472 and Pingtung County is third with 1,089.
The three southern counties have a total of 4,188 temples, which account for 35 percent of temples nationwide.