Lords of the Three Mountains


The belief of the Lords of the Three Mountains is a worship of mountain deities. The three mountains referred to Dushan (獨山), Mingshan (明山), and Jinshan (巾山) in the Chaozhou area of Guangdong in China. During the Ming and Qing Dynasty, the Hakka people took a risk crossing the ocean to break new ground in Taiwan. Faced with barren land, the spread of miasma, and constant conflict with the indigenous people, the Hakka migrants imported the Lords of the Three Mountains beliefs to Taiwan as a means of prayer to overcome dangers and wish for prosperity. They built the temples worshipping the Lords of the Three Mountains everywhere they went.


(Photo: CNA)


In Taiwan, the Hakka people were widely considered to be the first to worship the Lords of the Three Mountains, and it was a practice unique to Hakka areas. It was further regarded that the Lords of the Three Mountains are guardians of the Hakka migrants. Most research on the Taiwanese Hakka noted that the Hakka people originally lived mostly in the mountains, and that Taiwanese Hakka villages were mainly distributed in low-altitude mountainous regions along Provincial Highway 3. Most of them engaged in inland agroforestry activities. 

One cannot discount the Hakka people when it came to breaking new ground on mountainous regions. As the Lords of the Three Mountains are essentially mountain deities, it was hence natural for the Hakka people to worship them. As a result, the existence of temples dedicated to the Lords of the Three Mountains was tightly connected to the distribution of the groups of Hakka people.

In recent years however, some experts have started to question whether belief in the Lords of the Three Mountains was exclusive to the Hakka people. Looking at the number of temples dedicated to the worship of the Lords of the Three Mountains in Taiwan, the areas of Yilan County, Pingtung County, and Changhua County had the largest number of such temples.

Moreover, in regions that were not inhabited by the Hakka people, there existed large number of non-Hakka devotees of the Lords of the Three Mountains, especially the Hoklo people. In the last twenty years, at least eight such temples were built by the Hoklo people at Hakka settlements in the Taoyuan district.

However, in records from the Hakka-dominated counties of Taoyuan, Hsinchu, and Miaoli, the Lords of the Three Mountains were not listed as major folk beliefs. Not only were large-scale religious ceremonies rare, some residents did not even know of the existence of the Lords of the Three Mountains. Therefore, to think of the Lords of the Three Mountains as exclusively worshipped by the Hakka people or as guardians of the Hakka people was not in line with reality.

Much research however generally postulated that where there was a Lords of the Three Mountains temple, there would likely be traces of development by Hakka immigrants. Scholars on the whole believed that certain areas which had temples dedicated to the Lords of the Three Mountains were not taken care of by the Hakka people at the present, due to relocation by earlier Hakka residents or gradual integration with the Hoklo community. As such, these temples of deities which blessed the early Hakka immigrants were now worshipped by local non-Hakka residents.

The argument that belief in the Lords of the Three Mountains was not exclusive to the Hakka people indicated that after the early immigrants to Taiwan experienced much conflicts and integration among different groups. Belief in the Lords of the Three Mountains eventually surpassed different groups, and became a common belief shared by both the Hakka and the Hoklo people. The descendants of those immigrants, as a result of shared beliefs, continue to live harmoniously and prosper on this island.



(Translation work in collaboration with Fu Jen Catholic University, English Department)