"How many Shaolin Temples are there?"
I guess it all depends upon who you ask, as is with any other question. If you ask the Shaolin Temple monks, or, people in the village, there seems to be only one, and it is the Shaolin Temple we've been discussing here in Henan province, China, outside of Dengfeng, a small town west of larger Zengzhou. If you talk to the Chinese in the outer reaches of China, from Beijing to Chengdu, the mention of the Shaolin Temple brings to mind only one place. However, Shi Xing Xi did acknowledge the existence of on other temple which can be referred to as the Southern Shaolin Temple, and it resides to this day in Fukien province, in the vicinity of Fuzhou. Tradition has it that a monk from the Henan (northern) Shaolin Temple left to start this temple in Fukien, and because he had some sort of disorder with his legs, developed a style of Shaolin gong fu that relies more on the upper extremities than the lower. The monks consider the Fukien temple to be a Shaolin temple, one which has a style of martial arts associated with it, even though that style of martial arts is basically the same as the northern temple. However, one must be careful when discussing the so called southern temple, as its historical presence has never really been truly confirmed. There is, at this time, a new temple which has been built in Fukien, and, not on the supposed "site" of the legendary previous one, that many of the Shaolin temple monks travel to. The current political situation caused many of the martial monks to leave the Henan temple, and some of them ended up in this new southern Fukien temple. Shi Su Xi, and Shi De Yang, now call the southern temple their "second home".
Now, others have proceeded to declare that there were more than these two Shaolin Temples. Some of these are: the temple at Hua mountain, the temple in Kwangtung province near Guanzhou, the temple at Emei mountain outside of Chengdu, the temple at Wu-Tang mountain in Hubei province, and the temple in Shantung province. Some claim that there were ten of these temples. All these temples played some role in Shaolin gong fu development, according to traditions. Be that what it may, if one takes into account the words of Shi Su Xi, Shi Wen Heng, and some of the other younger monks I spoke with, it was common practice not only in this century but centuries before, to travel from one temple to the other, both inside and outside China, to preach their ways of Buddhism and gong fu, and to participate in mutual learning together. And if one goes to Emeishan, (which I have, the photos of which can be viewed in the Photo Library), one would notice that there are many, many temples on the huge mountain of Emei; the predominant one, and the one mostly visited nowadays, resides on the very top. It would not be hard to imagine a monk, traveling to the mountaintop temple at Emei, to stop and rest at many of the various temples that lined the trail to the top. No doubt Shaolin gong fu, along with other information, was disseminated to various temples all over China, as these monks made their way from one temple to another. Why people have decided that these above mentioned temples are the only ones that can be referred to as "Shaolin", when, no doubt, many other temples have pledged some sort of allegiance to Henan Shaolin Temple, and have referred to it as their "central authority" and have been exposed to Shaolin gong fu, is a mystery to me. It is possible that these above named temples decided on their own, to study and form adjuncts to the Shaolin gong fu that they were exposed to, and to train, and carry on a tradition over the centuries, but the predominant thought from what I've gathered in my travels throughout China, and to the Temple itself, is that mention of the Shaolin Temple brings to mind one place.
There has been a lot of discussion about the so called historical Shaolin temples. Which ones truly existed, and which ones didn't. You can read more about it in the Discussion Forum, via this link: Historical Shaolin temples. There is a lot of information in there about this subject.
And it goes without saying, that the Shaolin Temple holds a special place in the heart of many a Chinese throughout the country, as the birthplace of their Ch'an Buddhism, and as the birthplace of their martial arts. And to them, their martial arts are not viewed predominantly as a method of self defense, a stance which we in America have taken, and in my opinion, bastardized; they view gong fu as a holy and sacred Chinese tradition, a tradition which helps bind the people of China together.