The Qing government established Pi-lam Subprefecture in eastern Taiwan in 1875. In 1884, admiral Zhang Zhao-Lian led troops to establish an encampment at the location of today’s Zhonghua Road in Taitung to begin development of the area. However, by 1888, local indigenous tribes had begun to resist the overly stringent criteria that the Tsui-be Pacification and Settlement Bureau employed in the collection of land fees. Liu Tian-Wang, a Hakka settler in Da-jhaung Village, rose in rebellion with nearby settlers and Taiwanese plains aborigines, initiating the Da-jhaung Incident and wreaking havoc in Taitung. The mob torched the local bureau offices, where less than three hundred officers held out for seventeen days until reinforcements arrived to put down the revolt. In an expression of gratitude for Mazu’s blessings in ending the rebellion, admiral Zhang and other soldiers donated their salaries in 1889 to the building of a temple. Construction work began in the spring of the following year, and the Mazu statue of Tianhau Temple was consecrated in Tainan’s Grand Matsu Temple. When work was completed in 1891, the temple became the Qing dynasty’s only official temple in eastern Taiwan. The Tianhau Temple was originally established at the present-day location of Dong Chan Temple on Heping Street. In 1930, during the Japanese colonial period, the temple was severely damaged by a typhoon and an earthquake. It was relocated to its present-day site with funds raised by local residents. The project took three years and was finally completed in 1933. The temple later underwent multiple renovations. During the 1981 renovation, the decorated archway, the performance pavilions, and the bell and drum towers were built, giving the temple its present appearance. In 2003, the temple was designated a Taitung County cultural and historical landmark.
Taitung Tianhau Temple is the only officially sanctioned Mazu temple in eastern Taiwan. Established in a very challenging past environment, the temple served to consolidate and unite early settlers. The many artifacts preserved in the temple, including an inscription board bestowed by the Qing dynasty’s Guangxu Emperor to commemorate the quelling of a local rebellion and stone steles that record the development of the so-called Mazu Fields in Taitung, illustrate the temple’s significance in the history of eastern Taiwan. Tianhau Temple also undertook the role of preserving Han culture under the Kominka (Japanization) movement during the Japanese colonial period. The pilgrimage of deities during the Lantern Festival in Taitung, which remains an annual event to this day, was also launched by Tianhau Temple. The temple’s large-scale twelve-year Taoist peace sacrifice, a ritual designed to preserve the peace, is another one of Taitung City’s important festive events.