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History of Macau

St. Paul's Cathedral in the 19th century by George Chinnery (1774—1852)

Macau is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China. It was administered by Portugal during 442 years, first as a trading post, and subsequently as a Portuguese territory, until its handover to China in 1999. It was the last European territory in Asia.


Early history

The human history of Macau stretches back up to 6,000 years, and includes many different and diverse civilizations and periods of existence. Evidence of human culture dating back 4,000 to 6,000 years has been discovered on the Macau Peninsula and dating back 5,000 years on Coloane Island.[citation needed]

During the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC), the region now called Macau came under the jurisdiction of Panyu County, Nanhai Prefecture of the province of Guangdong. It was administratively part of Dongguan Prefecture in the Jin Dynasty (265–420 AD), and alternated under the control of Nanhai and Dongguan in later dynasties. In 1152, during the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD), it was under the jurisdiction of the new Xiangshan County.[1]

Since the 5th century, merchant ships traveling between Southeast Asia and Guangzhou used the region as a way stop for refuge, fresh water, and food. The first recorded inhabitants of the area are some 50,000 people seeking refuge in Macau from invading Mongols in 1277, during the Southern Song Dynasty.[2] They were able to defend their settlements and establish themselves there. Mong Há has long been the center of Chinese life in Macau and the site of what may be the region's oldest temple, a shrine devoted to the Buddhist Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy).[citation needed] Later in the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD), fishermen migrated to Macau from various parts of Guangdong and Fujian provinces and built the A-Ma Temple where they prayed for safety on the sea. The Hoklo Boat people were the first to show interest in Macau as a trading centre for the southern provinces. However, Macau did not develop as a major settlement until the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century.[2]

Portuguese settlement

Map of Macau Peninsula in 1639

Portuguese sailors in the Age of Discovery were exploring the coasts of Africa and Asia, later established posts at Goa in 1510, and conquered Malacca in 1511, driving its Sultan to the hinterland from where he kept making raids on the Portuguese. The Portuguese under Jorge Álvares landed at Lintin Island in the Pearl River Delta of China in 1513 with a hired junk sailing from Portuguese Malacca. They erected a stone marker at Lintin Island claiming it for the King of Portugal, Manuel I. In the same year, the Indian Viceroy Afonso de Albuquerque commissioned Rafael Perestrello—a cousin of Christopher Columbus—to sail to China in order to open up trade relations; Rafael traded with the Chinese merchants in Canton in that year and in 1516, but was not allowed to move further. Portugal’s king Manuel I in 1517 commissioned a diplomatic and trade mission to Canton headed by Tomé Pires and Fernão Pires de Andrade. Their embassy lasted until 1521, they even received a quick audience from emperor Zhengde in Nanjing, but when Zhengde died in 1521, their embassy was further rejected by the Chinese Ming court, which now became less interested in new foreign contacts, and was also influenced by reports of misbehaviour of Portuguese elsewhere in China, and by the deposed Sultan of Malacca seeking Chinese assistance to drive the Portuguese out of Malacca. In 1521 and 1522 several more Portuguese ships reached trading island Tuen Mun off the coast near Canton, but were forcibly driven away by the now hostile Ming authorities. Good relations between the Portuguese and Chinese Ming Dynasty resumed in the 1540s, when Portuguese aided China at eliminating coastal pirates, and could in 1549 start annual trade missions to Shangchuan Island. Diplomatic relations were finally salvaged by Leonel de Sousa in the early 1550s. In 1557 the Ming court gave consent for a permanent and official Portuguese trade base at Macau. In 1558 Leonel de Sousa became the second Portuguese Governor of Macau.

Following a ship wreck in 1535, Portuguese traders were allowed to anchor ships in Macau's harbors and the right to carry out trading activities, though not the right to stay onshore.[3] Around 1552–1553, they obtained a temporary permission to erect storage sheds onshore, in order to dry out goods drenched by sea water.[4] They later built some rudimentary stone-houses around the area now called Nam Van. But not until 1557 did the Portuguese establish a permanent settlement in Macau, at an annual rent of 500 taels of silver.[5] Later that year, the Portuguese established a walled village there. Ground rent payments began in 1573. China retained sovereignty and Chinese residents were subject to Chinese law, but the territory was under Portuguese administration. In 1582 a land lease was signed, and annual rent was paid to Xiangshan County.[citation needed]

Macau's golden age

Macau and its position in Portuguese and Spanish global trade routes The mission of the Jesuits used Macau as a point of departure & formation during 16th century

After Portuguese permanent settlement in Macau, both Chinese and Portuguese merchants flocked to Macau, and it quickly became an important node in the development of Portugal's trade along three major routes: Macau-Malacca-Goa-Lisbon, Guangzhou-Macau-Nagasaki and Macau-Manila-Mexico. The Guangzhou-Macau-Nagasaki route was particularly profitable because the Portuguese acted as middlemen, shipping Chinese silks to Japan and Japanese silver to China, pocketing huge markups in the process. This already lucrative trade became even more so when Chinese officials handed Macau's Portuguese traders a monopoly by banning direct trade with Japan in 1547, due to piracy by Japanese nationals.[6].

Macau's golden age coincided with the union of the Spanish and Portuguese crowns, between 1580 and 1640. King Philip II of Spain was encouraged to not harm the status quo, to allow trade to continue between Portuguese Macau and Spanish Manila, and to not interfere with Portuguese trade with China. In 1587, Philip promoted Macau from "Settlement or Port of the Name of God in China" to "City of the Name of God in China" (Cidade do Nome de Deus de Macau).[citation needed]

The alliance of Portugal with Spain meant that Portuguese colonies became targets for the Netherlands, which was embroiled at the time in a lengthy struggle for its independence from Spain, the Eighty Years' War. After the Dutch East India Company was founded in 1602, the Dutch unsuccessfully attacked Macau several times, culminating in a full scale invasion attempt in 1622, when 800 attackers were successfully repelled by 150 Macanese and Portuguese defenders. One of the first actions of Macau's first governor, who arrived the following year, was to strengthen the city's defenses, which included the construction of the Guia Fortress[citation needed]

Religious activity

As well as being an important trading post, Macau was a center of activity for Catholic missionaries, as it was seen as a gateway for the conversion of the vast populations of China and Japan. Jesuits had first arrived in the 1560s and were followed by Dominicans in the 1580s. Both orders soon set about constructing churches and schools, the most notable of which were the Jesuit Cathedral of Saint Paul and the St. Dominic’s Church built by the Dominicans. In 1576, Macau was established as an episcopal see by Pope Gregory XIII with Melchior Carneiro appointed as the first bishop.[7][8]


The full title awarded to Macau by King Joao IV is still displayed to this day inside the Leal Senado, though the building and emblem itself date from the 19th Century. Macau in 19th century; Vue générale de Macau painted by Auguste Borget (1808-1877)

In 1637, increasing suspicion of the intentions of Spanish and Portuguese Catholic missionaries in Japan finally led the shogun to seal Japan off from all foreign influence. Later named the sakoku period, this meant that no Japanese were allowed to leave the country (or return if they were living abroad), and no foreign ship was allowed to dock in a Japanese port. An exception was made for the Protestant Dutch, who were allowed to continue to trade with Japan from the confines of a small man-made island in Nagasaki, Deshima. Macau's most profitable trade route, that between Japan and China, had been severed. The crisis was compounded two years later by the loss of Malacca to the Dutch in 1641, damaging the link with Goa.

The news that the Portuguese House of Braganza had regained control of the Crown from the Spanish Habsburgs took two years to reach Macau, arriving in 1642. A ten week celebration ensued, and despite its new-found poverty, Macau sent gifts to the new King Joao IV along with expressions of loyalty. In return, the King rewarded Macau with the addition of the words "There is none more Loyal" to its existing title. Macau was now "City of the Name of God in China, There is none more loyal". ("Não há outra mais Leal" [Listen (help·info)]).

Macau, ca. 1870

In 1685, the privileged position of the Portuguese in trade with China ended, following a decision by the emperor of China to allow trade with all foreign countries. Over the next century, England, Holland, France, Denmark, Sweden, the United States and Russia moved in, establishing factories and offices in Guangzhou and Macau.

Until April 20, 1844, Macau was under the jurisdiction of Portugal's Indian colonies, the so-called “Estado português da India” (Portuguese State of India), but after this date, it, along with East Timor, was accorded recognition by Lisbon (but not by Beijing) as an overseas province of Portugal. The Treaty of Peace, Amity, and Commerce between China and the United States was signed in a temple in Macau on 3 July 1844. The temple was used by a Chinese judicial administrator, who also oversaw matters concerning foreigners, and was located in the village of Mong Há. The Templo de Kun Iam was the site where, on July 3, 1844, the treaty of Wangxia (named after the village of Mong Ha where the temple was located) was signed by representatives of the United States and China. This marked the official beginning of Sino-US relations.

The Hong Kong effect

1888 German map of Hong Kong, Macau, and Canton (now Guangzhou)

After China ceded Hong Kong to the British in 1842, Macau's position as a major regional trading centre declined further still because larger ships were drawn to the deep water port of Victoria Harbour.

In an attempt to reverse the decline, Portugal declared Macau a free port, expelled Chinese officials and soldiers, and thereafter levied taxes on Chinese residents. In 1849, Portugal declared the colony independent of China.

Portugal continued to pay rent to China until 1849, when the Portuguese abolished the Chinese customs house and declared Macau's “independence”, a year which also saw Chinese retaliation and finally the assassination of Gov. Ferreira do Amaral. Portugal gained control of the island of Wanzai, to the north of Macau and which now is under the jurisdiction of Zhuhai, in 1849 but relinquished it in 1887. Control over Taipa (氹仔 in Chinese, Jyutping: Tam5 Zai2; pinyin: Dàngzǎi) and Coloane (路環 in Chinese, Jyutping: Lou6 Waan4; pinying: Lùhuán), two islands south of Macau, was obtained between 1851 and 1864. The Treaty of Tianjin (signed 13 August 1862) recognized Macau as a Portuguese colony. Macau and East Timor were again combined as an overseas province of Portugal under control of Goa in 1883. The Protocol Respecting the Relations Between the Two Countries (signed in Lisbon 26 March 1887) and the Beijing Treaty (signed in Beijing on December the 1st 1887) confirmed “perpetual occupation and government” of Macau by Portugal (with Portugal's promise “never to alienate Macau and dependencies without agreement with China”). Taipa and Coloane were also ceded to Portugal, but the border with the mainland was not delimited. Ilha Verde (青洲 in Chinese, Jyutping: Ceng1 Zau1 or Cing1 Zau1; pinyin: Qīngzhōu) was incorporated into Macau's territory in 1890, and, once a kilometer offshore, by 1923 it had been absorbed into peninsular Macau through land reclamation.

Slave trade

From 1848 to about the early 1870s, Macau was the infamous transit port of a trade of coolies (or slave labourers) from southern China. Most of them would have been kidnapped from Guangdong province and be shipped off in packed vessels to Cuba, Peru, or other South American ports to work on plantations or in mines. Many would die on the way there due to malnutrition, disease, or other mistreatment. The Dea del Mar which had set sail to Callao from Macau in 1865 with 550 Chinese on board, arrived in Tahiti with 162 of them still alive.

World War II

Macau enjoyed a brief period of economic prosperity during World War II as the only neutral port in South China, after the Japanese occupied Guangzhou (Canton) and Hong Kong. In 1943, Japan created a virtual protectorate over Macau. Japanese domination ended in August 1945.

Macau and communist China

Flag formerly used in Macau under Portuguese rule (before 20 Dec 1999).

When the Chinese communists came to power in 1949, they declared the Protocol of Lisbon to be invalid as an “unequal treaty” imposed by foreigners on China. However, Beijing was not ready to settle the treaty question, leaving the maintenance of “the status quo” until a more appropriate time. Beijing took a similar position on treaties relating to the Hong Kong territories of the United Kingdom.

In 1955, the fascist Salazar regime declared Macau, as well as other Portuguese colonies, an "Overseas Province" of Portugal.

Riots broke out in 1966 when local Chinese and the Macau authority clashed, the most serious one being the so-called 12-3 incident. The spark was overreaction by some Portuguese official to what was a regular minor dispute concerning building permits. The riots cause 8 deaths and the end was a total climb down by the Portuguese Government, signing two agreements one with Macau's Chinese community the other with a mainland China. In the latter an agreement with local Chinese community leaders with as much as 2 million Macau Patacs in compensation and to prohibit all Kuomintang activities in Macau. This move ended the conflict, and relations between the government and the leftist organizations remained largely peaceful. The success in Macau encourage leftist in Hong Kong to "do the same". This eventually lead to the 1967 Hong Kong leftist riots. A Portuguese proposal to return the colony to China was declined by China.

In 1974, following the anti-colonialist Carnation Revolution, Portugal relinquished all colonial claims and proposed Chinese sovereignty over Macau.

Handover to the People's Republic of China

Main article: Transfer of the sovereignty of Macau

Portugal and the People's Republic of China established diplomatic relations on 8 February 1979, and Beijing acknowledged Macau as “Chinese territory under Portuguese administration.” A year later, Gen. Melo Egidio became the first governor of Macau to pay an official visit to Beijing.

The visit underscored both parties' interest in finding a mutually agreeable solution to Macau's status. A joint communiqué signed May 20, 1986, called for negotiations on the Macau question, and four rounds of talks followed between 30 June 1986 and 26 March 1987. The Joint Declaration on the Question of Macau was signed in Beijing on 13 April 1987, setting the stage for the return of Macau to full Chinese sovereignty as a Special Administrative Region on 20 December 1999.

After four rounds of talks, "the Joint Declaration of the Government of the People's Republic of China and the Government of the Republic of Portugal on the Question of Macau" was officially signed in April 1987. The two sides exchanged instruments of ratification on January 15, 1988 and the Joint Declaration entered into force. During the transitional period between the date of the entry into force of the Joint Declaration and December 19, 1999, the Portuguese government was responsible for the administration of Macau.

The Basic Law of the Macau Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, was adopted by the National People's Congress (NPC) on 31 March 1993 as the constitutional law for Macau, taking effect on 20 December 1999.

The PRC has promised that, under its “one country, two systems” formula, China's socialist economic system will not be practiced in Macau and that Macau will enjoy a high degree of autonomy in all matters except foreign and defense affairs until 2049, fifty years after the handover.

Thus the history of European colonization of Asia ended where it began. Although offered control of Macau in the 1970s, the Chinese deemed the time "not yet ripe"   and preferred to wait until December 1999--the very end of the millennium, two years after the Hong Kong Handover--to close this chapter of history.

See also


  1. ^ Macau history in Macau Encyclopedia (Chinese). Macau Foundation. Retrieved on 2008-01-12.
  2. ^ a b Background Note: Macau - History. Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, U.S. Department of State. Retrieved on 2007-05-24.
  3. ^ General Outline of the Macau Special Administrative Region. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, People's Republic of China. Retrieved on 2008-01-07.
  4. ^ Ah Xiang (1998). Ming Dynasty - Political, Social, Cultural, Historical Analysis of China. Retrieved on 2008-01-07.
  5. ^ Fung, Bong Yin (1999). Macau: a General Introduction (in Chinese). Hong Kong: Joint Publishing (H.K.) Co. Ltd.. ISBN 962-04-1642-2
  6. ^ Macau - a unique city. Macau Tourist Guide. Retrieved on 2007-05-24.
  7. ^ Archdiocese of Goa. Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved on 2008-01-06.
  8. ^ The Catholic entry in Macau Encyclopedia (Chinese). Macau Foundation. Retrieved on 2008-01-06.

Further reading

Image:Coat of arms of Macau.svgMacau Portal
  • Coates, Austin: A Macao Narrative
  • Porter, Jonathan: Macau: The Imaginary City
  • Shipp, Steve: Macau, China: A Political History of the Portuguese Colony's Transition to Chinese Rule

External links

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1 Part of São Tomé and Príncipefrom 1753.   2 Part of Portuguese Guineafrom 1879.
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