Portuguese Macau refers to Macau as a colony and later, a Portuguese overseas province under Portuguese administration from 1557 to 1999. Macau was both the first and last European colony in China.
Portuguese traders first settled in Macau in the 16th century. In 1557 Macau was rented to Portugal by the Chinese empire as a trading port. The Portuguese administered the city under Chinese authority and sovereignty until 1887, when Macau became a colony of the Portuguese empire. Sovereignty over Macau was transferred back to China on 20 December 1999.
The human history of Macau stretches back up to 6,000 years, and includes many different and diverse civilisations and periods of existence. Evidence of human and 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.
During the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC), the region 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.
Since the 5th century, merchant ships travelling between Southeast Asia and Guangzhou used the region as a port 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. 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). 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.
During the age of discovery Portuguese sailors explored the coasts of Africa and Asia. The sailors later established posts at Goa in 1510, and conquered Malacca in 1511, driving the Sultan to the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula 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.
The embassy lasted until the death of the emperor Zhengde in Nanjing. The embassy was further rejected by the Chinese Ming court, which now became less interested in new foreign contacts. The Ming Court 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 the trading island Tuen Mun off the coast near Canton, but were driven away by the now hostile Ming authorities.
The Malay Malacca Sultanate was a tributary state and ally to Ming Dynasty China. When Portugal conquered Malacca in 1511, the Chinese responded with violence against the Portuguese when Portugal sent the diplomatic ambassador, Tomé Pires in 1516. After Pires reached Beijing in 1520 the Chinese decided to arrest the embassy. The deposed Malaccan Sultan Mahmud Shah sent another message to China, and this time, China responded by executing the Portuguese diplomatic embassy in Guangzhou. The Malaccans had informed the Chinese of the Portuguese seizure of Malacca, to which the Chinese responded with hostility toward the Portuguese. The Malaccans told the Chinese of the “deception” the Portuguese used, disguising plans for conquering territory as mere trading activities.
Due to the Malaccan Sultan lodging a complaint with the Chinese Emperor against the Portuguese invasion, the Portuguese were greeted with hostility by the Chinese when they arrived in China. The Malaccan Sultan, based in Bintan after fleeing Malacca, sent a message to the Chinese, which combined with Portuguese banditry and violent activity in China, led the Chinese authorities to execute 23 Portuguese and torture the rest of them in jails. After the Portuguese set up posts for trading in China and committed piratical activities and raids in China, the Chinese responded with the complete extermination of the Portuguese in Ningboand Quanzhou Pires, a Portuguese trade envoy, was among those who died in the Chinese dungeons.
Good relations between the Portuguese and Chinese Ming Dynasty resumed in the 1540s, when Portuguese aided China in eliminating coastal pirates. The two later began annual trade missions to the offshoreShangchuan Island in 1549. A few years later, Lampacau Island, closer to the Pearl River Delta, became the main base of the Portuguese trade in the region.
Diplomatic relations were salvaged by the Leonel de Sousa agreement with Cantonese authorities in 1554. In 1557, the Ming court finally 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 harbours, and the right to carry out trading activities, though not the right to stay onshore.
Macao was first settled by Portuguese survivors of the massacres of the Portuguese at Ningbo and at Quanzhou by Chinese government soldiers. After the Portuguese raided and pillaged villages around the trading posts in those two cities, the Emperor ruled that all Portuguese encountered everywhere should be killed on the spot. The casualties in total, with the 800 dead Portuguese, totalled 12,000 dead Christians. The massacres resulted in the Portuguese survivors fleeing to Macao, where they were allowed by China to start a colony to build sheds for drying goods in 1557.
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 (~20 kilograms (44 lb)) of silver. 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.
The Portuguese continued to pay an annual tribute up to 1863 in order to stay in Macau.
On 24 June 1622, the Dutch attacked Macau in the Battle of Macau with 800 men under Captain Kornelis Reyerszoon, expecting to turn it into a Dutch possession after its conquest. African slaves who fought for the Portuguese repulsed the Dutch attack, and the Dutch never tried to conquer Macau again. The majority of the defenders were Africans slaves, with only a few Portuguese soldiers and Priests.
The Portuguese, often married Tanka women since Han Chinese women would not have relations with them. Some of the Tanka’s descendants became Macanese people. Some Tanka children were enslaved by Portuguese raiders. The Chinese poet Wu Li wrote a poem, which included a line about the Portuguese in Macau being supplied with fish by the Tanka.
After Portuguese permanent settlement in Macau, both Chinese and Portuguese merchants flocked to Macau, although the Portuguese were never numerous (numbering just 900 in 1583 and only 1,200 out of 26,000 in 1640). 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 Chinese and Japanese nationals.
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” to “City of the Name of God” (Cidade do Nome de Deus de Macau).
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 defences, which included the construction of the Guia Fortress.
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.
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