History of Macau

Mother Earth Travel > Country Index > Macau > Map Economy History

Evidence of Chinese material cultural dating back 4,000 to 6,000 years has been discovered on the Macau peninsula and dating back 5,000 years on Coloane Island. Historical records show that what was later known as Macao was part of Fanyu County, Nanhai District, Guangdong Province, under the Qin empire (221-206 B.C.). During the Jin Dynasty (A.D. 265-420), the area was part of Dongguan County and later alternated under the control of Nanhai and Dongguan. In 1152 (during the Song Dynasty, A.D. 960-1279), it was identified as administratively part of the new Xiangshan County. The oldest continuous settlement in Macau is the village of Wangxia (Mongha), a name given to the northern part of the peninsula; the village dates from the Yuan Dynasty (A.D. 1279-1368). Wangxia 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). During the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368-1643), fishermen migrated to Macau from various parts of Guangdong and Fujian provinces and built the A-Ma Temple in which they prayed for safety on the sea.

Since at least the fifth century A.D., merchant ships traveling between Southeast Asia and Guangzhou used Haojingao as a way stop for refuge, fresh water, and food. Portuguese navigators first explored trade routes between Portugal and Asia in the early sixteenth century. Having established themselves at Goa in 1510 and Malacca in 1511, the first Portuguese arrived on the China coast in 1513 aboard a hired junk sailing from Malacca. They landed on Lintin Island in the Zhujiang (Pearl River) estuary and erected a stone marker claiming the island for the king of Portugal. When Portuguese fleets arrived in the vicinity of Haojingao in 1517 and 1518, Chinese officials expressed displeasure over violations of China's sovereignty. Portuguese adventurers were forcibly expelled from along the coast of Guangdong in 1521. Following a ship wreck in 1536, Portuguese traders were allowed to moor at Haojingao, however. Most historians note the date of the permanent presence of the Portuguese in Macau as 1553, the year they started establishing on-shore trading depots there.

Although Portuguese attempts to settle other islands along the southern coast of China had failed, Macau prospered. The Portuguese set up bases of operations there for trade with China, especially Guangzhou, and for trade with Japan. Both Portuguese and Chinese merchants flocked to Macau, and it quickly became an important node in the development of Portugal's trade with India, southern China, Japan, and Southeast Asia. Lisbon obtained a leasehold for Macau in return for tribute paid to Beijing in 1557, and during that same year, 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. In 1586 Macau became a self-governing city. In 1605 Dutch attacks led the Portuguese to build a city wall without China's permission. China officially established Macau as a foreign-trade port in 1685. During the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, Macau served as an important center for Portuguese trade with China (primarily with Guangzhou), Japan, the Philippines, mainland and island Southeast Asia, Goa, and Mexico during the Ming (1368-1643) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. The decline of Lisbon's world trade system in the mid-seventeenth century ended Macao's role as a major trade entrepôt. The development of Hong Kong by the British and the opening of treaty ports along the China coast after 1842 further overshadowed the commercial importance of 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 (also known as the Treaty of Wangxia) was signed on July 3, 1844, in a temple in Macau. The temple was used by a Chinese judicial administrator, who also oversaw matters concerning foreigners, and was located in the village of Wangxia. In 1845 Portugal declared Macau a free port, expelled Chinese officials and soldiers, and thereafter levied taxes on Chinese residents. Portugal gained control of the island of Wanzhai, to the north of Macau and which now is under the jurisdiction of Zhuhai, in 1849 but relinquished it in 1887. Control over Taipa (Dangzai in Chinese) and Coloane (Luhuan), two islands south of Macau, was obtained between 1851 and 1864. The Treaty of Tianjin (signed August 13, 1862) recognized Macau as a Portuguese colony, but because China never ratified the treaty, Macau was never officially ceded to Portugal. 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 March 26, 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. The Treaty of Commerce and Friendship (August 28, 1888) recognized Portuguese sovereignty over Macau but was never ratified by China. Ilha Verde (Qingzhou in Chinese) 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.

Portugal designated Macau a separate overseas province in 1955. In 1974 the new Portuguese government granted independence to all overseas colonies and recognized Macau as part of China's territory. On February 8, 1979, China and Portugal exchanged diplomatic recognition, and Beijing acknowledged Macau as "Chinese territory under Portuguese administration." A joint communiqué signed May 20, 1986, called for negotiations on the Macau question, and four rounds of talks followed between June 30, 1986 and March 26, 1987. The Joint Declaration on the Question of Macau was signed in Beijing on April 13, 1987, setting the stage for the return of Macau to full Chinese sovereignty as a special administrative region on December 20, 1999. 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 March 31, 1993, as the constitutional law for Macau taking effect on December 20, 1999.

SOURCE: Country Studies/Area Handbook by the US Library of Congress

Mother Earth Travel > Country Index > Macau > Map Economy History