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  • Chinese/Japanese: 澳門 (Àomén / Makao)

Macao (or Macau) is a city in southern China, historically a major Portuguese colony in the region, and today administered as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) as part of the People's Republic of China. It lies on the southern coast of Guangdong province, facing Hong Kong across the Pearl River delta.


When the Portuguese first came to China in the early 16th century, they caused considerable trouble, and were expelled. After helping to expel pirates from the south China coast, however, in 1557 they were permitted to return and to engage in trade, but were restricted to the city of Macao, on a small peninsula walled off in 1574 from direct access to the Chinese mainland.[1]

Macao quickly grew into a major Portuguese base of operations in the region, and trading port, along with Goa and Nagasaki. Since the Ming would not allow Western women to live in Canton, a great many traders (supercargoes) settled in Macao with their wives and daughters.[2] By 1562, only five years after the first Portuguese arrival, there were already as many as 1,000 Portuguese living in or operating out of Macao. Other residents included Africans, Indians, and Melakans.[1] Trade routes were established between Nagasaki and Malacca by way of Macao by 1570, and in the early 17th century, beginning in 1614 and continuing in the 1630s, many Japanese Christians fled to Macao as the Tokugawa shogunate began to enforce bans on Christianity. Some Japanese may have even played a part in the construction of Macao's iconic St. Paul's Church.[3] Despite being denied direct overland access to Chinese domestic markets, the Portuguese at Macao played an active and lucrative role in the regional and worldwide trade in Chinese porcelains and silks, and for a brief time dominated the trade in Japanese silver.[1]

Following an incident in 1609 involving the unruly crew of a ship belonging to Arima Harunobu, the Tokugawa shogunate declared a ban on Japanese travel to Macao, which essentially amounted to the shogunate disavowing any responsibility for, or protection of, Japanese who traveled there.[3]

By the 1640s, Japanese living in Macao mostly lived in one of three areas of the city: Patio de San Paulo, Patio de Espinho, and Gongbei. At least 25 Japanese were buried in St. Paul's Church between 1648 and 1688.[3]

When the Qing Court ordered bans on maritime activity and pulled everyone back from the coast in the 1660s, in response to coastal harassment from Ming loyalists, it initially blockaded Macao as well, ordering all Chinese to leave Macao and blocking Portuguese ships. Many Portuguese feared their settlement would be destroyed entirely; however, local officials, acting in their own personal self-interest, did not go that far. Through a number of diplomatic overtures, including the gift to the Kangxi Emperor of an African lion, as well as due to the support of the Jesuits at court, the Portuguese were able to retain control over Macao, and to have the blockade eventually lifted.[4]

The Japanese community in the city remained distinct down into the 19th century, and on a number of occasions European ships attempted to repatriate Japanese castaways from Macao, to Japan, in unsuccessful attempts to earn favor from the Tokugawa authorities.[3]

The city continued to be officially Chinese land, albeit given over to use by the Portuguese, until 1887, when it was formally ceded to Portugal. Portugal relinquished all control of the city in 1999, returning it to Chinese administration.


  • Albert M. Craig, The Heritage of Chinese Civilization, Third Edition, Prentice Hall (2011), 118.
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Robert Tignor, Benjamin Elman, et al, Worlds Together, Worlds Apart, vol B, Fourth Edition, W.W. Norton & Co (2014), 471.
  2. Gallery label, "View of Macao," Peabody-Essex Museum.[1]
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Geoffrey Gunn, History Without Borders: The Making of an Asian World Region, 1000-1800, Hong Kong University Press (2011), 231.
  4. Jonathan Spence, The Search for Modern China, Second Edition, W.W. Norton & Co. (1999), 65.