A Brief History of Macau

“Macau” or “Ou Mun”?
Ah Ma Temple

Even though the word “Macau” originates from Chinese, it was not originally the name of the city. The actual Chinese name is “Ou Mun”, which means “trading gate” – referring to its location near the mouth of the Pearl River.

The name “Macau” came about due to a misunderstanding by Portuguese merchants who arrived in the 16th century. Upon landing on the island, they asked local fisherman where they were, to which the fisherman replied, “A Ma Kok”, the name of a nearby temple. From then on, the Portuguese used this as the name for the island, and it gradually evolved into its modern Portuguese name  -- Macau.

Colonial Macau

In the early 1550s, Portuguese merchants sailed to the mouth of the Pearl River delta looking to establish a trading post in southern China. In 1557, they were granted land by the Ming-dynasty government, under an agreement stating that it would fall under the jurisdiction of Guangdong province Chinese officials. It remained like this up until 1887, when the Portuguese officially leased the land for a period of 40 years. After that time, Macau officially become a colony of Portugal.

From the moment that the Portuguese stepped foot on Macau’s shores, they maintained special rights and a higher social status than the local Chinese. This led to unrest among the Chinese, and sometimes even violent outbursts, such as the assassination of Gov. Ferreira do Amaral in 1849. During the communist Cultural Revolution in mainland China, a riot broke out in Macau during the infamous “12-3 incident”, which led to a decrease in Portuguese sovereignty over the territory. In 1974, after the “Carnation Revolution” in Portugal, the Portuguese government officially declared intentions of returning control of Macau back to the Chinese government. 

monte forte

Macau’s Handover to China and Modern Development
Macau Tower

At the end of the “Carnation Revolution” in Portugal, the Chinese and Portuguese governments began to hold talks to discuss the handover of the territory to China. Finally, in 1987, both parties signed a plan to link Macau back together with the mainland. During the next 12 years, the city slowly transitioned to Chinese rule, and the official government handover occurred on December 20, 1999. Macau is now part of the “One country, two systems” policy, along with Hong Kong and other territories.

 In the last 18 years, Macau’s economy has developed at breakneck speed, fueled by its strong tourist and gaming industries. The multitude and variety of resorts and hotels that has sprung up in Macau during this time is a strong indicator of its development. The future looks bright for Macau, as more and more tourists arrive each year. Visitors from all over the globe come to experience its unique mix of Eastern and Western architecture and culture.

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