The Battle of Sovereignty in early 1800s I : Still Anyone’s Game

Macau city view from the sea side, source: Sankt-Peterburgi︠e︡ (1813)


“The view of Macao is very striking, as seen from the harbour, and the place itself forms the most delightful residence open to foreigners in China. Having been for two centuries in the possession of the Portuguese, it presents to the eye the aspect of a European city, with its assemblage of churches, towers, and forts. . . . The European houses are spacious and of handsome exterior. . . . Macao, in many respects, resembled a fashionable watering-place in England, and abounded with the comforts, the refinements, and even the luxuries of European life.”-Reverend George Smith, who arrived in 1844, gave the following the Arcadian impression of Macau.”(Smith,1972)


Looking at the 19th century Macau from a foreign missionary point of view, it is not hard to imagine Macau’s urban development under Portugese’s rule. Macau was often stereotyped as the  “mysterious and seductive Orient”, “the West’s Other” in missionary journals, travel memoirs and poems. (Cheng, 1999)

However, the debate of Macau’s sovereignty in the early 19th century has long been a debate. In a different vein, Anders Ljungstedt (1759-1835), a Swede, wrote another historical account on Macau,


“As no covenant or treaty of peace ever appeared in public, it remains an absolute impossibility to determine the ultimate limits of the conquest the Portuguese pretend to have made on that Island [Macau]. . . . A town, called Cidade do nome Deos de Macao, rose by degrees on the peninsula not by the grace and concession of any of the emperors of China, for such is denied, but by the success of the chivalrous arms of Portugal.”(Ljungstedt, 1832)


In fact, the period between 1840 to 1850 is a time lost in the vortex of history where Macau was greatly reshaped by different stakeholders. Throughout the research process, it is difficult to make it clear of what actually happened in the past due to a lack of information from both sides of the parties. The dilemma Macau was facing was not only a simple question between East versus West, but a multi-part orchestra piece interweaved by its assertive players, that is still playing up to this day.


Quoting from Walter Benjamin, history is ‘a tool of the ruling classes’ (Benjamin, 1968.) . As most of the original essays and documentations on Macau were recorded in either Chinese or Portuguese, most English versions of these material could be considered as publications with an agenda for spreading through a wider circulation. therefore careful consideration had to be made when revisiting these often opposing narrative of the two parties. Through revisiting different narratives from the significant period, it is hoped that we arrive closer to the origin through unraveling layers of stories told through times.


Next Narrative: The Battle of Sovereignty in early 1800s II: The Contentious Urban Reform


Benjamin, Walter . Illuminations. New York : Schocken Books , 1968.

Cheng, Christina Miu Bing. Macau: a cultural Janus. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1999.

Ljungstedt, Anders . An Historical Sketch of the Portuguese Settlements in China . Hong Kong : Vikin g Hong Kong Publications, 1832.

Smith, George . A Narrative of an Exploratory Visit to each of the Consular Cities of China, and to the Islands of Hong Kong and Chusan (in the years 1844-46). Taipei : Ch’en g Wen Publishing Co., 1972.

Vid goroda Makao s morskoĭ storony (Macau city view from the sea side). V Sankt-Peterburgi︠e︡, v Morskoĭ tipografĭi, 1813.

Xue, Fengxuan. Macau Through 500 Years : Emergence and Development of an Untypical Chinese City (English Version). Singapore: Silkroad Press. 2013




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