In the 16th century, Portugal was keen on expanding its trade with Asia, especially the lucrative Chinese market. After disputes and negotiations, Chinese officials eventually agreed to trade with the Portuguese in 1553 and allowed them to reside in Macao (Macau) in 1557. It marked Macao’s opening-up to the outside world.
Despite its modest size, the Macao port in southern China was one of the few functioning Chinese ports under the Ming (明朝) court’s ban on maritime trade. The Portuguese’s sea routes also turned Macao into a hub for China’s foreign trade. Chinese merchandise such as porcelain, tea, and silk were exported via Macao to Japan, Southeast Asia, India, Africa, Europe, and America. In return, China gained the silver it needed.
The European merchants coming along with the seasonal wind brought not only goods but also religion and culture to Macao, turning it into a bridge between Chinese and Western cultures. In the 16th century, Catholic missionaries arrived in China via Macao. While they preached to the Chinese, they popularised Western science and technology, and introduced Chinese knowledge and literature to Europe. Macao became a centre of missionary work and Sino-foreign cultural exchanges.
Against this backdrop, the desolate land of Macao soon evolved into a city where foreigners and Chinese lived together. The Ming and Qing (清朝) dynasties both dispatched officials to Macao and issued decrees for settling disputes between Chinese and foreign nationals. Macao became a unique city where Chinese and foreigners resided amid disputes and cooperation.