China was fraught with crises facing European colonists after the First Opium War. In desperate need of salvation, some suggested that the country should be reformed to enrich and strengthen itself; while others believed that the Qing court (清朝) and the imperial system should be overthrown by a revolution. On this fateful crossroad of China’s destiny, Macao (Macau) became the place where the Western Affairs Camp, Reformer Camp, and Revolutionary Camp converged on a national salvation quest.
As a long-established meeting place of the East and West, Macao provided opportunities for pioneers such as Yung Wing (容閎), Tang Tingshu (唐廷樞), and Zheng Guanying (鄭觀應), to receive or expose to western education and culture from a young age. They became significant participants in the later Self-strengthening Movement and the modernisation of China. However, China’s crushing defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894-95 marked its thorough failure.
The Reformer Camp led by Kang Youwei (康有為) and Liang Qichao (梁啟超) advocated a holistic reform movement nationwide to save the country. To gain public support, they issued newspapers and set up schools to disseminate their initiatives. Even after the failure of the Hundred Days’ Reform, they chose Macao as the headquarters of the Chinese Empire Reform Association to help Emperor Guangxu (光緒) regain power.
While the reformers were active, the Revolutionary Camp aiming at overthrowing the Qing court was growing stronger. Sun Yat-sen (孫中山) met with like-minded revolutionaries to exchange views on revolution during his medical practice in Macao. After establishing the Macao branch of United League in 1905, revolutionaries in Macao set up schools and publishing houses, and performed stage plays to spread their thoughts and rally support from people in Macao.
Although the salvation ideas varied with each camp, their efforts contributed to the promotion of early education and cultivation of talents in Macao.