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Macau Bahá'í Community in the Early Years

by Barbara R. Sims

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Chapter 2

2. Macau

Macau, located about 40 miles west of Hong Kong, is the oldest permanent European settlement in the Far East. It has a unique place in the Oriental world; a Portuguese colony, governed by Portugal and although the official language is Portuguese, 97 percent of the population is of Chinese origin speaking Cantonese Chinese.

The Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama (1460-1524) is usually credited with opening up the Far East although he only got as far as India. However, there is a statue in his honor in one of Macau's city squares. Jorge Alvares, in 1513, was actually the first Portuguese to visit China (Hong Kong), and the first European to reach China by sea. In the late 1500s Macau became a Roman Catholic missionary training center. It was also a refuge for Jews and Moslems claiming to be Catholic who were fleeing from persecution, and Protestant traders who had no place to live on the China coast.

Macau became a Portuguese trade port in 1557, and Portugal paid the Chinese for its use. In 1845 Portugal declared it a free port and Macau officially became Portuguese territory in 1887.

Macau was the historical spot where the first Peace Treaty between China and the United States was signed, in 1844.

During World War II Macau was neutral and the population was thought to be about 600,000 as refugees from both China and Hong Kong flocked there.

During a meeting between Portuguese and Chinese authorities in 1979 Macau was declared to be Chinese territory. Eight years later, 1987, the decision was made to return Macau to China on December 20, 1999. Negotiations with the British to return Hong Kong in 1997 were quite separate.

In the 1950s when the first Bahá'ís settled in Macau the Chinese population was estimated to be about 200,000 with 4,000 Portuguese and other non-Chinese. In the 1980s the estimated population was about 400,000 contained in an area 16 square kilometers (6 square miles).

The Portuguese colony of Macau consists of a peninsula and two islands, Taipa and Coloane. The city of Macau is approximately coextensive with the peninsula. Although it has often been called an island, it is connected to the China mainland by a narrow isthmus.


Industries are mainly fishing, textiles and tourism (gambling). Cantonese Chinese is the language used in most schools and for practical purposes is the language of the colony.
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