Chinese records of Macau date back to the establishment in 1152 of Xiangshan
County under which Macau was administered, though it remained unpopulated
through most of the next century. Members of the South Sung (Song) Dynasty
and some 50,000 followers were the first recorded inhabitants of the area,
seeking refuge in Macau from invading Mongols in 1277. They were able to
defend their settlements and establish themselves there.
The Hoklo Boat people were the first to show commercial interest in
Macau as a trading center for the southern provinces. Macau did not develop
as a major settlement until the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century.
Portuguese traders used Macau as a staging port as early as 1516, making
it the oldest European settlement in the Far East. In 1557, the Chinese
agreed to a Portuguese settlement in Macau but did not recognize Portuguese
sovereignty. Although a Portuguese municipal government was established,
the sovereignty question remained unresolved.
Initially, the Portuguese developed Macau's port as a trading post for
China-Japan trade and as a staging port on the long voyage from Lisbon
to Nagasaki. When Chinese officials banned direct trade with Japan in 1547,
Macau's Portuguese traders carried goods between the two countries. The
first Portuguese governor was appointed to Macau in 1680, but the Chinese
continued to assert their authority, collecting land and customs taxes.
Portugal continued to pay rent to China until 1849, when the Portuguese
abolished the Chinese customs house and declared Macau's "independence,"
a year which also saw Chinese retaliation and finally the assassination
of Gov. Ferreira do Amaral.
On March 26, 1887, the Manchu government acknowledged the Portuguese
right of "perpetual occupation." The Manchu-Portuguese agreement, known
as the Protocol of Lisbon, was signed with the condition that Portugal
would never surrender Macau to a third party without China's permission.
Macau enjoyed a brief period of economic prosperity during World War
II as the only neutral port in South China, after the Japanese occupied
Guangzhou (Canton) and Hong Kong. In 1943, Japan created a virtual protectorate
over Macau. Japanese domination ended in August 1945.
When the Chinese communists came to power in 1949, they declared the
Protocol of Lisbon to be invalid as an "unequal treaty" imposed by foreigners
on China. However, Beijing was not ready to settle the treaty question,
requesting a maintenance of "the status quo" until a more appropriate time.
Beijing took a similar position on treaties relating to the Hong Kong territories.
Riots broke out in 1966 when the procommunist Chinese elements and the
Macau police clashed. The Portuguese Government reached an agreement with
China to end the flow of refugees from China and to prohibit all communist
demonstrations. This move ended the conflict, and relations between the
government and the leftist organizations have remained peaceful.
The Portuguese tried once in 1966 after the riots in Macau, and again
in 1974, the year of a military revolution in Portugal, to return Macau
to Chinese sovereignty. China refused to reclaim Macau however, hoping
to settle the question of Hong Kong first.
Portugal and China established diplomatic relations in 1979. A year
later, Gen. Melo Egidio became the first Governor of Macau to visit China.
The visit underscored both parties' interest in finding a mutually agreeable
solution to Macau's status; negotiations began in 1985, a year after the
signing of the Sino-U.K. agreement returning Hong Kong to China in 1997.
The result was a 1987 agreement returning Macau to Chinese sovereignty
as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China on December 20, 1999.