Fishermen from Fujian and farmers from Guangdong were the first known
settlers in Macau, when it was known as Ou Mun, or "trading gate",
because of its location at the mouth of the Pearl River downstream from
Guangzhou (Canton). During ancient times port city was part of the Silk
Road with ships loading here with silk for Rome.
Even after China ceased to be a world trade centre, Guangzhou prospered
from seaborne business with the countries of Southeast Asia, so the local
entrepreneurs welcomed the arrival of Portuguese merchant-explorers. They
followed in the wake of Jorge Alvares, who landed in southern China in
1513, and set about finding suitable trading posts.
In the early 1550s the Portuguese reached Ou Mun, which the locals also
called A Ma Gao, "place of A Ma", in honour of the Goddess of Seafarers,
whose temple stood at the entrance to the sheltered Inner Harbour. The
Portuguese adopted the name, which gradually changes into the name
Macau, and with the permission of Guangdong's mandarins, established a
city that within a short time had become a major entrepot for trade between
China, Japan, India and Europe.
It also became the perfect crossroad for the meeting of East and West
cultures. The Roman Catholic church sent some of its greatest missionaries
to continue the work of St Francis Xavier, (who died nearby after making
many converts in Japan). A Christian college was built, beside what is now
today's Ruins of St Paul's, where students such as Matteo Ricci prepared
for their work as Christian scholars at the Imperial Court in Beijing. Other
churches were built, as well as fortresses, which gave the city an historical
European appearance that distinguishes it to this day.
Following the Opium War in 1841, Hong Kong was established by Britain
and most of the foreign merchants left Macau, which became a quaint, quiet
backwater. Nevertheless it has continued to enjoy a leisurely multicultural
existence and make daily, practical use of its historical buildings, in the
process becoming a favourite stopover for international travellers, writers
In modern times Macau has developed industries such as textiles, electronics
and toys, as well as building up an a world class tourist industry with a
wide choice of hotels, resorts, sports facilities, restaurants and casinos. As
in the past, Macau's economy is closely linked to that of Hong Kong and
Guangdong Province, in particular the Pearl River Delta region, which
qualifies as one of Asia's "little tigers". Macau provides financial and
banking services, staff training, transport and communications support.
Macau is a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China
since 20 December 1999, and, like Hong Kong, benefits from the principle
of "one country, two systems". The tiny SAR is growing in size - with
more buildings on reclaimed land - and in the number and diversity of its
attractions. The greatest of these continues to be Macau's unique society,
with communities from the East and West complementing each other, and
the many people who come to visit.