Macao: the City of the Name of God

Maurice Collis visits the former Dutch and Portuguese port colony.

Of the many reasons why we English started roaming through Asia, one is rarely stressed in our histories—that we followed the Portuguese. But we would like to stress that our rule was superior; we never mingled with the East, never became orientalized, always kept our distance. Yet our adventure (the Portuguese reply) was the more interesting precisely because we accomplished what you are proud you did not do, with the result that East and West truly met in our settlements. This article is about Macao, the most easterly settlement of the Portuguese in Asia, built on a scrap of Chinese soil which the Ming let them have four hundred years ago and which they still possess. Its story is not improving like the story (as we write it) of the British sojourn in eastern parts. But, like many stories that are unimproving, it is not dull. Portuguese exploits in the East inspired their greatest poet to his greatest achievement. Camoens is supposed to have written part of his epic in a cave at Macao, and the spot is pointed out to tourists. The main characteristic of our East India Company, our merchants and, even more, of our later Indian Civilians, was their earnest respectability. The Portuguese were never respectable; but they had a flamboyance that in retrospect makes spirited reading.

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