The Portuguese Settlement and Early Chinese Reactions

K. C. Fok*

Starting from the 1550's, after over twenty years of highly non-static commercial activities along the Chinese coast, the Portuguese were finally allowed by the Canton officials to use Lang-pai-kao as a base to conduct their trade with Japan. 1 It seemed that a new era had begun for the Portuguese, but they were still not satisfied with their newly-won position. After all, the pattern of Portuguese commercial activities in other parts of Asia such as India, Malacca and Indonesia had been the erection of strongly fortified settlements on the hinterland where the Portuguese could defend themselves and control the trade. Whereas in these areas they had been able to take by conquest what they desired, in China they met a more formidable foe. Even though the Portuguese were ready to compromise their original desire, they were hoping that a better location than Lang-pai-kao could be obtained. Preferably, they would like to settle for a place that was not cut off from the main-land routes into the hinterland.

Macao began to enter into the Portuguese story for precisely all these reasons. Situated at the western shore of the Pearl River, and joined by a narrow isthmus to the district of Hsiangshan in Kuang-tung province. Macao's accessibility and navigability of the neighbouring seas and proximity to Canton, coupled with her strategic defensibility against possible attacks from the sea, made that place more ideal for illicit trade activities than Lang-pai, which soon fell into oblivion.

The details of the development of Macao from an obscure fishing-village into a flourishing port are, however, not to be found in the dynastic history of Ming. They can be only obtained from other available sources. Pang Shang-pang, a Kuang-tung provincial censor, pointed out in his memorial of 1564 that formerly foreign ships were accustomed to anchoring at Lang-pai and it was only within the last few years that the foreigners began to set up a permanent settlement in Hao-Ching-ao (Macao). 2 Censor Kuo Shang-pin, in his memorial of 1613 also alluded to this transition, according to informants, foreigners originally carried out their trade activities in Lang-pai and its outlying seas. But local authorities later allowed a move into Hao-ching (Macao). 3 Chü Ta-chün, a Ch'ing scholar knowledgeable about the history of Macao, also noted that Lang-pai, within the jurisdiction of Hsiangshan district, used to be the centre of foreign trade activities until the time of Chia-ch'ing (1522-1566) when local authorities were heavily bribed to allow foreigners to use Hao-ching (Macao), which had far easier access to Canton than Lang-pai. 4 Ao-men chih-lüeh (which was compiled in the Ch'ien-lung period but based on first-hand sources) gave by far the most detailed account of the development: In 1535, Tu-chih-hui, Huang Ch'ing accepted bribes from the foreigners and petitioned his superior to move the customs house to Hao-ching (Macao). The foreigners were then paying the annual sum of twenty-thousand taels of gold. Thus Huang Ch'ing was the one responsible for foreigners trading in Macao. In 1553, under the pretext that their ships had been wrecked, the foreigners requested of the authorities permission to go ashore at Macao to dry their water-soaked goods. Permission was granted them by Wang Po who was then Hao-taofu-shih (Deputy Commissioner of Maritime Defense)... Wang was thus the one responsible for the origins of a permanent settlement in Macao. 5

Pang Shang-p'en, Pai-K'o-ting che-kao, in Kuang-tung wen-hsien, ed. by Lo Hsüeh-p'eng, 1864, ch'uan 14.

It is quite clear that the Cantonese authorities, in return for bribes, must have connived in the development of Macao from an obscure place into a flourishing port. Apart from officials like Huang Ch'ing and Wang Po who might have been motivated mainly by personal gain to facilitate foreign trade in Macao, there were other local officials, who seemed to have been truly sympathetic towards this course. 6 Wang Tso, who was military commander in Macao in the time of Wang Po, was recorded to have spoken to the authorities on behalf of foreigners for permission to anchor their ships in the vicinity of Macao in return for an annual payment of customs dues. 7 But later, as foreigners began to form a settlement and in view of the fact that they proved to be more than arrogant and fierce, Wang constantly kept a vigilant eye on their activities. By the establishment of a military camp close to the foreign settlement and by deliberately demonstrating the military prowess of his fighting forces by day and night he managed to keep the foreigners under control. 8

Wang Tso's concerns were certainly not ill-spent. Long before they managed to establish the settlement in Macao the Portuguese had been labelled as "subversive elements" and had imprinted an unsavory image in the minds of most Ming officials. 9 Naturally their permanent presence in Chinese territories was constantly regarded as a menace to the security of the region.

this (presence of Portuguese in Macao) shall be cause for future anxieties in Kuang-tung. 10 Then, according to the Ming work Chou-hai chung-p'ien, prior to 1592, there were already strong opinions among officials that Macao, in the hands of foreigners, might become as threatening as a malignant disease between the stomach and the heart. 11 This was further spelled out in Pang Shang-pang's memorial of 1564. It should be borne in mind that the income derived from placing customs dues on foreign ships (coming to Macao) is but short-term profit but the fact that foreigners occupying and residing in our interior should be considered the hidden roots of our future anxieties. 12 Censor Wang Shih-sheng shared nearly the same opinion, it is unlikely that they (Portuguese) came for anything other than trade but suppose they have among them men of rebellious nature and since they, after all, belong to a different race, may not their presence (in Macao) be the hidden roots of future anxieties for the sea-coast in the next hundred years? 13 Wang Lin-hang, in his Yüeh Chien-p'ien which was written before 1602 compared the Portuguese settlement in Macao, which had come to comprise ten thousand families and a hundred thousand heads, to an ulcer in the south (of China). But he dared not foretell what dire consequences it might lead to when "this ulcer burst."14 The earliest account on Macao (Hao-ching ao) found in any extant Ming document that discussed the problem of Macao in detail, seems to have been the one given in a memorial submitted by Pang Shang-p'ang in 1564. Macao came into focus in Pang's memorial mainly because of her strategic significance by virtue of her geographical location at a time when the Ming court was engaged in costly measures against the harassments of Japanese pirates (Wako) and illicit, private traders both foreign and local, along the coasts. As the memorial pointed out, Macao was open to the seas on three sides and therefore within the reach of Wako and foreigners coming by sea. Connected by a land route (within a day's journey) to the Hsiang-shan district, access to the interior was therefore easy. 15 The strategic value of Macao with respect to the security of the interior became even more apparent when a later memorial by Kuo Shang-pin likened the close relationship between Hsiang-shan district and Canton to that of the armpit to the elbow. 16 Pang's memorial was the earliest extant Chinese document that warranted an early-awakened concern for allowing foreigners to reside in Macao and the dire consequences it might lead to in the absence of effective preventive measures. He displayed keen awareness that the growing unruliness of the foreigners in Macao, if left unchecked, might soon become a menace to the security of the Hsiang-shan district. What dire consequences it might lead to if they (foreigners in Macao) decided to be more ambitious than merely engaging themselves in profitable trade. For they could easily storm into Hsiang-shan district, occupy by force the various villages and lay siege to the city within a very short time. 17
Pang Shang-p'en, Pai-K'o-ting che-kao.

Macao and its surrounding seas were meeting grounds where foreigners arriving by sea and Chinese merchants from neighbouring coastal areas had been carrying out illicit private trade. Until the time of Pang's memorial, Macao had only been used as a temporary trading site where tents were set up to accommodate the foreigners during their brief stay on land. The tents were then pulled down when the foreigners set sail after the trading season was over. Pang stated very clearly that it was only within recent years that foreigners had been allowed to set up a permanent settlement, and in just over a year's time, it already comprised several hundred houses. 18 There was no doubt that the rapid expansion and development of this foreign settlement in Macao did not escape the attention of provincial officials. Pang repeatedly referred to this in his memorial and showed that he took the trouble to collect information based on actual surveys of the settlement. The number of houses now amounts to over a thousand and the number of foreigners now residing (in Macao) comes to ten thousand strong. 19 It was this notable increase in the size of the foreign population in Macao that made it an urgent matter to seek preventive measures against them.

The same feeling was echoed in Censor Kuo Shang-p'in's memorial of 1613. Macao was indispensable to the Portuguese (foreigners) for trade because it could be easily reached by their ships. They would therefore try every means to keep their settlement there. 20 Kuo, however, regretted the local officials' mismanagement of the whole matter in four consecutive stages. To start with, the foreigners should not have been allowed to move their trading site from the outer-skirts of the seas into Macao. Secondly, the foreigners should not have been allowed to turn the temporary trading post in Macao into a permanent settlement. Then it was another fatal mistake not to stop the foreigners from building fortifications around the settlement as if Macao were a hostile state to the empire. The last straw was the avarice of the local officials who imposed unjust exactions on goods imported, provoking the hostility of the foreigners. 21

Such mismanagement of Macao by the Chinese local government was the cause of malpractices in the area. Desperados from the Fu-chien and Kuang-tung areas smuggled provisions such as cereals, vegetables, weapons, sulphur and bullets into Macao, with the connivance of local officials. Others kidnapped people from the city, both female and male and sold them to foreigners in Macao, while a considerable number used Macao as their hideout and either worked for or conspired with the foreigners. 22 With the collaboration of such local renegades the Portuguese in Macao gradually turned recalcitrant and unruly and began at times to resist the interference and regulation of the local Chinese government. 23 Since the militancy of the Portuguese was noted very early, their glittering sabers and smoking cannon filled up the mountain and the sea. 24 The fears of both Pang and Kuo of a threatening foreign community in Macao making inroads into the interior were very well-founded. The menace became more pressing when tolerable relations between the Portuguese in Macao and the local government in Hsiang-shan were strained. In fact Kuo very perceptively likened the residence of Portuguese within the territories of Hsiang-shan district to the presence of a malignant disease in between the stomach and the heart of the human body. 25 The development of Macao from an unknown promontory into a thriving Portuguese settlement and the anxieties of the Ming officials over the presence of foreigners there were best summed up in a memorial jointly submitted by Viceroy Hsü Hng-kang and Censor Wang Ming-hsüan in 1619:

The foreigners in Macao, the so-called, Feringis (Portuguese), had in previous years, managed to anchor their ships at Macao and in return paid the amount of twenty thousand (cash) for customs dues, which was a substantial contribution to our (local) military funds. Recently, they had moved on land, erecting houses and constructing fortresses and at the same time building up their ammunition. The whole foreign community numbered already ten thousand strong. They had stocked up enough provisions for both offensive and defensive purposes. In addition they had also domesticated the Japanese Wako as their underlings and local renegades as their retainers. This port of Macao is very close to Canton city. It is situated on a promontory, facing the sea on three sides with only one land route leading to the interior. If able scoundrels (foreigners) managed to sneak form outside to instigate an uprising many people may respond. This caused our anxiety. 26

All these Chinese accounts demonstrate that in the first years of the Macao settlement the Chinese officials were very wary of the Portuguese and their unsavoury image. Even though it appeared that some Portuguese had already been in Macao at the time of the agreement with Wang Po, the foreigners were permitted to stay on a very temporary basis. The Portuguese were able to conduct temporary fairs there provided that they returned to India after the trading season. And as in Lang-pai-kao, the foreigners were also granted permission to erect some temporary shelters which, however, had to be pulled down when they returned to India. Gradually the Chinese fears began to diminish and their desire to profit from the Macao trade grew stronger. But the Portuguese did not appear to have secured their footing in Macao until after they had helped to quell a mutiny among troops of coastal defense. On April the 22nd, 1564, the mutiny of the maritime defensive unit at Che-lin harbour in Chao-chou prefecture occurred. The mutiny was promptly suppressed by the governor, Wu Kuei-fang and Yü Ta-yu, a military commander in the Canton area. But in his letter to Wu Kuei-fang reporting on the mutiny, Yü made a reference to the use of foreign ships from Macao in the suppression. 27 The Portuguese services by no means put an end to Chinese fears and wariness. It was, nevertheless, a measure of reassurance and the presence of Portuguese in Macao had passed a most crucial test. Henceforth, Chinese officials were more concerned about effective methods to keep the foreigners in Macao under control.


The Ming comments and accounts on early Macao discussed so far called attention to the significant role of this tiny peninsula as a bulwark against possible inroads of foreigners coming by sea. The use of such metaphors as 'the hidden roots for future anxieties' and 'the malignant disease between the stomach and the heart' or 'the ulcer of the south' which were reiterated time after time in the memorials, showed that Macao was treated with genuine consternation. The officials were, however, hardly short of prescriptions for such 'diseases'. The Ch'ou-hai chung-pien noted that prior to 1592, there were officials who proposed to destroy the Portuguese settlement in Macao and to remove the foreigners from Macao into areas like Lang-pai, so as to keep the sea coast in peace. 28 Then in 1607 Lu Ting-lung, a chu-jen degree-holder, from P'an-yu district in Kuang-tung, went to Peking to take part in the metropolitan examination and took the opportunity to memorialize the throne to ease the Portuguese out of Macao into Lang-pai and its surrounding seas. 29

Even though Lu Ting-lung failed to have the throne adopt his policy, in his memorial of 1613 Censor Kuo Shang-pin showed that he was strongly influenced by Lu's line of thought. In forceful language Kuo blamed the mismanagement of Macao by the local authorities in allowing the Portuguese to use Macao as a temporary trading site first and then gradually to turn it into a permanent settlement which appeared hostile to the empire at times. The Portuguese population's offering the Japanese pirates asylum in Macao and their defiance of local laws and regulations were particularly intolerable. 30 Kuo insisted that the orthodox policy of distinguishing the foreigners (barbarians), who should be kept outside of the boundaries, and the Han Chinese, who were considered subjects of the interior, ought to be enforced. But in order to show the magnanimous attitude of the emperor, the foreigners should be allowed to enjoy exemption from customs dues for one or two years so as to help defray their expenses of putting up houses inside Macao. Then the Portuguese were to send away first those who worked for them, such as the Japanese, the negroes and other deperadoes. 31 And finally stipulations should be made to effect the evacuation of Portuguese with their wives and children out of Macao. They would, however, be allowed to carry out their trade in Lang-pai and the outer seas as before. 32

Kuo Shang-pin, kuo-chi-chien shu-kao, in Ling-nan i-shu, ed. by Wu Tsung-yao, 1831-63, ch'uan 1.

One year after Kuo submitted his memorial, the viceroy of Liang-Kuang, Chang Ming-kang, sent a report to the throne on the recent activities of Portuguese in Macao. 33 The purpose of the report was a special reference to the action taken to deport from Macao a considerable number of Japanese hired by the Portuguese who had committed numerous assaults on local officials. He was quite conscious of the menace of the growing unruliness of the Portuguese when they were allied with the Japanese: the presence of Portuguese in Macao within the territories of Kuang-tung is as threatening as an abscess on the human body. The presence of Japanese pirates in Macao adds to its intensity like a ferocious tiger 'winged'. 34 The menace of the Portuguese in Macao was made even more pungent by the reports of China's agents under cover in Japan that the westerners were largely responsible for smuggling lead or metal out of China to supply the Japanese. 35 Lead was also reported to have been manufactured into bullets which constituted the main source of Japan's armaments. What was more alarming was the discovery that Portuguese leaving the port of Nagasaki often secretly carried aboard Japanese spies back to Macao. These Japanese spies would then infiltrate into Canton and apart from sending back information about China to Japan, they were also to create occasions of turmoil on the eve of a Japanese invasion. 36

Viceroy Chang Ming-kang, however, advised against the proposals to either annihilate the Portuguese population in Macao or to remove them from Macao to the outer seas around Lang-pai. Chang argued that since Macao was surrounded on three sides by the seas which were closely guarded, the Portuguese had to be dependent upon the local authorities for provisions and were therefore at the mercy of the Chinese government. On the other hand, if they were removed out into the seas it would be extremely difficult to keep them under control. 37 According to Chang, the wisest policy would be to tighten up the regulations governing the movement of foreigners in and out of Macao and to strengthen the Chinese defensive units in the neighbouring areas. It is better to render perspicuous to them our deliberations of regulation and administering them to the effect that no one single renegade can (from the interior) nor any Japanese (from outside) sneak into Macao. 38

Viceroy Chang's bold suggestion was most likely prompted by the callous and tough line put forward by Kuo Shang-pin in his memorial. Chang's stand, however, represented a more compromising and tolerant attitude toward the residence of Portuguese in Macao. It also showed due recognition of local economic needs for foreign trade which was presumably the dominant reason of the central government to tolerate foreigners in Macao all those years. Even though this recognition was never formally articulated it was in fact implied by most policy discussants. The rationale behind such opinion was apparent in their memorials, attesting to the fact that there was still strong support for the line of thought formulated by the abolitionists of a prohibitive foreign trade policy during the 1530's. 39 The rationale could be easily followed. By allowing (foreign) ships to come to Macao, the trade was yielding for imperial consumption a sufficient supply of incense, which was quite eagerly sought and easily obtained. 40 That is presumably why Wang Po, who was the Hai-tao fu-shih, permitted the Portuguese to come to Macao for trade in 1557. The trade also yielded an annual income in terms of customs dues. Thus Wang Tso, the military commander in Macao at the time of Wang Po, also spoke on behalf of the Portuguese for permission to use Macao as a trading port in return for an annual payment of customs dues. 41 Pang Shang-pang alluded to this annual income and admitted that it was at least "a short-term profit."42 Even though hostile to Portuguese residing in Macao, Kuo Shang-pin, nevertheless, conceded to the "Portuguese benefitting us with their trade" and recorded "an annual income of 20 thousand taels" derived from the Macao trade. 43 Censor Chen Wu-te in his memorial of 1569 further attested to the rationale behind the opening of Macao to trade when he wrote, it was because the authorities, on the prospect of benefitting from their [foreigners'] accumulated wealth and valuables... that Macao and other places were opened for them to reside. 44

The mentality of officials serving and of people residing along the coast and their attitude towards maritime trade and the Portuguese were most vividly summarized in the words of Lin Hsi-yuan, who was a native of Fu-chien and served in various administrative posts within Kuang-tung:

Each time the Portuguese came they brought with them native products such as pepper, sapan-wood, garu-wood, ivory, perilla-ocymoides oil, frankincese, sandal wood and other incense to sell to the Chinese people in the border at a very cheap price. But what they had spent instead on the Chinese through their daily needs of provisions such as rice, noodles, pigs and chickens was several times the ordinary price. That is why the Chinese people are anxious to do business with them. The Portuguese have not invaded our borders, have not killed our people, and have not robbed us of our property. Furthermore, when they first arrived they were troubled by the pirates who infested our coasts and so they drove away the pirates [for us] who are afraid of them. The notorious pirate leader Lin Chien was so fierce at sea that the Chinese authorities could not subdue him, but the Portuguese removed the danger for us. Thus pirates who flourished for twenty years were suppressed in a single day. This shows that the Portuguese have not been pirates. They have not harmed our people but in fact have benefitted them. 45

It was therefore no surprise that Viceroy Chang Ming-kang's more compromising attitude finally gained the day when his proposed measures were adopted by the court. This debate shows that from the 1550's until the early seventeenth century the Ming government had been searching for means, methods and rationale to deal with the Portuguese in Macao. Sufficient extant records serve to demonstrate that in response, while the central government officials took to the task of providing for rationalization and theorization, proposals for actual measures to be implemented on the scene were also formulated and submitted to the throne by provinvial officials. 46 It is perhaps time to examine the debate of 1614 more closely.

The person who most comprehensively discussed the various views on the Portuguese in Macao was Huo Yu-hsia, a native of Nan-hai district in Kuang-tung, and the second son of Huo T'ao, the Minister of Rites. 47 Huo Yu-hsia considered the application of force to suppress the Portuguese population in Macao an inferior method of controlling foreigners. According to him, the superior way would be to culturally assimilate them so that there would be compliance without protest or rebellion. 48 A mediocre way would be to strictly forbid their coming:

The foreigners [violating the law] to trade in Macao should be distinguished from the activities of the rebels. The benevolent will not abstain from pacifying his vassals from all directions. It is not the gesture of the righteous to have collected customs dues from them [foreigners in Macao] and then, speculating on their evil desire without sufficient grounds, called for wild discussions [on preventive measures] against them. Without close examination to find out whether they are rebellious or submissive, good or bad, before designating them all as thieves will only lead to indiscriminate destruction of the good and the bad alike. This is what the wise would seek to avoid. It may be asked, 'What then [should we do]?' 'I think the best policy is to constitute a formal local government with its bureaucracy to administer them. It is a mediocre policy to send them away and forbid them to come again while the inferior policy would be to provoke them to rebel by cutting off their source of supplies [provisions] and then exterminate them. 49

What Huo outlined as the inferior and mediocre policies in the discourse seemed to have characterized the strong opinion of many officials at the time. The Ch'ou-hai chung-pien noted the militant mood of many officials who showed readiness to take strong action to either exterminate the Portuguese settlement in Macao or remove them from the port to the outer seas. 50 This was in the second half of the sixteenth century. Pang Shang-peng in his memorial of 1564 gave a short allusion to such desperate ventures: Some were of the opinion that fire be set to their settlement in order to break them up. But the attempt last year was not very successful and almost led to disaster. 51 It is important to point out that the year in which Pang submitted this memorial was the same year when the mutiny of the maritime defensive unit at Che-lin in Ch'ao-chou prefecture occurred and was promptly suppressed by Wu Kuei-fang the Kuang-tung governor, and Yü Ta-yu, the military commander in the Canton area.

Yü, in an official letter to Wu concerning "assemblage of warships for an attack on the rebels" which was referring to the Che-lin revolt, mentioned the use of foreign ships from Macao in the suppression. 52 In another letter written possibly somewhat later in the same year and definitely after the suppression of the Che-lin revolt, entitled, "The foreign traders should not presume upon their meritorious service to behave perversely," Yü expressed his annoyance over the unruly behaviour of the Portuguese in Macao and was of the opinion that military force be applied to subdue them. 53

But this was what Huo Yü-hsia advised against, since there was no assurance whether it might lead to "indiscriminate destruction of the good and the bad alike" and therefore "what the wise should seek to avoid." Whether Wu Kuei-fang was influenced by Huo's argument or that the emperor was convinced of the wisdom of such advice and in turn instructed Wu not to make the move against the Portuguese remains unknown for lack of historical evidence. But the extant records tell that Wu Kuei-fang did not adopt Yü's proposal to engage "the Portuguese in a decisive battle". On the other hand, Wu seemed to have accepted that Yü's point of the need to anticipate Portuguese encroachment was very well taken. For after the revolt in Che-lin had been put down, Wu spent a large sum of money, even against the protest of Canton's residents, to fortify and heighten the outer walls of the city. This might have been prompted by the experience of the rebellious Ceh-lin defensive units attacking the city but the major motive behind the construction project was to take precaution against the Portuguese in Macao who might presume upon their meritorious service to behave perversely. Wu's concern could be seen by the inscriptions on the epitaph of Wu Kuei-fang, written by Huo Yu-hsia, which has the following lines:

It has been a long time since foreigners in the port [of Macao]

Had their eyes on our coastal areas,

Oft with the desire to encroach upon the territories.

Now that a strongly fortified city wall has been constructed,

Even if they come,

They can but stare at the wall and sigh,

"What an imposing piece of defensive work!

Let's not waste our efforts."

Thus quietly dismissing an evil desire,

With measures [precautionary] taken ahead of time!

Is not that a comfort! 54

That there was genuine fear of a menacing foreign population in Macao as the "roots of future anxieties" had already been emphasized above. But it was very vaguely put forth by such advocates as Wang Shih-sheng, Wang Lin-hang and Ting I-chung. Now the anxiety was made apparent. It was the security of Canton city that was thought to be in jeopardy. Even Huo Yu-hsia, who slighted the idea of a military showdown with the Portuguese, mentioned the then commonly-shared fear by people in Canton of a highly probable attack on the city by Portuguese shortly after the Che-lin revolt. 55 Ch'en Wan-yen, a notable scholar with a chin-shih degree who declined to serve the government, also testified to Wu's well-founded fear and timely action taken to ward off a Portuguese attempt on the city in his eulogy on Wu's city wall construction project when he said, your feat in defending the city by forestalling their [Portuguese] desire is equal to that achieved by hundreds of thousands of soldiers. 56

Such widespread fear certainly explains why there were vociferous officials clamouring for what Huo Yu-hsia would only contemplate as a mediocre policy, that is the expulsion of the Portuguese from Macao into the outer seas. Lu Ting-lung was only one among many and certainly not the first one to put forth this proposal in 1607. Kuo Shang-pang in 1613, emphasising the urgency to seek prompt preventive measures against growing recalcitrance of the Macanese, pressed forcefully once again for the evacuation of the Portuguese. But Huo disputed the soundness of this policy since it ignored two local realities. First, it would deprive Canton (through Macao) of a significant income from customs dues leading to economic depression. Second, the Portuguese community in Macao could be a buffer sheltering Hsiang-shan district from piratical harassments.

Huo explained why he considered the evacuation of the Portuguese a mere mediocre policy in the following manner:

Some may argue that if we are so unfortunate as to have the foreigners sent off so that peace at the frontiers will no longer be disturbed, what bounteous blessings Heaven has already bestowed upon us! Why do we still consider this a mediocre policy? I would answer thus, that it is the responsibility of the Son of Heaven to guard against the foreign states in all directions but a great king will not fail to think for the benefits of the people. While it is the imposing deed of a hegemon to obtain provisions from the enemies in order to pacify the frontiers. In the last hundred years the military expenses of Kuang-tung and Kuang-hsi provinces had been paid off by income derived from [maritime] trade This income can be compared to that of a large district [hsien]. Once it [the trade] is abandoned, how can the expenses of military operations be met? This is the first disadvantage. Macao protects the seas around Hsiang-shan district so pirates like Lao-van, Tseng I-pan and Ho Ya-pa have not dared to face it straight. As a result the whole area is assured of peace. If we remove the foreigners in Macao, Hsiang-shan will have to defend itself. This is the second disadvantage. 57

It was precisely because of these two "disadvantages", which tend to disregard local needs and realities, that Huo Yu-hsia considered the deportation of Portuguese out of Macao the inferior policy. But what Huo considered the superior policy could be effected by first attempting to implement a mediocre policy. By this he meant that instructions be sent to the foreigners in Macao to inform them that their wayward activities had necessitated their deportation. 58 For, it is the apprehension of the Provincial Commander-in-Chief that since you foreigners are aggregating ruffians, purchasing horses and manufacturing fire-arms, our local avaricious elements may be instigated to start an uprising, and thereby [the Provincial Commander-in-Chief is ordering local officials and troops to remove your houses and to send you back home so as to avoid disaster to both parties. 59 If they chose to obey they would be peacefully sent away, thus avoiding a military confrontation. But the ideal situation was when they begged to be allowed to stay and were willing to register as local households. Then we should report to the central government and request that a formal local government with its bureaucracy be set up to regulate them according to the Code of the Han [people]. Thus by inducing them to follow 'the way of the Hsia' and to administer them with 'the principle of yielding and humility' there would be acceptance of peace without protest or rebellion and therefore should be considered the best policy. 60

Wang Lin-hang, Yüeh-chien-pien, in Hsuan-lan-t'ang so'ung-shü hsu-chi, Nanking, 1947, ch'uan 3.

That the excellence and agreeableness of a policy which avoided the use of force in favour of moral suasion was well-received and supported by Confucian scholar-officials,needs no elaboration. It was often echoed in memorials. Kuo Shang-pin advised that before effective preventive measures were taken the officials had to exemplify themselves in high moral virtues: be restrained on our avarices and their desires will be held in check. Neither misuse benevolence nor power on them so as to gain their respect. Seek to morally transform and subdue them so as to win their loyalty. 61

Wang Lin-hang, Yüeh-chien-pien,

Pang Shang-peng in his 1564 memorial discussed various prevailing opinions on how to keep the Portuguese under control. He dismissed the ideas of filling up the narrow passage to block foreign ships sneaking into Hsiang-shan and of setting fire to the Portuguese settlement without much hesitation. Another opinion was to erect a gate as sole ingress across the isthmus connecting Macao to the nearest village in Hsiang-shan district. An additional official post would then be set up and the man in charge should be fully responsible for supervising and regulating the ins and outs of both Chinese and foreigners in their passage through the gate. 62 Pang did not question the effectiveness of this measure but he was concerned that the garrisons might be isolated and it was difficult to send reinforcements in case of a sudden attack by the enemy. Pang then proposed to have the Vice Maritime Circuit Commissioner (Hsun-hai-tao fu-shin) transferred to Hsiang-shan to work towards the submission of the foreigners. 63 The commissioner was to try to overawe them with the virtue, majesty and magnanimity of the court, into conceding to moving out of Macao into the outer seas. Should such a move fail, the provincial governor needed to be alerted. He should then pay a visit to Macao to make it clear to the Portuguese the deliberation of the court and seek to settle the matter in a satisfactory (peaceful)manner. For he should seek not to discourage their admiration of the Middle Kingdom... but to peacefully reduce their arrogance. 64 Foreign ships would still be allowed to anchor in Lang-pai and the neighbouring seas but the prohibition against local residents going out to sea, doing illicit, private trade with foreigners or working for foreign ships must be strictly executed. When the law was justly and vigorously enforced the government's power and prestige would be firmly established. The foreigners could then be induced to undergo a tacit moral transformation to quell their evil desires and be subdued. Only then could "the roots of disaster be eradicated."65 Thus Pang came very close to what Huo Yu-hsia advised as the best policy -to administer and regulate them according to Chinese laws and to induce them to follow "the way of the Hsia" so that the foreigners in Macao would be accepted as "Chinese" and thus remain thoroughly pacified

Little wonder that Viceroy Chang Ming-kang won the debate in 1614 when he insisted that it is better to render perspicuous to them our deliberations of regulating and administering them to the effect that no one single renegade could sneak from the interior and no one single Japanese could sneak from outside [the sea], into Macao. 66 This was good indication of the influence of the line of thought put forth in Huo Hu-hsia's all pervasive and penetrating discourse on possible means to control foreigners in Macao. It was the result of subtle consideration of all aspects of the merits and demerits of various prevailing opinions entertained by Ming officials and literati. Local needs and realities were carefully balanced against monarchical interests and established laws. A predilection for peaceful ways to transform the unruly nature of foreigners was made in compliance with Confucian principles. The net result was "the most effective means to keep foreigners in Macao under control" as perceptively requested and suggested by Huo Yu-hsia. From 1614 until the end of Ming this realistic approach was preferred as a response to the 'Macao Problem' dating to the 1550's.


Mention has already been made of the Macao settlement's coming into prominence on account of the peculiar historical circumstances of the time. From the 1530's to the 1560's the Ming emperors vascillated on a firm policy that might take care of the inseparable related problems of smuggling, piracy and maritime trade with foreigners. The encompassing nature of these three problems and factional strife at court had mainly accounted for the vascillation. In the absence of a firm central government policy, the local officials were left to employ their own devices to accommodate the trading needs of the Portuguese. These devices were then passively adopted and tolerated by the central government. But it was not until the time of the term of office of Viceroy Chang Ming-kang in 1614 that a consistent policy to deal with the Portuguese in Macao decisively had been either formulated or endorsed by the central government.

Thus by the end of the Ming dynasty, a policy was gradually but finally being shaped to accommodate two facts of Chinese foreign relations: that foreign maritime trade was profitable, and that practical considerations of effective coastal defense was essential. First, in economic terms, it is accurate to say that the formula arose in response primarily to local economic needs and, secondarily, to imperial needs. After the alteration of the early Ming policy of exempting tributary ships from paying customs duties, the income derived from collecting these had become a main item of revenue for coastal provinces, particularly Kuang-tung and Kuang-hsi. Besides, the livelihood of a large section of the coastal population was dependent upon participation in the maritime trade and in fact so much so that illicit, private trade had been rampant since 1522-23. 67 Then by allowing Portuguese to trade in Macao rarities such as lung-yen-hsiang (ambergris) could be brought to China from what is now South-east Asia. These rarities often formed cherished items for consumption within the imperial household. The urgency of imperial need for such rarities and the hazards often to be undergone before they could be obtained were sufficiently illustrated in various Ming official accounts and discussed elsewhere. 68 Secondly, for coastal defense purposes, Macao, a strategically important port in maritime trade and in regard to the security of Canton city, could well ward off the ambitions of pirates and local rebels as a buffer state in the hands of the militarily formidable Portuguese. Moreover, it had proved helpful to alienate the Portuguese from China's treacherous elements and thus had contributed to the subsidence of the Wo-k'ou. As one Ming specialist in explaining the subsidence of the Wo-k'ou summed up in this manner, even though the military aspect played a leading role in putting down the flame of piracy, changes in the trading policy of China also helped in dousing the fire. One of these was the understanding reached between the Portuguese and the Chinese officials of Kuang-tung regarding foreign trade in the Canton area... Once this trade relationship was normalized, the illicit smuggling activities in the Chekiang and Fukien waters, which had invited the imperial wrath, were no longer attractive. The Portuguese much preferred this newly won status and were most willing to lend the Kuang-tung authorities a hand in the suppression of the smuggling-piratical activities there. 69

This Ming policy well deserves its title of the "Macao Formula" because it emanated from the operations in Macao. The "Formula" was never clearly stated as a formula in any official text. But the rationale and assumptions that helped to bring about the formula were clear and forthright: in order to succeed in keeping foreigners under control, China's own treacherous elements must be kept from collaborating with the foreigners. In short, the formula emanated from the Ming convictions that the most feared and intolerable situation in diplomacy would be the formation of an anti-dynastic fraternity between foreigners as represented by the Portuguese, the Japanese and the Chinese natives who were willing to serve as their collaborators. In realistic terms, the formula permitted trade without tribute for foreigners. But the trade was to be administered. The main reason why the Kuang-tung officials wanted to make arrangements for the Portuguese to trade was to tax the foreign ships. For this reason, the Portuguese had to agree to pay the customs dues as were required of any other Southeast Asian tributary state which came to trade in Canton. Another concern of the Chinese officials was that they should personally benefit from such an agreement. The last condition set for the Portuguese was, therefore, to provide gifts discretely to the Kuang-tung officials. However, the unpalatable image of the Portuguese had necessitated the urge to bring them within bureaucratic supervision but political considerations against the potential collaborators in the interior had all the time proven to be a most potent motivation for the codification of regulations. To ensure peace and order, the contact was confined to Macao, a peripheral area which can be confidently defended. In addition, at this point of contact, there were to be sufficient bureaucratic means to supervise the activities of the foreigners and to control the treacherous elements from the interior.

It is important to note that the formula marks a deviation from any Ming pattern of trade and relations with other states in the Sinocentric world order. Relations with the Portuguese according to the formula did not gain direct imperial endorsement throughout the Ming dynasty. The Portuguese were never recognized as a vassal of the Ming. No Portuguese envoy was ever received by the Son of Heaven. As a result no tribute was sent to Peking by the Portuguese in Macao. In short, the relations with the Portuguese were never highlighted by the performance of the proper ceremonious rites.

Trade relations were, nevertheless, made possible through the connivance of the provincial officials. The exchange was voluntary. Its continuance depended on the goodwill of the Portuguese to honour their obligations to the local officials and the willingness of the Chinese officials to run the risk of being censured by Peking. In realistic terms it depended on whether both sides had any compelling needs for the profits that could be derived from such an exchange. But the workability of the formula, above all, had to largely rely on the compliance and tranquility of the Portuguese in Macao.

As later events proved, the Portuguese remained tranquil throughout the rest of the Ming period. Their compliance and simulated obedience, prompted by the desire to secure supplies of silk from Canton for their Japan trade, gradually reassured the Ming bureaucratic fears. The Portuguese also helped to secure their footing in Macao by not only living up to the obligations they undertook to fulfill but also by offering extra services. One of these was military aid to the Kuang-tung authorities to suppress the mutinous soldiers in 1564. As the Kuang-tung authorities gained greater confidence in the Portuguese, they were also encouraged by the acquiesce of Peking. By the end of the sixteenth century the Ming Court was not ignorant of such relations with the Portuguese since various memorials had been sent by censors to the court about the state of affairs in Macao. The Macao formula was, nevertheless, passively tolerated. Dynastic unconcern with a sea frontier region may have been one reason. The fact that the trade could satisfy imperial needs for rarities and keep the Portuguese in check was another. But most important of all, the formula offered a compromise to the two seemingly incompatible but dominant factors in Ming diplomacy: a pragmatic pro-trade attitude and the practical considerations of defense. The formula thus reconciled two extreme opinions that often separated the staunchly doctrinaire central officials and the more practically-minded provincial officials. What was more important, by the time the Macao settlement came to be known by the central government the formula had proved to be workable.


1. For a detailed account of the arrival of the Portuguese and their activities before the 1550's in China see K. C. Fok, "The Macao Formula: A Study of Chinese Management of Westerners from the Mid-sixteenth Century to the Opium War Period", unpublished Ph. D dissertation, University of Hawaii, 1978, pp. 33-64, for a list of other works related to the subject see K. C. Fok, "Early Ming Images of the Portuguese" in R. Ptak (ed.), Portuguese Asia: Aspects in History and Economic History (Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries) Heidelberg University, 1987, p. 143, fn. 1.

2. Pang Shang-p'eng, Pai-k' o-ting che-kao in Kuang-tung wen-hslen, ed. by Lo Hsüeh-p'eng, 1864, ch'uan 14, p. 8b.

3. Kuo Shang-pin, Kuo chi-chien shu-kao in Ling-nan i-shu, ed. by Wu Tsung-yao, 1831-63, ch'uan 1, pp. 13b-14a.

4. Chu Ta-chün, Kuang-tung hsin-yu (n. d.). ch'uan 3, p. 8.

5. Yin Kuang-yen and Chang Ju-lin, eds. Ao-men chi-lüeh in Pi-chi hsiao-shuo ta-kuan hsü-pien. Reprint. Taipei, 1975, ch'uan 1, p. 9b.

6. For a detailed discussion on the Ming debate for a maritime trade policy during the 1530's between the prohibitionists and the abolitionists see K. C. Fok, "The Macao Formula", pp. 51-57.

7. Chu Huai, ed., Hsin-hsiu Hsiang-shan hsien-chih (1827), ch'uan 6, p. 27a. Hereafter cited as (HHHSHC).

8. Ibid.

9. For a discussion on the Ming's image of the Portuguese see K. C. Fok, "Early Ming Images of the Portuguese", pp. 143-155.

10. Ting I-chung has a biography in Yuan Juan (ed.), Kuang-tung tung-chih, ch'uan 243, section 13.

11. Teng Chung, Ch'ou-hai chung-pien (Wan-li edition) ch' uan 3, p. 111a.

12. Pang Shang-p'eng, ch'uan 14, p. 10a.

13. Wang Shih-sheng, Kuang-chih-i (Taichou ts'ung-shu, ed., 1817, reprint) ch' uan 3, pp. 6a-6b.

14. Wang Lin-hang, Yüeh-chien-pien in Hsüan-lan-t'ang ts'ung-shu hsü-chi, Nanking, 1947, ch' uan 3, p. 20.

15. Pang Shang-p'eng, ch'uan 14, p. 8a.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. Kuo Shang-pin, ch'uan 1, p. 13b.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid.

24. Pang Shang-p'eng, ch'uan 14, p. 9a.

25. Kuo Shang-pin, ch'uan 1, p. 13b.

26. Ming shih-lu, Shen-tsung shih-lu, (Chung-yang yen-chiu-yuan edition), Taipel, 1965, ch'uan 576, p. 8a. Hereafter cited as MSLSTSL.

27. Yü Ta-yu, Cheng-ch'i-t'ang chi, fascimile reproduction of Ming edition, n. p., 1934, ch'uan 15, pp. 23-24.

28. Teng Chung, ch'uan 3, p. 111a.

29. Ming-shin (Jen Shou edition), Taipei, 1971, ch' uan 325, p. 22b.

30. Kuo Shang-pin, ch'uan 1, pp. 14a-14b.

31. Ibid., pp. 14b-15a.

32. Ibid.

33. MSLSTSL, ch'uan 537, p. 3a, Shen Te-fu, Yeh-huo pien, n. p., 1827, ch'uan 30, pp. 37a-38a.

34. Ibid.

35. Ch'en Tzu-lung et al., Ming ching-shih wen-pien. reprint. Peking, 1962, ch'uan 400, pp. 4336-37. Hereafter cited as MCSWP.

36. Ibid.

37. MSLSTSL, ch'uan 527, p. 3a, Shen Te-fu, ch'uan 30, pp. 37a-38a.

38. Ibid.

39. For the stand of the abolitionists see K. C. Fok, "Macao Formula", pp. 53-55.

40. For a more detailed discussion of the aspect see ibid., pp. 93-95.

41. HHHSHC, Ch'uan 6, p. 27a.

42. Pang Shang-p'eng, ch'uan 14, p. 10a.

43. Kuo Shang-pin, ch'uan 1, p. 14a.

44. Ch'en Wu-te, Hsieh-shan ts'un-kao, 1870, ch'uan 1, p. 31b.

45. Lin Hsi-yüan is a native of T'ung-an, Fu chien. His biography can be found in Carrington Goodrich and Chao-ying Fang (eds.), Dictionary of Ming Biography, 1368-1644, 1976, V. I, 919-922, MCSWP, ch'uan 165, p. 1673.

46. See K. C. Fok, "Macao Formula", pp. 54-55 and discussion above, pp. 7-10.

47. Huo Yu-hsia, Huo Min-chai chi, n. p., 1857, ch'uan 19, pp. 82a-84b.

48. Ibid.

49. Ibid.

50. Teng Chung, ch'uan 3, p. 111a.

51. Pang Shang-p'eng, ch'uan 14, p. 9a.

52. Yü Ta-yu, ch'uan 15, pp. 23-24.

53. Ibid., pp. 40-41.

54. Huo Yu-hsia, ch'uan 13, pp. 4a-4b.

55. Ibid.

56. Ch'en Wan-yen, "Ho Wu Tzu-hu chungcheng hsin-chien wai-cheng hsu" in Kuang-tung wen-cheng ed. by Wu Tao-yung, n. p., 1948, ch' uan 40, pp. 10a-10b.

57 Huo Yu-hsia, ch'uan 19, pp. 82a-84b.

58. Ibid.

59. Ibid.

60. Ibid.

61. Kuo Shang-pin, ch'uan 1, p. 15 a.

62. Pang Shang-p'eng, ch'uan 14, pp. 9a-9b.

63. Ibid.

64. Ibid., p. 9b.

65. Ibid.

66.See in. 38.

67. K. C. Fok, "Macao Formula", pp. 18-44.

68. Ibid., pp. 93-95.

69. So Kwan-wai, Japanese Piracy in Ming China During the 16th Century, 1975, pp. 153-154.

* Dr K. C. Fok is a lecturer in the History Department of the University of Hong Kong. He has been an East-West Center Scholar, Senior Member of the Antiquities Advisory Board and Honorary Advisor to the Hong Kong Museum of History. His main research interests relate to the role played by Hong Kong and Macau in modern Chinese History and he is the author of several publications on this subject.

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