Historic Centre of Macao (2005)
China

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Macao, a lucrative port of strategic importance in the development of international trade, was under Portuguese administration from the mid 16th century until 1999, when it came under Chinese sovereignty. 

With its historic street, residential, religious and public Portuguese and Chinese buildings, the historic centre of Macao provides a unique testimony to the meeting of aesthetic, cultural, architectural and technological influences from East and West. 

The site also contains a fortress and a lighthouse, which is the oldest in China. The site bears testimony to one of the earliest and longest-lasting encounters between China and the West based on the vibrancy of international trade. 

  • Macao 2002. Commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the construction of St. Paul's Church, Macao. 
Macao 2002. Commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the construction of St. Paul's Church, Macao. Stamp #1 of three. Macao 2002. Commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the construction of St. Paul's Church, Macao. Stamp #2 of three.

Macao [Macau] a part of Chinese territory for centuries, first developed as a major settlement in the 16th century, after the Portuguese established a trading post on the site in 1556. 

Portugal 1999. Jesuit church of St. Paul's, Macao. Cultural Encounters between Portugal and Macao.

Portuguese colonialism in Macau had two main objectives: to develop economic and trade links with China and other Asian states, including Japan, and to spread Roman Catholicism, mainly through the efforts of Jesuit priests. 

However, because of the great size and power of the Asian states, the Portuguese had only limited success with both of these objectives. China permitted only limited economic access, and attempts to convert people to Catholicism were halted at times. Moreover, the Portuguese were competing with more aggressive European powers, such as Britain, and this limited Portugal’s scope and success internationally.

  • Portugal 1999. Jesuit church of St. Paul's, Macao. Cultural Encounters between Portugal and Macao. Scott #2300. 

Colonial activity and control in Macau reached their height in the early 17th century, but stagnated thereafter. In dealing with China, Portugal resorted to negotiation rather than military confrontation, in contrast to Britain, which obtained trading privileges in China through force in the Opium Wars (1839-1842, 1856-1860). Britain also forced China to cede control of the territory of Hong Kong, which eventually eclipsed Macau as the region’s most important port. In 1974 a military coup in Portugal brought to power a socialist government, which was sympathetic to independence movements in the country’s overseas territories. 

Although there was no strong movement for independence in Macau, Portugal approached China about Macau’s future. In 1987 Portugal and China reached an agreement by which Macau would be returned to China in 1999. In contrast to the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997, most residents of Macau supported reunification with China. Many Macau residents expressed hope that the Chinese administration would help end a violent gang war that has wracked Macau in recent years. 

The return of Macau to China proceeded smoothly on December 20, 1999, bringing to an end nearly 500 years of European colonial and territorial involvement and control in Asia. 

  • China 1997. The ruins of St. Paul's, Macao. Scott #2814. 

  • China 1999. Return of Macao to China. 

China 1997. The ruins of St. Paul's Macao.

China 1999. Return of Macao to China.

In 1993 China passed a Basic Law for Macau that provided for the operation of Macau as a Special Administrative Region of China after the transfer to Chinese rule in 1999. The law, which was approved by Portugal, allows Macau to maintain a capitalist economy and a high degree of autonomy for a period of 50 years after 1999. The Basic Law also provides for a judicial system that maintains the rule of law as a principle for operating a civil society and market economy. 

Macao 2005. View of Macao, issued at the occasion of being designated World Cultural Heritage. Stamp #1 of four. Macao 2005. View of Macao, issued at the occasion of being designated World Cultural Heritage. Stamp #2 of four. Macao 2005. View of Macao, issued at the occasion of being designated World Cultural Heritage. Stamp #3 of four. Macao 2005. View of Macao, issued at the occasion of being designated World Cultural Heritage. Stamp #4 of four.

Macao 2005. Souvenir sheet. View of Macao, issued at the occasion of being designated World Cultural Heritage.

Most Chinese people in Macau are Buddhists, and the region contains several important Buddhist temples. Roman Catholicism, the religion of about 6 percent of the population, is the dominant Christian faith.

Among Macao's historic structures the chief and most symbolic of Macao are the ruins of St. Paul's. They are a reminder of the role of the Jesuits in bringing Christianity to the Far East. 

  • Macao 2005. Souvenir sheet containing the fourth stamp in the above set. A Jesuit in the garb of Matteo Ricci seems to be posing with tourists in front of St. Paul's. 

The ruins actually refer to the remains of both the Jesuit Church of the Mother of God and St. Paul's College. The church was built, it is thought, according to the plans of a Jesuit architect, Carlo Spinola. It was begun in 1602, a happy blend of Renaissance architecture and eastern motifs. It suffered a number of fires, the last in 1835 which left only the stone façade. It had been the largest Christian church in Asia. The College was the first Christian college in the Far East and its printing press produced many important books. 

Macao 2002. Commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the construction of St. Paul's Church, Macao. Stamp #3 of three.

Macao 2002. Souvenir sheet. Commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the construction of St. Paul's Church, Macao.

Most people in Macau are ethnic Chinese and either came from, or their ancestors came from, Guangdong Province. Other groups living in the region include migrants from Hong Kong and Macanese people, who are of mixed Portuguese and Chinese ancestry. Macau has two official languages: Cantonese, the regional Chinese dialect and the dominant tongue spoken by Macau residents, and Portuguese, which is reflected on the stamps shown on this page with both Chinese and Portuguese impression. Macanese have both Cantonese and Portuguese language skills. Many locals also speak Putonghua (Mandarin Chinese) and English. 

China 1999. Souvenir sheet. Return of Macao to the Motherland.

On December 20, 1999, the People's Republic of China resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Macao, marking an end of Macao's long history of separation from the motherland, and washing away the humiliation that the Chinese people had suffered for over four centuries. 

This was another big event for the Chinese people after Hong Kong's return. Macao will enjoy greater stability and development in the new century under the guidance of the policy of "one country, two systems."

  • China 1999. Souvenir sheet. Return of Macao to the Motherland. 

Sources and links: 

Other World Heritage Sites in China (on this site). Inactive links are not described on stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, section China for further information about the individual properties.  

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Revised 20 jun 2007  
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