Macau (or Macao) is about 37 miles (60 km) directly west of Hong Kong
, and consists of the Macau Peninsula (attached to mainland China
) and the small islands of Taipa and Coloane - all connected by bridge or causeway.
Once a simple fishing village on the southeastern China
coastline, it was colonized by the Portuguese
in the 16th century. It then developed into the first European
settlement in the Far East.
Because of its geographic position and inland port, it quickly became a vital base for regional merchants, and for international commerce between China
and the western world.
Initially, the Portuguese
were only granted the right to anchor ships in Macau's harbors to carry out their trading activities; however, as time went on they obtained permission to erect storage sheds. The storage sheds led to more rudimentary stone houses, and by the mid-1500s the Portuguese
began paying an annual rent for their permanent settlement (and continued to make payments until 1863).
As more Portuguese
settlers flocked to Macau, they began demanding self-administration. In 1583, they were permitted to establish a senate to manage various issues concerning their social and economic affairs under strict supervision of the Chinese
In the summer of 1622 Macau was attacked by Dutch
forces intent on turning the region into a possession of their own, but were thwarted by the Portuguese
Then, following the Opium War in 1842, Macau became an official territory under Portuguese
During World War II, Japan
respected the Portuguese
neutrality pact in Macau, and the region prospered as the only neutral port in South China
. However, after Japanese
troops seized a British
steamer in Macau (killing about 20 guards) they demanded a group of their own "advisors" be placed within Macau's borders, and created a Japanese
protectorate of Macau lasting until 1945.
As the People's Republic of China
formed in 1949, the Beijing government affirmed that the treaty declaring Portugal
rule of Macau was an "unequal treaty." Not ready to settle the matter at hand, the issue laid dormant until riots broke out in Macau in 1966.
A general dissatisfaction with the Portuguese
government fell over Macau, influenced by the Cultural Revolution in China
. In 1974, the Portuguese
dictatorship was overthrown in Lisbon, and after the new government had been established it was declared that Macau become a Chinese
territory "under Portuguese
The 'Joint Declaration on the Question of Macau' was signed in 1987, setting the stage for Macau to be placed completely within China's
jurisdiction on December 20, 1999.
True to their word, in December of 1999, Portugal
officially returned control of Macau to China
, and it became a Special Administrative Region (or SAR) of China
In the exchange, China
agreed that until 2049, Macau (as is), will enjoy a high degree of autonomy in all matters, except foreign and defense.
In the middle of the skyscrapers and its modernized front, sits the Historic Center of Macau, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that incorporates numerous historic buildings and churches, fortresses, monuments, an ancient palace, and friendly urban squares.
Macau has grown explosively over the past decade and continues to expand rapidly as some of the world's largest casino operators have established a strong presence along with entertainment, concerts, industry trade shows and international art exhibitions.
According to The World Factbook
, Macau has the second highest life expectancy in the world.