Friday, June 03, 2005

Religious Tolerance in Macau

In our Walk the Talk guide to Macau, we often discuss the great influence of the Jesuits there, and their frequent clashes with their more orthodox Dominican brethren. However, it is also important to note that while the influence of Christianity ran deep in early Macau, it was also much less strict than in Portugal or other Portuguese territories that had been conquered by force. For one thing, the Chinese authorities, according to Charles Boxer (1938) would never have tolerated the auto-da-fe or more extreme punishments of the Inquisition; also the Viceroys of Goa had much less control over Macau. He cites Bocarro's 1635 monograph on Macau, which includes a very interesting division of the population into married Portuguese, married 'natives' (which included Chinese, Japanese, and Javanese) and then:

"...many Portuguese sailors, pilots, and masters, the majority of them married in the Kingdom (i.e. Portugal), whilst others are bachelors who sail in the voyages for Japan, Manila, Solor, Macassar, and Cochin-China. There are over 150 of these, some of them very wealthy, with capital of over 50,000 xerafines, and who are resolved never to go to Goa, lest they may be seized by the justices for some offence or by the Viceroys for His Majesty's service. There are also many rich unmarried merchants, to whom the same reasons apply."

Also, given that Portugal was under the rule of Spain at this time, the far-flung Portuguese outpost of Macau likely served as a hotbed of anti-Spanish rule from Iberia.

Casual 21st century observers of 17th century Macau may have a visual picture of a devout sea-faring community dominated by religious authorities; yet spirituality and very earthy secular concerns were suffused in the Portuguese colonial plan in equal measure. The fundamental conflict between these two impulses for God and for lucre, never wholly resolved, appears to us to be the fatal flaw that was the undoing of their empire. It was certainly the case in Japan, when Shogun Ieyasu discovered that he could trade with Dutch merchants for Chinese silk without having to tolerate the presence of Spanish and Portuguese missionaries. But that is a story for another time....

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