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Embracing the cultural wealth of a shared historical legacy

Time:2019-06-18   Source:China Daily



The exhibition at Beijing's National Library of China, Chapas Sinicas-Stories of Macao in Torre do Tombo, features more than 100 facsimiles of documents taken from a collection at the Portuguese national archive. [Photo by FANG AIQING/CHINA DAILY]

An exhibition of official records from Macao during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) from the National Archive of Torre do Tombo opened at Beijing's National Library of China on June 10.

The exhibition, Chapas Sinicas-Stories of Macao in Torre do Tombo, features more than 100 facsimiles of documents taken from a collection at the Portuguese national archive, titled the Official Records of Macao During the Qing Dynasty (1693-1886).

Housed in Lisbon, the collection comprises more than 3,600 documents and includes many official Chinese records and their Portuguese translations, plus other unofficial documents.

As well as diplomatic and public affairs, the archive offers a deep insight into Macanese society during the 18th and 19th centuries, touching on everything from daily life and social customs to urban construction, and trade and commerce.

Macao's significance as a key hub for China's external trade and interaction, and its pivotal role at the intersection of East and West, is apparent in the every aspect of the documents.

Known as the Chapas Sinicas (Chinese documents), the collection-which was named after the stamp that was placed on official correspondences-was jointly nominated by the National Archive of Torre do Tombo and the Archives of Macao before being successfully inscribed by UNESCO onto the Memory of the World Register in 2017.

The exhibition is an important component of a yearlong cultural festival held in both countries to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Portugal, according to Luo Shugang, China's minister of culture and tourism.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of Macao's return to China.

Exchanges between China and Portugal via the Maritime Silk Road date back to the 16th century.

During the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties, Macao was a trading port where Chinese and foreign ships anchored down the coast from Guangzhou.

The port, which used to be called Hao Jing Ao, was affiliated with Xiangshan county in Guangzhou prefecture and was a key center for shipping and trade with countries like Britain, France, Russia, the United States, Sweden, the Netherlands, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

The Portuguese were permitted to stay in Macao from around the mid-16th century onward, but China maintained full sovereignty over the settlement by appointing officials and implementing laws and issuing decrees until 1849.



The exhibition at Beijing's National Library of China, Chapas Sinicas-Stories of Macao in Torre do Tombo, features more than 100 facsimiles of documents taken from a collection at the Portuguese national archive. [Photo by FANG AIQING/CHINA DAILY]

Many of the documents on display at the exhibition in Beijing are official exchanges of correspondence between the Chinese authorities and the Portuguese Office of the Procurator of the Loyal Senate of Macao during this period of Chinese sovereignty.

The collection was later brought to Portugal and lay forgotten in the archivist's office of the national archives until 1952, when the late Chinese historian Fang Hao-a specialist in ancient East-West relations-visited the Torre do Tombo and recognized the importance of the documents.

The previously unverified documents were then examined by groups of scholars from both countries over the course of the following six decades.

The ongoing exhibition is divided into eight sections, including the domestic and foreign inhabitants and officials of Macao, Western missionaries and merchants from Europe and the Americas, and two sections that examine the links between Britain and Macao and the rest of Asia.

Also exhibited are documents related to the ancient Whampoa anchorage and the "Thirteen Hongs" (factories), a guild of official Chinese merchants and trading houses that held a monopoly over trade in the region during the early Qing Dynasty.

According to Silvestre Lacerda, director general of the Directorate-General for Books, Archives and Libraries of Portugal, these documents detail the confrontation between the different ideas and visions of the world, negotiations of economic and commercial interests, and how coexisting nationalities resolved conflicts and dealt with opposing viewpoints.

"What is depicted-and dare I say is still reflected nowadays-is the primary expression of the spirit of open dialogue, the ability to cooperate and the ability to overcome obstacles," he says.

The archives are due to be digitized and will be made available online, Lacerda adds.

According to Portugal's culture minister, Graca Fonseca, the exhibition demonstrates how rich and extensive the relationships among the different peoples living in Macao were in the past.

This common cultural heritage and shared past suggest a promising outlook for bilateral relations and deeper bonds between the people of China and Portugal, she says.

The exhibition runs through July 26.