Lau points out its significance for not only the history of Macao but the whole world. “They show the port of Macao as a centre for exchange between East and West and its important role in promoting international cultural exchanges. They also show the process of colonial expansion of Western powers and the rapid changes in Asia, especially in China. They help us understand the unique foreign policy of the Qing government toward the aggression of Western powers from its peak to its decline at the end of the 19th century and the unique role played by Macao in this historical transition.” Until the First Opium War and the establishment of Hong Kong as a British colony in 1842, Macao was the sole port in China open to foreign ships and the only place in the country with a resident foreign population including families, Christian schools, seminaries and missionaries. The documents present a rare and vivid picture of two centuries of life in Macao and are one of its historical treasures. Its value is attested by the number of scholars who have come to read through the collection and consult with archival experts, as well as its publication by the Macao Foundation. “Many researchers come to Macao, from mainland China, the United States, France, Japan, Britain and other countries to consult the copies of documents we have here,” Lau confirms.
CHAPAS SINICAS RESILIENTLY SURVIVE A LONG JOURNEY
At the end of the 19th century, the documents were taken to Portugal and stored in the National Archive of Torre do Tombo in Lisbon. Few people at the time realised their importance. No one possessed the linguistic or scholarly competence to read or evaluate them, so they slept peacefully in their boxes. During the first half of the 20th century, Portugal was fortunate to avoid the fate of many countries in Europe that were occupied, bombed and damaged by two World Wars. The boxes were not disturbed; the documents remained untouched and preserved in good condition. In the early 1950s, Fang Hao, a Jesuit priest and professor of history at National Taiwan University, visited the National Archive of Torre de Tombo. He consulted Chapas Sinicas and recognised the importance of the collection
The documents help us understand the unique foreign policy of the Qing government toward the aggression of Western powers from its peak to its decline at the end of the 19th century and the unique role played by Macao in this historical transition
despite its lack of organisation or classification. Numerous scholars followed Fang to conduct preliminary research on the collection, including Pu Hsin‑Hsien, a professor from the University of Madrid. Their initial findings attracted the interest of Chinese history scholars around the world. A full survey of the documents was not conducted until the late 1980s when former Director of the Archives of Macao Isau Santos went to Lisbon. He took microfilms of the documents, catalogued them and began the long and difficult task of preparing them for publication. Current Director Lau has also devoted a number of years to studying the collection. A graduate of history, she possesses a competent understanding of the classical language used in the documents which is substantially different from modern Chinese (introduced and put into common use in the mid ‑1910s). During the imperial period, civil servants used classical language for official documents which was not readily accessible by ordinary civilians. “I could understand most of the documents,” says Lau who still needed to consult dictionaries NOVEMBER 2016