A century has passed since the United States and the other great powers sailed their gunboats up the great rivers of China to enforce their demands on the emperors. The passage of time has not erased this humiliating memory from the minds of the Chinese Communist leaders, who have succeeded the emperors in all but title. In Macao they have displayed a savage skill for waging “gunboat diplomacy” against the miniscule Portuguese enclave, with as much finesse as the Western imperialists themselves ever played the ruthless game. Sailing a flotilla of gray gunboats into Macao’s inner harbor, the Chinese concluded a seventy-five-day war of nerves early this year by forcing the Portuguese governor to surrender most of Macao’s sovereignty to China. It was a humbling public ceremony, which turned Macao into a Chinese sphere of influence in the classic imperialistic sense.
For the Chinese the successful turn of the tables against the Portuguese must have brought a certain satisfaction. The sun sets daily on the dwindling British empire, and the tough French Foreign Legion has been reduced to guarding the wahines of Tahiti; only Portugal has remained a colonial power of the first rank, tenaciously holding on to a slender string of colonies from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans.
Neutral and polyglot
Macao, “the city of the name of God, most loyal of the colonies,” was founded in 1557 by the Portuguese explorers and has remained in Portuguese hands ever since, the oldest Western settlement in Asia. Perched precariously on the rim of Central China where the Pearl River empties into the sea, Macao occupies the tip of a peninsula across which dozens of trucks with food and merchandise travel to and from the Chinese mainland daily. Macao can also be reached directly from Hong Kong, across the water by hydrofoil. Macao survived for four centuries by means of a policy of neutralism, tempered with timely shifts before political winds. This strategy worked, for until this winter, the only battle the Portuguese had fought for Macao was in the seventeenth century, when they repulsed five Dutch attempts to take the colony, about the same time Captain John Smith was founding Jamestown in America. For the most part, both the Chinese Macanese and Portuguese Macanese have remained studiously nonaligned in order not to stir the sleeping giant next door. “When China breathes,” goes an old Macao saying, “we tremble.”
During World War I the Portuguese did declare themselves on the side of the British. And during World War II the colony reverberated at the convulsion shaking Japan and China, but the conflict left Macao untouched. Refugees doubled the colony’s population; at Macao’s gaming tables bemedaled Japanese generals in full dress uniform rubbed elbows with British merchants who had fled Hong Kong and right-wing Chinese who had either the connections or the money to flee from their Japaneseoccupied homeland.
When the war ended, Macao settled back to its quiet old ways. With its solemn cathedral looking down on cobbled streets and baroque green-shuttered houses painted in light pastel tones, Macao often seemed more like a Portuguese seaside town than a teeming Chinese city. Even the shots of Chinese border guards at a naked refugee trying to swim and drift across the Pearl River did not really make Macao nervous. The refugees could come, and thousands did, at the rate of 150 a month, but Macao was not concerned; it was busy making money.
Although the government tourist brochure takes proud note of Macao’s products — firecrackers, matches, and incense — the Portuguese do not seriously hold that Macao is an industrial city. Nor is it a lucrative holding for the Portuguese: there are no valuable rawmaterials, no land for agriculture, no deep water to enable the colony to become a trading center like Hong Kong. Macao’s annual trade deficit, in fact, runs at about $25 million.
“Most wicked city”
Hong Kong businessmen are in the habit of making the seventy-fiveminute, forty-mile hydrofoil trip to Macao, but not to buy its firecrackers, any more than tourists are drawn there by the baroque churches. The Portuguese hold on to Macao largely as a matter of face, but what attracts businessmen and tourists alike is the colony’s high rank on everybody’s “most wicked city” list — a land where pursuits forbidden elsewhere in the world can be conducted at leisure under the lenient eyes of Portuguese authorities. Authors like Somerset Maugham and Ian Fleming have invested Macao with a smoky atmosphere of sex and scandal. Opium dens, Eurasian girls, gambling casinos — they were supposed to be waiting in Macao. But as thousands of tourists who have made the journey with such erotic hopes have found, time, along with the numbing pressure of China next door, has eroded Macao’s supply of vices. Opium pipes are difficult to find there nowadays. Along the Rua da Felicidade, where magnificent teenage girls used to bare their breasts to attract customers, there are neither customers nor girls. Even the Central Hotel in downtown Macao, which used to be known throughout the Orient as the world’s tallest and largest brothel, has become a legitimate hostelry.
Some vices still flourish. Each weekend thousands of Chinese from Hong Kong ride in on the modern hydrofoils to gamble at Macao’s two big casinos. From pinstriped Hong Kong merchant barons to blackpajamaed amahs, they jostle for a place at the gaming tables; each month they leave tens of thousands of dollars behind them. But for all the chemin de fer, the visitor is unlikely to find any James Bond figures trying their luck: the smoky, fluorescent-lit atmosphere is too dreary and quiet (the Chinese are perhaps the slowest and the quietest gamblers in the world).
Traffic in gold
Macao’s gold trade too has boomed in recent years. Technically the gold business in Macao is legal. Macao did not sign the Bretton Woods agreements limiting gold imports and exports, and so a syndicate licensed by the government imports gold into Macao quite legally at the rate of almost $60 million per year. Every few weeks a hydrofoil from Hong Kong arrives laden with thousands of dollars worth of big gold bars, which are neatly stacked on Macao’s wharf. Once the bars have proceeded through customs, the syndicate melts them down into very small ten-ounce strips and ships the gold out again hidden aboard junks and sampans which sail for Hong Kong, ostensibly to sell the fish they catch along the way. All of this is still quite legal. It is only when the junks slip through British customs in Hong Kong that Macao’s gold business metamorphoses into smuggling. The British, for their part, have tried to snuff out the smuggling, but they have not succeeded; throughout the Orient, Hong Kong is still known as the central gold distributing point for all of Asia.
Most of Macao’s smuggling is in the efficient control of the government-licensed gold syndicate. But the prospect of instant riches entices some Chinese to try their own hand at gold smuggling. Their techniques are ingenious. They slip small eggs of gold into their body orifices. Sometimes they will surgically cut open a chicken, insert a small bar of gold, sew the chicken back up, and attempt to walk through Hong Kong customs with the squawking bird. These approaches are wily, but they have now become almost routine, and unfortunately for the Chinese involved, it is most often these individual smugglers whom the British pick up as they enter Hong Kong, and not the syndicate.
The pecking order
With all of this money changing hands, the difficulty for the Portuguese in Macao has been to get a piece of the action. Chinese run the gambling casinos, and Communist China’s unofficial ambassador in Macao, Mr. Ho Yin, presides with capitalistic ease over the gold syndicate. Even one of the hydrofoil lines is operated by the Communist Chinese. Squeezed out of the business world by the hustling Chinese, the Portuguese have taken refuge in their Byzantine, inefficient bureaucracy. It is a structure in which almost every Portuguese has his place and his cut of the pie.
In next-door Hong Kong, the visitor rarely sees a British face. The British are there, of course, behind the closed doors, but it is a Chinese clerk, a Chinese policeman, a Chinese customs agent who deals with all but the most critical of cases. But in Macao, it almost seems that the Portuguese advertise their colonialism. Portuguese — some of them born in Macao — direct the traffic, Portuguese staff the lowest of the civil servant jobs, and Portuguese stamp your passports when you enter Macao. The government classifies Macao as an overseas province of Portugal, although less than 1000 Chinese and Portuguese can vote in the national elections. Until this winter, the Portuguese, especially the police, did not hesitate to rough up the local Chinese. It was a fairly common sight in Macao to see a Portuguese cop send a street vendor sprawling into the street if the cop wanted the vendor to move.
There was another side to the Portuguese bureaucracy. Almost no major decision could be reached in Macao without some sort of payment
to a government official. Portuguese law was so intricate that almost no building could be built, no monetary transaction completed, no business operated without a license from the Portuguese. And licenses were not issued without money changing hands. Bribes, too, were needed when gold left Macao, when a snake boat of refugees — so called because the refugees hid like snakes beneath false decks — set sail to drop its illegal human cargo in Hong Kong. The Chinese merchants and smugglers paid the money, irritated less at having to bribe the Portuguese than at the manners of the Portuguese. As one old Chinese merchant put it, “A Chinese should be bribed with an expensive but negotiable gift, but the Portuguese just want money. They are tasteless.”
In such ways did the Portuguese add to their meager civil service salaries. Some became quite rich: one former police chief is estimated to have saved $300,000 in his fouryear tenure on Macao. But the big money goes to the Chinese — just as resident colonial officialdom opposes a Portuguese pullout because it would stop the flow of bribes into their pockets, so a “don’t rock the boat” attitude keeps the Portuguese from cutting themselves into big gold and gambling profits through increased licensing or tax procedures.
Incident at Taipa
Last November, Radio Peking could be heard fulminating that both Hong Kong and Macao occupied the “sacred and inviolable” territory of China. But it was the ineptitude of the Portuguese civil service rather than Communist agitation which triggered trouble in Macao. Only later did the Communists inflame the situation.
Taipa Island is one of the two small rocky islands just south of the main city of Macao, and a part of the six-square-mile province. Early last fall a Communist-controlled school on Taipa applied for permission to raze one of its own old buildings in order to build a new extension. School authorities wrote the Portuguese officials almost thirty times requesting action on the permit, but the torpid Portuguese bureaucracy did nothing. Finally, on November 15, the Communists took matters into their own hands and sent a construction crew to tear the building down.
In response the Portuguese sent a squad of police to stop demolition, and a battle broke out. When the dust cleared, twelve policemen and two workmen were injured, according to the Portuguese, or forty workers and two policemen, according to the Chinese. No one has determined a precise count, but it does seem clear that the Portuguese police, never known for their light touch, lustily applied their rubber nightsticks. The local Communists immediately began to beat the drums. In a series of journalistic escalations, the crisis moved from the pages of the Macao Daily News to the Canton provincial newspapers and finally to Radio Peking, which charged the Portuguese with “fascist atrocities” and warned that their “unreasonable attitude” could only lead to more trouble.
Into the middle of this situation walked the newly appointed Portuguese governor, Brigadier General Nobre de Carvalho, who arrived in Macao on November 25. His presence gave the Communists an individual on whom to focus their attacks: to their delight, the Communists learned that at one time in his long career as a colonial official, De Carvalho commanded Portuguese Angola’s secret police. Overnight the Communist newspapers began to print stories of alleged Portuguese atrocities in Angola. The stories were always spiced with what the Communists claimed was De Carvalho’s favorite boast: “In Angola only the dead are exempt from fixed labor.”
One spur to the rapidly building crisis was the element of personal confrontation. The governor’s previous record seemed to Mr. Ho Yin, the unofficial Communist boss of Macao, to portend an ironhanded regime. As one Chinese put it, “Mr. Ho wanted to make sure that the new governor realized this was Macao, not Angola, and that the Communists, not the Portuguese, ran the show.” Mr. Ho was a man accustomed to his prerogatives — he regularly used both his Portuguese and Chinese passports to go to Peking to attend the National People’s Congress, and then back to transmit Peking’s views in his capacity as the only Chinese on Macao’s Legislative Council. Under Ho, the Communists in Macao controlled all but one labor union, 90 percent of the businessmen, and a majority of the schoolchildren. All of Macao’s water and most of its food came through the crumbling Barrier Gate, originally erected to separate Macao from the influence of China. On Chinese holidays the red Communist flag fluttered from almost every door in Macao.
Mao’s man under fire
Against such a powerful Communist infrastructure, the Portuguese preserved only the patina of colonial rule. “Their policy,” said one Western observer, “is to survive.” Many Chinese in Macao used to say that “Mr. Ho is the real governor of Macao.”
There had been truth in the saying for many years. From the capitalistic splendor of his hilltop villa filled with precious Chinese porcelains and graced by three concubines, Ho managed to remain Mao Tsetung’s man in Macao by sending huge chunks of the earnings from the gold syndicate off to Peking. In return, Mao ignored Ho’s private capitalistic trappings.
But with the coming of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China, Ho found his position at the top of Macao’s Communist hierarchy seriously challenged both by local adolescent Red Guards and by the tougher elements centered in Macao’s labor unions. The first group claimed as the source of their inspiration the thoughts of Mao; the second claimed to receive their orders direct from Canton, not from Ho. The opposition to Ho from both groups coalesced around Leung Pui, a native of China who had run Macao’s unions for most of the fifteen years he had spent in Macao.
Leung Pui and his two groups of toughs looked askance at Ho’s steady accumulation of wealth; even Ho’s holy pilgrimage last year to Mao’s resistance headquarters in the caves of Yunan Province did not entirely dissuade them from the suspicion that Ho was a revisionist at heart. Thus, Mr. Ho — who, it can be assumed, would welcome Communism to Macao with about as much fervor as Henry Ford would have to Michigan — looked at the Taipa incident and Governor de Carvalho’s arrival as a double-edged opportunity. He could show the governor who was in charge, and at the same time, show his rival Communists that he was as tough as they. Mr. Ho normally moderates the differences between the Portuguese and the more militant Communists. But this time he decided to let the heat rise, and not to intervene if the Red Guards took to the streets.
Governor de Carvalho thus found himself the victim both of his own civil service’s inefficiency and of a Communist intraparty hassle. Only hours after he stepped off the boat in Macao, the Communists handed him a five-point petition on police brutality. The petition demanded that the government acknowledge its guilt in the Taipa incident, that the police publicly burn their nightsticks, that there be no more “attacks” on the Chinese in Macao, and that the families of the injured workmen be given compensation.
“Who is afraid of you?”
De Carvalho would only agree to send the demands to a study committee composed of representatives of both sides. So groups of teen-age Red Guards staged demonstrations on the city hall steps, waving and chanting from red-bound books by Mao and singing the new Red Chinese hymn, “The East Is Red.” By Saturday, December 3, with the governor still resisting their demands, the Red Guards took to the streets in force. Thousands of them surged into Macao’s city hall, and when Macao’s chief of police heaved a flowerpot at them, they beat up workers, dumped file cabinets out fourth-story windows, and taunted the cops. Swinging their billy clubs behind wicker shields, the police successfully managed to restore order and clamped a strict curfew on the town at dusk.
But the worst was still to come. As soon as the curfew lid was lifted Sunday morning, the mobs of Red Guards poured out onto the streets again. Overnight they had armed themselves with meat cleavers, sharpened bamboo poles, clubs, and rocks. They taunted the police with shouts of “Come here and charge, who is afraid of you?” Another group of Red Guard youths tied a rope around the statue of the Macanese hero Mesquita, who had saved Macao from the Chinese in 1846. Hooking the rope to the axle of a truck, they tore the marble statue from its place in the main square with the cry “Kill all the Portuguese devils. The Portuguese must leave Macao.” Adding to the tension, a Red Chinese army unit in neighboring Kwangtung Province began mortar practice on a nearby Chinese hill, while six Chinese gunboats pulled up to patrol the bay.
By now the mob, controlled by a Communist cadre which roared from group to group on motorcycles, held the streets of Macao. Portuguese barricaded themselves in their houses or fled on the remaining hydrofoils. One of those barricaded was Governor de Carvalho, who finally called out half of his 800-man army to help restore order. The police managed to keep on bungling. Moving up behind the army’s armored cars, they brought out tear gas and high-pressure water hoses, and opened up with sidearms on the crowd. Before they were through, the Portuguese killed eight rioters, a figure which the Communists embellished by accusing the Portuguese of tossing one struggling boy out a second-story window to his death.
Mr. Ho, who had not intended the protest to turn into the worst riot in Macao’s history, quickly left Macao via the peninsula in his palegreen Oldsmobile for a speedy conference with Chinese Communist officials in Kwangtung Province. Returning to Macao, Ho slipped into the back door of the governor’s palace to arrange a truce in the fighting. A short while later, Governor de Carvalho announced that he had acceded to the Communist’s five points. Meanwhile, Ho broadcast an appeal to the Chinese over the government’s radio station to go back to their homes.
Calling a Portuguese bluff
But the Communists had no intention of letting the confrontation die away. Encouraged by their success in the streets, they hardened their attitude at the conference table as the Portuguese became more reasonable. Within forty-eight hours after the Portuguese had accepted the original five Communist demands, the Chinese issued a second five points, which demanded that the Portuguese hand over eight Nationalist “spies” they held in jail, prohibit the flying of the Nationalist Chinese flag, and publicly confess in the truce accord that police “murderers” and military “assassins” had killed the eight Chinese rioters.
In the first days of the post-riot negotiations, Governor de Carvalho astutely figured that few of Macao’s capitalistic Communists actually wished to live in a Red Chinese province. In addition, the Lisbon government, using the diplomatic offices of the French, asked Peking whether China wanted the Portuguese to pack up and leave. Peking had answered no. Armed with his hunch and this diplomatic news, De Carvalho boldly asked the Committee of Thirteen, as the Communist negotiators were known, for a month in which to evacuate all Portuguese nationals and Macanese Chinese who wished to leave. He underscored his bluff by recalling the Portuguese motor ship Timor to Hong Kong to stand by for the evacuation. The bluff might have worked. For a few days the frightened Communist negotiators pondered and made no new charges. But the Portuguese government finally became weak-kneed and ordered De Carvalho to cave in to the Communist demands.
Although it is hard to comprehend the twists of Lisbon’s thinking, it is clear that it acted partly out of a fear springing from ignorance. During this crucial time De Carvalho’s desperate cables took days to reach Lisbon; in the end the Lisbon government finally flew out a three-man delegation headed by former govvernor Commodore Pedro Correia Barros to find out what was going on. They brought with them the message to avoid “another Goa at any cost,” an obvious reference to the 1961 Indian take-over of another Portuguese coastal enclave in Asia. Portugal’s aging dictator, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, who was terrified that the loss of Macao would increase the agitation for independence in Timor, Mozambique, and Angola as well as cause a tremendous sag in home-front morale, clamped a news blackout on Portugal and its colonies, and ordered De Carvalho to find “peace at any price.”
Like a condemned man trying to buy off the executioner, the Portuguese acceded to almost any demand the Communists made. In public penance for the killing of the eight Red Guard rioters, the Portuguese flag was lowered to half-mast for their funeral. The eight Nationalist agents were silently handed over at the Barrier Gate. When a Nationalist union tried to raise the Nationalist flag over its headquarters as it had done for years, two Portuguese policemen hauled it down. Chinese Nationalist refugee centers which had fed and clothed up to 200 refugees a month had their doors locked by the Portuguese authorities. “We were cowards,” moaned one Portuguese; “we should have fought and lost, but we just ran. It was awful.”
Only in late January when Leung Pui insisted that the Portuguese brand themselves “murderers” and “assassins” did the Portuguese balk. But so fast was the Red tide rolling that instead of a compromise, the Communists called a general strike against the Portuguese. For three days in January, no Portuguese could buy food, ride a bus, take a taxi, or even get a drink of water from his own tap. The Portuguese were under siege in their own city.
But so were the Chinese. The seventy-five days of Communist agitation had paralyzed the city’s economy. The gambling casinos were vast wastelands of green felt tables. New construction, including two new hotels, had come to a dead stop. Restaurants and stores which depended on tourism for their income were shuttered, for there were no tourists. And Chinese New Year, traditionally a time for gifts, huge festive tables, and a clearing of the slate for the year ahead, was only a few days off. Moreover, Governor de Carvalho flatly told the Communists that “they could take Macao before we will call ourselves assassins.”
Since Peking had not authorized a complete take-over, Leung Pui could go no further. He would agree to a truce if the truce could be signed at the Communist-controlled Chamber of Commerce, not at Macao’s city hall.
On January 29, two and one half months after the confrontation began, Governor de Carvalho, wearing sunglasses, drove in his Bentley through a quiet crowd of 15,000 Chinese. There were no Portuguese policemen on the streets; the governor’s safety was provided by teenage youths with red armbands placed every few feet along his path. Arriving two minutes early in order not to affront the Communists, De Carvalho sat down across from Leung Pui and the Committee of Thirteen. On one wall was a portrait of Chairman Mao flanked by Communist Chinese flags. On the opposite wall hung a quotation by Mao in Chinese. It read: “Fight, fail, fight again . . . fight again until victory for the people; that is the logic of the people.”
Few Portuguese who witnessed the last few months plan to remain in Macao, even those born there. They will flee to Brazil or Portugal as soon as they can scrape together the money; so will many Chinese who have passports enabling them to leave. Watching hundreds of Red Guards unfurl Communist Chinese flags in celebration of “Macao’s Capitulation,” one Portuguese murmured, “There is no future in Macao for us. Absolutely none at all.”