HistoryTea W. Kandinsky, Dominant Curve, 1936

History of Tea : Portugal

The Europeans knew the origin of the spices reaching Alexandria and, unable to break the hold of Venice, determined in the last third of the 15th century to build ships and venture abroad in search of a route to the spice-producing countries. So began the famed voyages of discovery. * In 1516 (some say as early as 1515) the Portuguese opened up the sea routes to China, having discovered the sea route to the East. In 1557 they were allowed to establish a trading station at * Macao(Macau) in return for getting rid of the region of pirates.

Macau takes its name from A-Ma-Gau harbour, which in turn is named for A-Ma, the goddess of seafarers. Chinese records of Macau date back to the establishment in 1152 of Xiangshan County under which Macau was administered, though it remained unpopulated through most of the next century. Members of the South Sung (Song) Dynasty and some 50,000 followers were the first recorded inhabitants of the area, seeking refuge in Macau from invading Mongols in 1277. They were able to defend their settlements and establish themselves there.

The Hoklo Boat people were the first to show commercial interest in Macau as a trading center for the southern provinces. Macau did not develop as a major settlement until the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century. The famous seafarers, the Portuguese, first set foot on Chinese soil in 1513, having heard of the 'Empire of the Chins' from their trading outposts in India and Malacca. n 1557, the Chinese agreed to a Portuguese settlement in Macau but did not recognize Portuguese sovereignty.

In the 32nd year during the reign of Emperor Jiajing of the Ming Dynasty (1553), the Portuguese active around Macao bribed Wang Bai, Deputy Administrator of Marine Affairs, to allow them to disembark on Macao for a short rest under the pretext of repairing damaged ships and drying wet goods. The Chinese Government at the time only permitted them to set up some simple shelters, and specified the time for them to leave. However, the Portuguese bribed Wang Bai again, and obtained the permit to do business in Macao under a disguised name. Later on, they gained residence right by resorting to the same kind of tricks.

The port soon prospered, thanks to its strategic position midway on the lucrative trading route between India's west coast, Malacca and Japan. Chinese merchants were forbidden on pain of death to go abroad, and they eagerly embraced the opportunity to hire the Portuguese as agents. The wealth generated by Portugal's monopoly on trade between China and Japan was used to create a home away from home of luxurious European houses and baroque churches. Macau became a centre not only of trade in the Far East, but also of Christianity, with the Jesuit missionaries' Basilica de Sao Paulo hailed as the greatest monument to Christianity in the East.

The first European to personally encounter tea and write about it was the Portuguese Jesuit Father Jasper de Cruz in 1560. He was the first of some Catholic priests, arrived to Cambodian king's court in 1555. de Cruz mentions tea in a letter home to Portugal from China, where he went after being an year in Cambogy. Portugal, with her technologically advanced navy, had been successful in gaining the first right of trade with China.

The Portuguese developed a trade route by which they shipped their tea to Lisbon, and then ships of Dutch East India Company transported it to France, Holland, and the Baltic countries.

But Portuguese fortunes were on the wane back home, and threats were posed by the colonial ambitions of nations such as Holland, with the Dutch making two serious attacks on Macau in 1607 and 1627. Macau's golden age came to an abrupt end in the 1630s when Japan was closed to foreign trade, the Dutch took Malacca by force and the port of Guangzhou was closed to the Portuguese. The golden port became an impoverished backwater. Restrictions regulating the activities of non-Portuguese residents were lifted in the mid-18th century, and Macau temporarily revived as a Chinese outpost for European traders - but only until 1841, when the British came along and took possession of Hong Kong. Macau's economic woes were forever eased by the introduction of licensed gambling in the 1850s.

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Last updated : 27-Jul-03