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For other uses, see Macau (disambiguation).
Região Administrativa Especial de
Macau da República Popular da China
Flag of Macau Macao Coat of Arms
(Flag) (Coat of Arms)
Location of Macau
Official language Portuguese, Chinese
(Cantonese, Mandarin de facto)
Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah
- Total
- % water
Ranked 191st
27.3 km²
- Total (2004)
- Density
Ranked 162nd
 - Date
Handover from Portugal to the PRC

20 December 1999

  - Total (2005)
  - per capita
Ranked 139th
$9 billion
Currency Pataca (MOP)
Time zone UTC+8 (AWST)
Internet TLD .mo
Calling Code +853

The Macau Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China (Traditional Chinese: 中華人民共和國澳門特別行政區; Simplified Chinese: 中华人民共和国澳门特别行政区; short form Macau or Macao (澳門, Pinyin: Àomén; also informally known as 馬交); see Names) is a small territory on the southern coast of China. Administered by Portugal until 1999, it was the oldest European colony in China, dating to the 16th century. Sovereignty over Macau was transferred to the People's Republic of China in 1999, and it is now a Special Administrative Region of the PRC. Macau has played a unique and influential role in relations between China and the West, especially between the late 16th and 19th centuries.

Residents of Macau mostly speak Cantonese natively; Mandarin, Portuguese, and English are also spoken. Broadly, Macanese refers to all permanent inhabitants of Macau. More narrowly, it refers to an ethnic group in Macau originating from Portuguese descent, usually mixed with Chinese and sometimes other ancestry.

Besides historical colonial relics, Macau's biggest attraction is its gambling industry and casinos. Though many forms of gambling are legal here, the most popular game is Pai Gow, played with Chinese dominoes. Gamblers from Hong Kong often take one-day excursions to Macau; ferry service by hydrofoil to and from Hong Kong is available 24 hours a day, every day.



The name "Macau" is thought to be derived from the Templo de A-Má (Temple of A-Ma) (媽閣廟, Cantonese Jyutping: Maa1 Gok3 Miu6, local pronunciation: Maa5 Gok3 Miu6 or Maa5 Gok3 Miu5), a still-existing landmark built in 1448 dedicated to the goddess Matsu. The Chinese name Aomen 澳門 (pinyin: Àomén, Cantonese Jyutping: Ou3 Mun4) means "Inlet Gates". The "gates" refer to two erect gate-like mountains of Nantai (Chinese: 南台; pinyin: Nántái) and Beitai (Chinese: 北台; pinyin: Běitái). Alternately, Ao may derive from Macau's previous name Heung San O, as it is geographically situated at "Cross' Door". Macau is also known as Ho King O (壕鏡澳; pinyin: Haojing'ao; "Oyster-mirror Inlet"), Heung San O (香山澳; Xiangshan'ao; "Fragrant-mountain Inlet"), Lin Do (蓮島; Liandao; "Lotus Island"), as well as "Soda Port" (疏打埠).

While Àomén/Ou3 Mun4 is the traditional Chinese name of the place, it is common among the Cantonese-speaking population of the territory to use the Portuguese name when speaking in Cantonese, pronouncing it Maa3 Gaau1 (Jyutping romanization), occasionally rendering it phonetically as 馬交 in Chinese characters.

The form "Macao" was the original Portuguese spelling, and has been retained in most European languages. In modern Portuguese, the correct spelling is "Macau". During the 20th century, the official spelling "Macau" became more and more common in English-language sources, including most print media.

Since the handover of sovereignty, the government of Macau considers "Macao" the official English spelling of the name, whereas "Macau" remains the official spelling in Portuguese. This is the practice followed in official documents such as passports and immigration forms.

The pinyin transcription Aomen has occasionally been used in English as if it were the official name for Macau. However, this is not the case, as only "Macao" is official in English.

A church in Macau, with the region's distinctive striped tiling
A church in Macau, with the region's distinctive striped tiling


Main article: History of Macau

Macau was first settled by the Portuguese in 1557. Beginning in 1670, Portugal leased the territory although there was no transfer of sovereignty. Macau prospered as a port and was the subject of repeated attempts by the Dutch to conquer it in the 17th century.

After the House of Braganza regained control of Portugal from the Spanish Habsburgs in 1640, Macau was granted the official title of Cidade do (Santo) Nome de Deus de Macau, Não há outra mais Leal or City of the (Holy) Name of God of Macau, "There is none more Loyal".

The motto "There is none more Loyal" was granted in honour of the fact that the territory of Macau (Amacao, in older Portuguese writings) never recognized Spanish sovereignty, and thus it is considered by historians as a (now former) part of Portugal that was never surrendered. Realistically, the Habsburgs could never have changed this situation anyway since they were heavily involved in European wars and Macau was far away. Additionally, the successful, decades-long resistance against Dutch privateeers demonstrated that Macau was not a soft target.

With Hong Kong established as a British Crown Colony, Macau's status as the major regional trading centre declined due to the fact that larger ships were drawn to the deep water port of Victoria Harbour. In 1849, Portugal declared the colony independent of China. This was recognised by the Chinese government in 1887.

In 1955, the Salazar regime declared Macau, as well as other Portuguese colonies, an "Overseas Province" of Portugal.

Although Macanese culture had always been a mixture between Chinese and Portuguese this did not always come about peacefully. Chinese citizens efforts to establish their own identity were often counter to the aims of the Portuguese government.

In 1966 residents tried to obtain a licence for a private school in Taipa, the first of two islands connected to and forming part of Macau. After being rejected many times they went ahead and started building without permits. On November 15, 1966, the Portuguese police arrested the school officials and beat construction workers, residents, and press reporters. As a result, Chinese teachers and students gathered at the Governor’s house to peacefully protest, but on December 3rd the government ordered them to be arrested. This stirred up the anger of the general public and more people came to protest. The Portuguese government sent riot police and declared martial law. As a result of the protests, 11 people died and 200 were injured.

To peacefully oppose the government, the Chinese people enacted "three no's" — no taxes, no service, no selling to the Portuguese. They were successful and on January 29, 1967 the Portuguese government of Macau signed a statement of apology. This marked the beginning of equal treatment and recognition of Chinese identity and of de facto Chinese control of the colony.

After the leftist military coup of 1974, the now democratic Portuguese government was determined to relinquish all its overseas possessions, but the People's Republic of China did not favour Macau's immediate return to Chinese sovereignty. In 1976, Lisbon redefined Macau as a Special Territory, and granted it a large measure of administrative and economic autonomy. In addition, Portugal and the PRC agreed to regard Macau as 'a Chinese territory under Portuguese administration'. This status was made anomalous by the agreement in 1985 to return Hong Kong to China, and in 1987, an agreement was made to make Macau a Special Administrative Region of the PRC. The Macau Special Administrative Region finally came into being on December 20, 1999.


Main article: Politics of Macau

The chief executive is appointed by the People's Republic of China's central government after selection by an election committee, whose members are nominated by corporate bodies. The chief executive appears before a cabinet, the Executive Council, of between 7 and 11 members. Edmund Ho, a community leader and banker, is the first China-appointed chief executive of the Macau SAR, having replaced General de Rocha Vieira on December 20, 1999.

The legislative organ of the territory is the Legislative Assembly, a 23-member body comprising 10 directly elected members, 10 appointed members representing functional constituencies and seven members appointed by the chief executive. The Legislative Assembly is responsible for general lawmaking and like many other legislatures, it has power to impeach the Chief Executive. It has power to amend the makeup of its successors after 2009.

The legal system is based largely on Portuguese law. The territory has its own independent judicial system, headed by the Court of Final Appeal (CFA), which makes final judgments on court cases. Judges are selected by a committee and appointed by the chief executive.

The administrative division within Macao
The administrative division within Macao


Main article: List of cities and parishes in Macao

Macau comprises two administrative subdivisions:

Although the phrase "Northern District", broadly speaking, may refer to the entire Macau peninsula, some of the people in Macau use the phrase "Northern District" more narrowly. It refers to the northern part of the Macau peninsula, neighbouring Zhuhai in Mainland China. In this way, a lot of people travel to and from the Mainland on foot or with other land transport through the northern district.


Main article: Geography of Macau

Macau is 70 km southwest of Hong Kong and 145 km from Guangzhou. It consists of a peninsula, and the islands of Taipa and Coloane.

The peninsula is formed by the Zhujiang (Pearl River) estuary on the east and the Xijiang (West River) on the west. It borders the Zhuhai Special Economic Zone in mainland China.

Macau has a generally flat terrain resulting from extensive land reclamation, but numerous steep hills mark the original natural land mass. The Macau peninsula was originally an island, but gradually a connecting sandbar turned into a narrow isthmus. Land reclamation in the 17th century made Macau into a peninsula.

With a dense urban environment, Macau has no arable land, pastures, forest, or woodland. Because of this deficiency, Macau's people traditionally have looked to the sea for their livelihood.


Main article: Economy of Macau

Macau's economy is based largely on tourism, including gambling. Textile and fireworks manufacturing are the largest employers after gambling. Efforts to diversify have spawned other small industries, such as toy, artificial flowers, and electronics manufacturing. The clothing industry has provided about three-fourths of export earnings, and the gambling industry is estimated to contribute more than 40% of Macau's GDP.

Over 8 million tourists visited Macau in 2000. While recent growth in gambling and tourism has been driven primarily by residents of mainland China, tourists from Hong Kong remain the most numerous. Recently Triad underworld violence, a dark spot on the economy, has significantly declined, to the benefit of the tourism sector. The average growth rate between 2001 and 2005 has been approximately 10% annually. The GDP per capita in 2004 was USD22,620. In the first quarter of 2005, the unemployment rate was 4.1%.

In 2004 gambling revenues from Macau's casinos were for the first time greater than those of Las Vegas (each about $5 billion), making Macau currently the highest-volume gambling centre in the world.


Main article: Demographics of Macau

Considered as a dependency, Macau is the world's most densely populated country/dependency.

Macau's population is 95% Chinese, primarily Cantonese and some Hakka, both from nearby Guangdong Province. The remainder are of Portuguese or mixed Chinese-Portuguese ancestry, or the so-called Macanese. Some Japanese, including descendants of Japanese Catholics who were expelled by shoguns, also live in Macau. The official languages are Portuguese and Chinese. Though the residents commonly speak Cantonese, both Cantonese and Mandarin are de facto official. English is spoken in tourist areas. Macanese or Patuá, an ancient Portuguese based dialect, is almost extinct.


Main article: Culture of Macau


A fountain in the shape of a lotus which is the symbol of Macau, outside the Macau Tower.
A fountain in the shape of a lotus which is the symbol of Macau, outside the Macau Tower.


  • Like Hong Kong, Macau also has a flower to represent the city. While the representative flower of Hong Kong is the Bauhinia, the representative flower of Macau is the lotus. The lotus is always used as a symbol of the Macau Special Administrative Region.

Macau-related topics

Main article: List of Macao-related topics

External links

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Province-level divisions administered by the People's Republic of China Flag of the People's Republic of China
Provinces¹: Anhui | Fujian | Gansu | Guangdong | Guizhou | Hainan | Hebei | Heilongjiang | Henan | Hubei | Hunan | Jiangsu | Jiangxi | Jilin | Liaoning | Qinghai | Shaanxi | Shandong | Shanxi | Sichuan | Yunnan | Zhejiang
Autonomous Regions: Guangxi | Inner Mongolia | Ningxia | Tibet | Xinjiang
Municipalities: Beijing | Chongqing | Shanghai | Tianjin
Special Administrative Regions: Hong Kong | Macau
¹ See also: Political status of Taiwan

Countries in East Asia
China (PRC) | Japan | North Korea | South Korea | Taiwan (ROC)2
1. Special Administrative Regions of the PRC: Hong Kong | Macau
2. See also: political status of Taiwan
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