National Geographic : 1953 May
Macau, a Hole in the Bamboo Curtain 679 BY GEORGE W. LONG With Illustrations by National Geographic Photographer J. Baylor Roberts ON THE border between Red China and the tiny Portuguese colony of Macau I watched traffic ebb and flow between two worlds. Through the Barrier Gate barefooted farmers, trotting under creaking shoulder poles, brought fruit and vegetables from China. Slender Chinese girls carried stacks of small blue boxes made at home for a match factory in Macau. Squawking chickens and sway-back pigs arrived in big rattan containers. Flocks of live ducks crossed the line, slung head down over the rear wheels of bicycles. The only China-bound traffic I saw was an almost empty model-T bus and a gang of men carrying crude wooden coffins of Macau Chinese who wished to be buried in China soil. Red guards open even these to make sure they hold no contraband. Portuguese officers kept careful watch but stopped no one. Near by, a jet-skinned guard from Mozambique faced a Red Chinese sentry. "There's trouble now and then," said the captain in charge, "but it always blows over. Sometimes a Chinese guard tries to pull one of our African boys over the line. Then any thing can happen." Drumbeats sounded across the frontier. The captain smiled. "Morning indoctrination class to cleanse the thoughts of these farmers who must set foot on our soil," he explained. Peephole and Listening Post So small is this peephole in the Bamboo Curtain around Red China that most maps of the Far East show the colony as a mere dot. It covers a hilly peninsula only three miles long and a mile wide on the South China coast across the broad Pearl River (Chu Kiang) estuary from Hong Kong.* Including two small islands-Taipa and Coloane-the whole colony totals only six square miles, but it supports some 300,000 people. About 99 percent are Chinese, many of them refugees. Because of its location and its neutrality, Macau remains an important listening post. An agent of a foreign power may be sitting at the next table. Macau was founded four centuries ago, about the time the first Elizabeth ascended England's throne. It was Europe's earliest foothold and Christianity's first beachhead in * See "Macao (Macau), 'Land of Sweet Sadness,' " by Edgar Allen Forbes, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, September, 1932. China. No flag but Portugal's has ever waved above it. In its old Protestant Cemetery I found weathered tombstones carved with names of New England traders and sailors. Today Macau is a strange blend of southern Europe and the Orient, the old and the bla tantly new, the good and the seamy. Over all lies the spell of sunny Portugal. Except among the Chinese, life is unhurried; there is a forever-siesta atmosphere. Church bells, rather than clocks, chime the hours. Most of Macau's few thousand Portuguese belong to families that have lived in the col ony for generations. Tenaciously they cling to the customs and manners of the homeland, but Macau is their first love. "It is small, but it is so beautiful," they say. No Place to Go But Hong Kong Even so, Macau Portuguese suffer from claustrophobia caused by the Bamboo Curtain. Wistfully they describe the good old days picnics on the mainland, boat trips on West River (Si Kiang), and excursions to Chinese cities like Canton. S 20. o o .Kian TATUTEMILES Hengyang nhowHaitan *Kunming 9 Kweilin Amo ' Me HINA oy Taipei *engtsz Canton .* Formosa "ungn * , Swatow Hanoi Yungnin Hong Kong * .Haiphong INDOCHINA *Kiungshan Macau Vinh, Hainan THILAND South Chitn-a. SSea. Luzon Canton Sheklung Mani * Manila. *Chanchuen Tungkun PHILIPPINES - I i CH1NA 'Siulam N'% Pingwu" chun * Namtow . -' ChuRngshan _ . S British Crowncolony Chungshankong HONG KONG 9. - i Kowloon Towmoon Taipa *Victoria MacauWX "',atol Hong Kong I. S. '\L- Coloane--------------- Portuguese Colony of Macau 0o 0 20 30 TTUTE MI STATUTE MILES Bias Bay V.J.K .