National Geographic : 1969 Apr
name through the centuries has evoked a blending of East and West. I saw the flag as I returned from an unsuc cessful attempt to peer through the Porta do Cerco, the Barrier Gate between Macao and China. Macao-the Portuguese spell it Macau -crowds its storied allure on a thumb-shaped peninsula three miles long and a mile wide at its broadest (maps, pages 524-5). It hangs like a drooping lower lip on the mouth of the great estuary known as the Pearl River, and it is regarded by Lisbon as an integral part of Portugal, a province overseas. People born in Macao, whether of European or Asian parents, are Portuguese citizens. Mob Topples a Hero's Statue American visitors used to gawk through the Barrier Gate at Communist soldiers be yond the walled border. There the neck of the peninsula makes a frontier only 700 feet long. But when I tried to walk up for a look, a Por tuguese policeman stopped me a block away. "Since the difficulties of 1966," he explained, "foreigners are requested not to go nearer than this." By the way he pronounced "re quested," I knew he meant "not permitted and no use arguing." I acquiesced. The "difficulties" were riots by Communist elements in Macao's Chinese population. (Of an estimated 280,000 inhabitants, only about 8,000 are non-Chinese.) The troubles began in November 1966, when Communists defied a government order to stop building a school for which no construction permit had been issued. Police stepped in, and in the clashes that followed, eight Chinese died. Bands of youths promptly marched through Macao shouting slogans and threats. A mob broke into the Leal Senado-Loyal Senate where the province's legislative council meets, and tossed books from the Municipal Ar chives into the street. Another mob toppled a statue of local hero Vicente Nicolau de Mes quita, who in 1849 had led 36 volunteers to capture a Chinese fort defended by 400 men. Macao police and troops retaliated with truncheons and fire hoses. From neighboring Kwangtung Province 15,000 Chinese gathered beside the Barrier Gate. Red gunboats steamed into nearby waters. Agitators threatened to cut off the flow of drinking water and food stuffs from China. The stream of tourists from Hong Kong that helps to underpin Macao's economy dried to a trickle. Finally, on January 29, 1967, Portuguese authorities gave in to some of the Communist demands. They accepted blame for the riots and deaths, paid $350,000 as indemnity to the relatives of the dead and injured, agreed Glittering jewelry like this pin held by Alda Dias-a Macanese beauty descended from Portuguese and Ori ental forebears-is the only obvious sign of the $30,000,000 worth of gold that flows through Macao in a year. Refusing to be bound by internation al monetary restrictions, Portugal licenses a gold syndicate. The com pany imports the metal in ingots; after conversion to small sheets, the gold finds its way across Asia for profitable resale. The import taxes and fees paid by the syndicate provide Macao with its largest single source of revenue-$1,480,000 in 1968. Contest for right of way pits pedes trians against pedicabs and taxis during the Chinese New Year's rush in midwinter. The three-day celebra tion, banned in Communist China, erupts with special fervor here as the Chinese majority enjoys feasting, fireworks displays, and gambling. Signs proclaim rice, book, apothe cary, and preserved-meat stores.