Published on 2023.01.04


The Gem of the Orient Earth:
The Natural Scenery and Architecture of Macao


“Sonnet to Macau”

Gem of the Orient Earth and open Sea,

Macao! That in thy lap and on thy breast

Hast Gathered beauties all the loveliest,

O’er which the sun smiles in his majesty!

Sir John Bowring,

Governor of Hong Kong (1854-1859)1

Macao is well known for its booming casino industry, but its architectures with both Chinese and Western styles, along with natural setting and surroundings, are in fact much more impressive and worthy of recognition. As early as 1848, an article in the Dublin University of Magazine well summarized the general view of Macau’s geographic feature:

“A view of Macao from the sea is exquisitely fine. The semicircular appearance of the shore, … whereon the sun glitters in thousands of sparkling beams, presents a scene of incomparable beauty.”2

City Panorama of Macau, China

Robert Burford, an artist, depicted Macau as bounded “by numerous Islands of different size and form, some presenting verdant hills and luxuriant foliage; others, large masses of rock, thrown into every variety of light and shade…”Harriett Low, an American young lady from Massachusetts who travelled to and stayed in Macau during 1820s-1830s, recorded in her journal that “Macao from the sea looks beautifully. Some most romantic spots. … All the isles have flat stones and as smooth as a floor. … Round it there is a terrace and many pretty plants. … With this little spot and a few birds, I shall get along very comfortably. I had no idea there was so pretty a place here.”4 She revealed that the time she spent in Macao was “at any rate the most quiet and most free from troubles, if not the happiest portion of my life—…”5 She used the words such as “romantic,” “art,” “perfectly,” and “paradise” to express her striking impression with Macao to her relatives:

““We had a beautiful walk in that paradise of a place. It is large, wild, and romantic. It is a work of art it is true, but it resembles Nature so perfectly that you would not think but that it was originally formed in this way. … Such immense rocks and trees. … There are several Banyan trees, growing with their roots almost out of ground, spreading over the rocks.”6

Macau Tower in the twilight

J. Dyer Ball, the author of Macao: The Holy City, used almost the same words to describe what he saw in Macao: “One of the most enchanting scenes in Macao is that of this beautiful bay, quiet and graceful sweep of sea wall …”; “All descriptions are imperfect; …” ; “… an instance of what the artistic eye finds …”; “The scenery altogether is romantic and charming.” As Sir John Bowring, Ball used the term “gem” or “gem-like” to describe the beauty of Macao and “surprises” to convey his unexpected excitement and enjoyment when he saw some charms and beauties in Macao:

“Surprises meet you everywhere. The gardens are bestrewn with giant boulders in Nature’s irregular disorder. Threes, ages old, east their gnarled branches skyward, creating an umbrageous dell of indescribable beauty and splendor. Gardens and native plants abound in nooks and recesses, while all around shrubs and flowers flourish in wonderful profusion.”8

Ball was so surprised by the natural beauty of some human made gardens and “a beautiful little gem” of Macao that he “would not attempt to describe Nature’s beauties and contorts himself with referring to the historical associations of these charming gardens.”9

The human effort in accommodating and enhancing the natural beauty of Macao is mostly associated with architectures. Thomas K. van Mierop was very pleased with that Macao’s shore “lined with houses of great dignity, all of them pained in bright colors, behind which rises a gentle slope covered with gracious buildings, including numerous churches and walled gardens planted with many trees.”10 “This is,” he continued, “I am sure, a city like no other in the world, for though situate in China, … it is of itself a part of Europe, … subdued by Roman Catholic superstitions, yet all the same it is Europe,”11 Likewise, in the eyes of the artist Robert Burford, the houses in Macao

“present their fronts to the water, … are large, substantial buildings, in the European style; of simple architecture, with large gables, and little or no ornament; yet being painted of many colors, have a varied and pleasing appearance. At the back of the line, rising like an amphitheater on the sloping ground, numerous other houses are seen, intermixed with churches, and sacred edifices—always conspicuous objects in a catholic town—large gardens, and light and airy summerhouses; the highest portion being broken into several hills, crowned by forts or monasteries, has a fine effect;…”12


Waterfront Architecture in Macau
The Senate Square in Macau

The article in the Dublin University of Magazine well portrayed that “A row of houses of a large description extends along its length … Some are colored pink, some pale yellow and others white. The houses, with their large windows, extending to the ground … with curtains … convey an idea to the visitor that he has entered a European rather than an Asiatic seaport.”13 Rev. George Smith expressed that “Macao, in many respects, resembled a fashionable watering-place in England, and abounded with the comforts, the refinements, and even the luxuries of European life.”14 No wonder by the 1960s, Macao began to be called as “Monte Carlo of the Orient.”15 Moreover, it’s claimed that Macau has “more churches and chapels to the square mile than any other in the world.”16 Father Antonio Francisco Cardim, Rector of the Collegiate Church of St. Paul called Macao “the Head of Christendom in the East.”17 To the historian J. Braga, the religious compound in Macao, namely the Convent, displayed a high level of artistic disposition: “Mossy paths and sloping walks have replaced magnificent flight of steps, leading up to the ancient Convent already mentioned. The artistic temperament of the Portuguese is shown here to a high degree.”18

Our Lady of Carmel Church
St. Dominic's Church

On the other hand, the Chinese architectures of Macau were no less impressive. Auguste Borget, the French painter known best for his drawings of exotic scenes in Asia, was caught by “… the most beautiful marvel” of The Mage Temple, which was “without doubt, that I have seen in this country …” He went to the temple “almost every day …” and made a vivid and realistic oil painting of the Mage Temple [Ma-Kok]. Another historian C. R. Boxer claimed that the Chinese Temple of the Goddess A-ma remains “to attest the former strength and opulence of the city …”20 Indeed, Macao is a place where traditional Chinese culture and architectures have been well reserved and have continued to be well functioning and attractive. Besides A-Ma Temple/Mage Miao (媽閣廟), there are also many other temples for Chinese religious practice, such as those for Taoist belief, including Nazha Temple (哪吒廟), Lu Zuxian Yuan (呂祖仙院), Huang Daxian Temple (黃大仙廟), Mongha Kang Zhenjun Temple (望廈康真君廟), Sanjie Huiguan Guandi Temple(三街會館関帝古廟), Taipa Guandi Tianhou Temple (氹仔関帝天后古廟), Coloane Sansheng Temple (路環九澳三聖廟), Coloane Sansheng Gong (路環三聖宮), Nuwa Temple (女媧廟), Lingyan Xianguan (靈岩仙觀), Baogong Temple (包公廟), Taipa Beidi Temple (氹仔北帝廟), etc., as well as those for Buddhist belief, including Puji Chanyuan (菩提禪院), Lianfeng Temple (蓮峰廟), Puti Yuan (菩提園), Yaowang Chanyuan (葯王禪院), Gongde Lin (功德林), Zhulin Si (竹林寺), Puti Tang (菩提堂), Xiyun Si (西云寺), etc. All these Chinese architectures were built up exactly with the traditional Chinese architectural style. They have gone through a long history, now standing among the contrasting modern and Western buildings. They are not only the hot spots for tourism but also the important platforms for local people to conduct worships and religious activities. They are the influential social and cultural centers of local communities.

A- Ma Temple at the southwest end of Macau
Taipa Beidi Temple

With the strong influence of traditional Chinese culture and religion, no wonder the way of life of the Chinese in Macao have been highly appraised by some foreigners. Harriett Low noticed that the Chinese “were all perfectly civil, and made no noise” and were “more enlightened parts” of the world. She eventually concluded that “Now I think the Chinese are much more civil than either American or English people…”22 Similarly, Robert Morrison, the first Christian Protestant missionary to China, once asked: “… why the Chinese were more civilized, and had many temporal blessings which some of the barbarous nations around them had not?”23

In terms of the overall landscape, interestingly, Macao was often compared with Hong Kong and got a more favorite view because, according to Laurence Oliphant, private secretary to Lord Elgin, Macao’s “narrow streets and grass-grown plazas, the handsome facade of the fine old cathedral crumbling to decay, the shady walks and cool grottoes … all combined to produce a soothing and tranquillizing effect upon sensibilities irritated by our recent mode of life.” In contrast, Macao’s “air of respectable antiquity was refreshing, after the somewhat parvenu character with which its ostentatious magnificence invested in Hong Kong.”24 Another correspondent George Wingrove Cooke shared the view with Oliphant that “Macao is open to the sea-breeze, which Victoria is not … Macao also has shady gardens and pleasant walks and rides, and is the only place where the poor Hongkongian can go to change his atmosphere.”25 Yet, very much like Hong Kong, Macao has been a place where Eastern culture has been well blended with Western culture. The editor of Vantage Press, Inc. called Macao “a unique place where Orient and Occident met and blended.”26 Author Colin Simpson held that depicted Macao as “a microcosm where the Orient is joined to the Occident and where the whole human condition is surely more palpable to the painter than it is anywhere else on earth …”27




1、Christina Miu Bing Cheng, Macau: A Cultural Janus (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1999), 133-134.

2、J. Dyer Ball, Macao: The Holy City; The Gem of the Orient Earth (Canton: The China Baptist Publication Society, 1905), 7.

3、Robert Burford, A View of Macao in China (London: Geo. Nichols, Earl’s Court, 1840), 2.

4、Harriett Low Hillard, Arthur W. Hummel, Lights and Shadows of a Macao Life: The Journal of Harriett Low, Travelling Spinster, Part One: 1829-1832, ed. Nan P. Hodges (Woodinville, WA: The History Bank, 2002), 63.

5、Hillard, Hummel, Lights and Shadows of a Macao Life, 551.

6、Hillard, Hummel, Lights and Shadows of a Macao Life, 86.

7、Ball, Macao: The Holy City, 7, 10.

8、Ball, Macao: The Holy City, 4, 6.

9、Ball, Macao: The Holy City, 4, 6.

10、Austin Cates, City of Broken Promise (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1990), 7.

11、Cates, City of Broken Promise, 6-7.

12、Robert Burford, A View of Macao in China (London: Geo. Nichols, Earl’s Court, 1840), 2.

13、Ball, Macao: The Holy City, 7.

14、Cheng, Macau: A Cultural Janus, 130.

15、Colin Simpson, Asia’s Bright Balconies (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1962), 122.

16、Simpson, Asia’s Bright Balconies, 123.

17、Simpson, Asia’s Bright Balconies, 126.

18、J. Braga, Picturesque Macao, ed. Henrique Nolasco da Silva (Macau: Po Man Lau, 1926), 7.

19、C. Guillén-Nuñez, “Macau through the Eyes of Nineteenth Century Painters”, in Macau: City of Commerce and Culture (2nd Edition: Continuity and Change), ed. R. D. Cremer (Hong Kong: API Press Ltd., 1991), 97-98.

20、C. R. Boxer, “A Fidalgo in the Far East, 1708-1726: Antonio de Albuquerque Coelho in Macao”, The Far Eastern Quarterly 5, no.4 (Aug 1946): 391.

21、Hillard, Hummel, Lights and Shadows of a Macao Life, 194.

22、Hillard, Hummel, Lights and Shadows of a Macao Life, 141.

23、Robert Morrison, Memoirs of the Life and Labors of Robert Morrison Vol. 1, ed. Eilza Morrison, trans. National Research Center Of Overseas Sinology 北京外國語大學中國海外漢學中心翻譯組 (Zhengzhou 鄭州: Elephant Press 大象出版社, 2008), 228.

24、Laurence Oliphant, Elgin’s Mission to China and Japan (in the years 1857-59) (London: Oxford University Press, 1970. Vol. 1), pp. 66-7. See Christina Miu Bing Cheng, Macau: A Cultural Janus (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1999), p. 133.

25、George W. Cooke, China: Being “The Times Special Correspondence from China in the year 1857-58 (London: Routledge & Co., 1972), 70. Cheng, Macau: A Cultural Janus, p. 133.

26、Edith Jorge De Martini, The Wind Amongst the Ruins: A Childhood in Macao (New York: Vantage Press, Inc., 1993), the inside of the cover page.

27、Colin Simpson, Asia’s Bright Balconies (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1962), 141.


C.X. George WEI

C.X. George WEI is Distinguished Research Fellow of Center for Urban Cultural Studies of Shanghai Normal University, Chair Professor of Guangqi Center of International Scholars, Distinguished Professor of the Department of History at Hong Kong Shue Yan University, Chair Professor of Henan University and Editor-in-Chief for the book series “East and West” at Brill. He earned his Ph.D. in History from Washington University and MA in Modern World History from Henan University. He worked at Susquehanna University, Whitman College, and University of Toledo for 12 years and served as Head of the History Department at Hong Kong Shue Yan University for 2020-2022, Associate Vice President at Beijing Normal University-Hong Kong Baptist University United International College for 2019, Head of the History Department at the University of Macau for 2008-2010 and 2012-2015, and Chair of the History Department at Susquehanna University for 2004-2006, as well as President of the Association for the Chinese Historians in the United States for 2004-2006. He is author of Sino-American Economic Relations, 1944–1949 (1997), author/co-author of more than 70 journal articles and book chapters in both English and Chinese, editor of Asian Culture, Diplomacy and Foreign Relations (2022); Macao—The Formation of A Global City (2014), and China-Taiwan Relation in a Global Context: Taiwan’s Foreign Policy and Relations (2011), as well as co-editor of 15 collections in either English or Chinese.

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每逢農曆新年, 澳門都過得特別熱鬧,處處炮仗聲始起彼落,遍地都是紅紅的炮仗衣。有些小巷炮仗衣更堆積成吋厚!




Chi Seng Pun

03-02-2023 21:29:37