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Shanghai City Wall and Gates


Katya Knyazeva, from Novosibirsk, Russia, is a historian and a journalist whose work focuses on urban form, heritage preservation and the Russian diaspora in Shanghai. She is the author of the two-volume history and photographic atlas Shanghai Old Town – Topography of a Phantom City (Suzhou Creek Press, 2015 and 2018). Katya’s articles on history and architecture appear in international media and in her blog She is currently a research fellow at the University of Eastern Piedmont, Italy.

The birth of Shanghai is usually pinned to the year 1291, when a market town located near the confluence of two waterways, Huangpu and Wusong, was promoted to the status of a county, subordinate to the prefecture city of Songjiang. For the next 250 years Shanghai grew in size and population, but remained shapeless, until an invasion of coastal pirates, in spring 1553, prompted the construction of the defence wall around the city. The pirates, locally referred to as the ‘Japanese,’ were contraband traders and adventurers of various racial origins, who sailed the coast of China in defiance of Ming proscription, attacking rich settlements like Shanghai.[i]

According to the local gazetteers, it only took three months to build the wall and dig the defence moat next to it. The wall was between eight and ten meters high, made of tamped earth, flat on the top, and faced with black bricks on the outer side. There were 3,600 embrasures on the top edge, interspersed with several lookout platforms facing the bend of the Huangpu River, to allow early sighting of pirate ships. The moat was six meters deep and up to twenty meters wide in some places; it connected to the Huangpu River and the city waterways, and the drawbridges across it could be lifted at any moment.

After these fortifications were built, no force could take Shanghai by surprise. Any invader would have to raft across the moat or cross a drawbridge near one of the six city gates in full view of the armed soldiers stationed there. At eight in the evening, guards locked the city gates with huge wooden bolts. City dwellers who lingered in the riverside markets and failed to get back before curfew had to bribe the guards to crack open the gates or wait outside until sunrise, in the grim company of bamboo cages containing the decapitated heads of executed criminals, hanging from the embrasures.

Plan of Shanghai, c.1860, showing old gates in red, new gates in green, and water gates in blue. The Huangpu River is at the top right. Source: Wikipedia.

One of Shanghai nobles, Fan Lian, who partially sponsored the construction of the city wall, described its efficacy in 1556, when ‘Japanese’ pirates tried to rob Shanghai again:

During the day and into the night, the pirates hid at the foot of the wall. Then they put up ladders to come over. Fortunately, a brave, Yang Tian, shouted. One pirate, who had already climbed the wall, killed Yang Tian. Some of the local troops vigorously attacked, stabbing the invaders and sending them falling to the ground. The crowd picked up bricks and pushed stones over to drop on them and crush them. Then the tide came in and the pirates fled. Sixty-seven were drowned in the moat of the wall. As a result, the siege was broken. To this day sacrifices are offered in Shanghai to Yang Tian.[ii]

Initially, the city wall had six gates – four big and two small – to allow the passage of pedestrians and boats in and out of the city. In 1860, an extra north-facing gate was constructed to ease the access to the foreign settlements growing to the north of the Chinese City. In 1906, inner city creeks began to be filled and three new gates were cut through the wall, but they only lasted a few years, because in 1912 the wall started to be torn down, and the moat was filled and paved.

Foreigner on the city wall next to Phoenix Tower, Shanghai. Source unknown.

While the city wall was still standing, many western travellers found it a fascinating structure, and the photographs in the collection of Historical Photographs of China are a great way to explore it. Taking a suggestion from Rev. C. E. Darwent, who proposed a walking route on top of the city wall in his Shanghai: a handbook for travellers and residents to the chief objects of interest in and around the foreign settlement and native city (1904), we would begin at the Old North Gate and go clockwise around the city. The whole route, about 4 km long, would take about one hour – or ‘two hours and a half, if the temples en route are to be visited.’[iii]

The photograph below shows the Old North Gate (formally, Yanhaimen 宴海门) when it was Shanghai’s only north-facing gate. Built in 1553, it opened to a marshy and unpopulated country, dotted with graves. One of the few people brave enough to try living here was the young intellectual Wang Tao, who moved to Shanghai in 1848 and spent a few months in a cottage north of the city wall, where the endless ‘stretch of desolate grave mounds’ came close to his doorstep and ‘a dense clump of trees added to the eeriness of the place.’[iv] The photograph from 1858, below, shows this somber landscape; the decrepit pavilion perched on the city wall is one of the lookout towers, known as Zhenwutai (振武台):

North Gate, Shanghai, c.1850, later renamed Old North Gate. HPC ref: VH02-143.

Tree-graves near the north wall of the Chinese City, Shanghai, 1858. HPC ref: VH02-110.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the French Concession to the north of the walled city was growing fast and a number of its streets ended at the edge of the moat, which acted as the boundary between the two territories. Continuing to walk on top of the wall in the clockwise direction and passing the Zhenwutai fortress, one would stumble on an old British cannon – a reminder of the 1850s, when the city was preparing to reflect an attack by the Taipings.

British-made cannon on city walls, Shanghai, c.1905-1910. HPC ref: OH01-031.

The next gate on the itinerary is the New North Gate – formally called Zhangchuanmen (障川门) – which was added in 1860. Several years earlier, the French artillery had damaged the wall while trying to oust the Small Swords rebels, who had barricaded themselves inside the city. The New North Gate – or Porte Montauban – was the main portal between the Chinese City and the French Concession, always in heavy use. Darwent pointed out that

the entrances to the [gates] are very interesting – always crowded, always dirty, always littered up with lepers and with beggars advertising their self-made sores, always sloppy with the water spilt by the water-carriers, a wild jostle of coolies, silk-arrayed gentlemen, sedan-chairs, hobbling women, melancholy dogs, and all the flotsam and jetsam of a Chinese crowd. The photographer and seeker after the picturesque errs greatly if he misses these city gates.

The inner bailey, New North Gate, Old City, Shanghai, c.1902. HPC ref: Da01-05.

Looking from the top of the New North Gate toward the French Concession, one saw crowded streets and endless rows of shops. Rickshaw drivers waited at the end of the bridge across the moat, ready to take passengers into the settlements. Manoeuvrable as they were, these vehicles could not navigate the narrow streets and stepped bridges of the Chinese City. By the late nineteenth century, even the most old-fashioned of residents usually needed to pass through the city gates at least twice a day, so the gate-closing curfew was pushed back to ten in the evening.

Shops, rickshaws and wheelbarrows outside the New North Gate, Shanghai, c.1890-1900. HPC ref: Wr-s019.

Continuing eastward on the wall, one approached a large pavilion – the Phoenix Tower (Danfenglou) – built in 1584 on the initiative of the Imperial Censor Qin Jiaji who converted one of the lookout towers into a three-story temple dedicated to the goddess Tianhou and various Taoist gods. When the temple was consecrated, Qin bestowed an antique plaque spelling “Phoenix Tower” salvaged from the Temple of the Smooth Passage (Shunjimiao 顺济庙), which had occupied the same spot two centuries earlier. The plaque was hung over the entrance to the new temple, and couplets by the poet Yang Weizhen were inscribed on vertical strips by the door: “Past twelve bamboo curtains and one hundred steps, the phoenix rises to heaven…”[v]

The Phoenix Tower was the tallest structure in Ming and Qing Shanghai, offering spectacular panoramic views of the city within the walls and the bustling neighbourhood between the city and the river. The painter Cao Shiting depicted the Phoenix Tower (below) sometime after 1820, and his painting became the best-known image of Shanghai before the concession era.

View of the Phoenix Tower (上海丹凤楼胜景图), Shanghai, by Cao Shiting (曹史亭). Source: Shanghai Library Archive.

The riverside suburb east of the city was set on fire and mostly destroyed in 1855, while joint Chinese and French forces were ousting out the Small Swords. Because of this accidental clearance, the photograph below shows an uninterrupted view north past the Phoenix Tower, all the way to the English Bund and the twin flagpoles of the Custom House.

Phoenix Tower on the east wall of Chinese City, looking towards the Bund, Shanghai, 1850s. Photograph by Robert Sillar. HPC ref: VH02-120.

On the northern wall, east of the New North Gate, looking east, toward the Huangpu River and French Concession, Shanghai, c.1902-1911. HPC ref: WG01-106

To the south of the Phoenix Tower, in 1909, the New East Gate, or Fuyoumen (福佑门), was carved through the city wall; it only had a few years of life. The next gate on the route – the Little East Gate, formally called Treasure Belt Gate (Baodaimen 宝带门) – was popular with travellers, who were attracted to the vibrancy of this neighbourhood. The Little East Gate was the primary passage between the walled city and the port – the source of Shanghai’s wealth and its reason to be.

Little East Gate, Shanghai, c.1910. Source: Shanghai Library Archive.

Travelling down the wall in the southern direction, one came next to the Big East Gate, or Chaozongmen (朝宗门). This had a water gate next to it, under which Zhaojia Creek passed into the city. The creek was always so crowded with stationary boats and barges that navigation was virtually impossible, and those travelling inland from the port avoided the walled city and its waterways. The illustration from Darwent’s Guide to Shanghai (below) portrays this congestion. A local gazetteer also observed that “in search of small profits, rich people build up the embankments and narrow the creeks. As a result, droughts make common folk cry from thirst, heavy rainfall overfills the gutters. Dirty water is one problem, fire hazard is another.”[vi]

Illustration from ‘Shanghai: a handbook for travellers and residents to the chief objects of interest in and around the foreign settlement and native city’ by C. E. Darwent (1904), p. 124.

The next gate on the route was the Little South Gate, made up of a big water gate and a small one for pedestrians; both connected the city with the bustling commercial suburb of Dongjiadu. These passages were well known to the American and French missionaries, who lived in this area and referred to it as Tunkadoo. After passing the ‘flourishing mission of the American Southern Presbyterians’ outside the city wall, one arrived at Shanghai’s southernmost gate – Big South Gate. It was the terminus of the only wide and straight avenue inside the walled city, which started at the magistrate’s yamen.

The county magistrate could assign punishments of great cruelty, but the death penalty required a special edict from the Imperial Board of Punishments and had to be carried out with byzantine official ceremony. On the day an execution was scheduled, a formal procession of officials from the office of the magistrate would parade on horseback and leave the walled city through the Big South Gate. The cavalcade would ride on a drawbridge across the defence moat, and the bridge would be immediately lifted behind them. By the testimony of W. MacFarlane, who attended an execution in the 1870s, ‘the mandarins and military officers […] generally number about twenty, all mounted on ponies, and they ride round in a circle making as much noise as they can by clattering of hoofs and tinkling of bells, until some small crackers are set off, at which signal the executioner cuts off the head of the prisoner with one fell swoop of his sword.’[vii]

Having walked around the southern curve of the city, one started a northward journey along the western wall. After 1909, one would pass over the Little West Gate, or Culture-Oriented Gate (Shangwenmen 尚文门), named thus for its proximity to the Confucian Temple (Wenmiao 文庙). The photograph below was taken from the city wall for, or by, the British officers temporarily stationed in the temple in 1863 in preparation for the Taiping invasion; the Confucian Temple is in the middle distance.

View of the Confucian Temple, Shanghai, 1863. HPC ref: RH01-19.

Continuing to walk along the western edge of the city, one saw few residences and many gardens. Darwent (1904) explained: ‘Walled cities always had to have open spaces in them, to grow as much food as possible in times of siege.’ George Smith, who had himself carried along the wall in a sedan chair in the late 1840s, found that the west of the walled city ‘presented a rural aspect, forming one succession of pleasant gardens, with only a few houses interspersed,’ and that ‘outside the wall there was scarcely a house to be seen.’[viii] Half a century later, the intramural area was still undeveloped, but the French Concession all around the walled city was built up with terraced houses (lilong). The image below shows the gardens in the walled city and the densely built French Concession beyond the wall.

View from the Dajing Pavilion over the western part of the walled city, Shanghai, c.1900. Source: Shanghai Library Archive.

With most of the population living in the city’s east, a single west-facing gate was sufficient. Officially named Ceremonial Phoenix Gate (Yifengmen 仪凤门), it was built in 1553, and according to existing photographs, it was quite substantial. As Macfarlane (1881) described it: ‘We pass through the first archway, the outer gate, and then are within the circular tower, with the sky for a roof, which is seen at all the city gates. In front of us is the watchmen’s house, and the guard […] is standing in the open front of the house, but not standing as a sentinel or watchman ought to stand; his favourite position most probably is lying down, with a hubble-bubble tobacco pipe to console himself and wile away the time.’[ix]

View from the city wall towards the West Gate, Shanghai. Photograph attributed to William Saunders or John Reddie Black. Published by John Reddie Black in ‘Far East’, January 1877.

After 1909, the next landmark on the route would be the Little North Gate, or Gongchenmen (拱辰门). The postcard below shows that this section of the city wall was much lower than the eastern and southern sections, which were reinforced and augmented in different years. One instance was the disastrous flood in August 1680, when after a nightlong rainstorm, the rising waves from the Huangpu simply washed away the southern section of the city wall, toppling houses underneath it and killing several residents. The whole county was submerged in five feet of water, and ‘boats were crisscrossing Shanghai as if it was a lake.’[x] Such occasions prompted wealthy citizens to offer funds for the restoration and earn respectful nicknames, like ‘Half-the-City Pan.’

Dajing Pavilion, workshops and city wall, Shanghai, c.1905-1911. HPC ref: GJ01-028.

Next stop on the itinerary is the Dajing Pavilion (Dajingge 大境阁, or Guandimiao 关帝庙), known as ‘Piece-Goods Temple’ to the westerners who had noticed that ‘Chinese merchants who deal in Manchester piece-goods’ used it.[xi] Darwent’s introduction was: ‘After a quarter of a mile’s walk, we come to the Da Ching, once a guard-house or castle, now a temple. It is a very beautiful and picturesque building, and makes a splendid photograph from any point of view. Gardens and open spaces surround it; at one corner there is a pool. From that side, with the pool in the foreground, it makes a very beautiful picture.’ The photographer of the image here must have taken these instructions literally.

To complete the route and arrive back at the Old North Gate, one passed the Soldiers’ Cemetery on the outside of the city wall, which contained 305 graves of British nationals, who died in the 1860s during the defence of the foreign settlements from the Taiping uprising (most of these deaths were not battle casualties, but resulted from rampant cholera). Since 1887, the cemetery was virtually abandoned but three oblong memorial tablets remained embedded in the city wall until 1938, when the cemetery was finally closed and the graves relocated. The graveyard was quickly built up; new houses clung to the surviving section of the wall like barnacles and completely hid it from sight.

Soldiers Cemetery and city wall, Shanghai, c.1905-1915. HPC ref: OH01-022.

One of the commemorative plaques, Soldiers Cemetery, city wall, Shanghai, c.1905-1915. HPC ref OH02-15.

The city wall was torn down in the years 1912–1914, and Shanghai citizens volunteered to assist with its dismantling, salvaging the bricks to repair their houses. The earth from the rampart was used to fill the moat, and the ring road emerged in its place, with a tram running in the middle. The inner side of the ring was called Minkuo Road (Minguo Lu 民国路), and the outer, French, side was called Boulevard des deux Republiques. The subsequent editions of Darwent’s Handbook for Travellers acknowledged that the scenic walk on the rampart was no longer possible, and the temples recommended for visiting ‘have all disappeared with the walls,’ except for the picturesque Dajing Pavilion. It was rebuilt in the late 2000s to resemble the original structure and now serves as a museum of the walled city. It is surrounded by a replica wall made of black bricks, some of which were, indeed, taken from the original city wall.

Demolition of the city wall, Shanghai, c.1912. Source: Shanghai Library Archive.

The old city wall made a sudden comeback in 2006, thanks to the long-forgotten Soldiers’ Cemetery. During demolition works in this area, a 70-meter section of the original city wall was found hidden between the houses. Unwilling to change the construction agenda, the developers dismantled the discovery and only after some pressure from the municipal authorities rebuilt part of it as picaresque ruin in front of a new apartment complex.

[i] Jerry Dennerline, The Chia-ting loyalists: Confucian leadership and social change in seventeenth-century China (Yale, 1981), p. 127.

[ii] From the translation quoted in John Meskill, Gentlemanly Interests and Wealth on the Yangzi Delta (Ann Arbor, 1994), pp. 94–95.

[iii] Darwent, C. E., Shanghai: A handbook for travellers and residents… (Kelly and Walsh, 1904)

[iv] Henry McAleavy, Wang T’ao: Life and Writings of Displaced Person (London, 1953), p. 5.

[v] Yang Weizhen, Phoenix Tower Verse 丹凤楼诗 (undated).

[vi] Jiaqing Songjiang Prefecture Gazetteer 嘉庆松江府志, Vol. 10 (c. 1820).

[vii] W. Macfarlane, Sketches in the Foreign Settlements and Native City of Shanghai (Shanghai, 1881), p. 60.

[viii] George Smith, A Narrative of an Exploratory Visit to Each of the Consular Cities of China… (1847), p. 134.

[ix] Macfarlane, 1881, 28.

[x] Jiaqing Shanghai County Gazetteer 嘉庆上海县志, Vol. 19 (1814).

[xi] T. Hodgson Liddell, China, Its Marvel and Mystery (George Allen & Sons, 1909), p. 41.

Visualizing Qing Diplomats in the West


Jenny Huangfu Day is the author of Qing Travelers to the Far West: Diplomacy and the Information Order in Late Imperial China(Cambridge University Press, 2018) and the editor of Letters from the Qing Legation in London [Wanqing Zhuying shiguan zhaohui dang’an] (Shanghai guji chubanshe, 2020). She teaches East Asian history at Skidmore College, New York. 

In the decade before the Qing established its first legations in Europe and the United States, it sent out a few investigatory missions staffed with mid-level officials to prepare for the dispatch of long-term resident ministers. The gentleman who led the first mission of 1866 was Binchun, a retired magistrate with personal connections to the Zongli Yamen, the newly created central office to handle foreign affairs. In Qing Travelers to the West, I wrote about how members of the Qing’s early missions imagined, poeticized, circulated, and consumed information about the West, and how these earlier strategies of conceptualizing the West changed when the permanent legations were established.

Figure 1: Cover image of ‘Qing Travelers to the Far West’.

Just as the Chinese used these travels to gather information about the West, Western depictions of these early missions – in sketches, photographs, watercolour paintings, and texts – made rounds in metropolitan and local newspapers and some were exchanged in private collections, making them excellent sources in what nineteenth-century Europeans considered important about the Chinese.

Before we examine some of these images and texts, it’s worth mentioning that Binchun and his colleagues were quite aware that they were being documented in Western media, even though they might not be clear just how they were being portrayed and why the Europeans held such a fascination with their images.

Binchun wrote in his journal: ‘Months before our arrival, newspapers of each country began making noises, and when we are here, many people ask to see us or make sketches of us. A few days ago when we were in Paris, merchants kept the films of our photographs and sold prints at fifteen silver dollar per portrait.’[1] His poems attributed the attention they received to his own charisma and the civilizing influence of Chinese culture, and he used the mission’s popularity to forge important personal connections. The Chinese were not being passively observed, but negotiated their appearances and to the extent possible, positioned themselves in ways to take advantage of it.[2]

British journalists subjected the mission to constant and minute scrutiny, but for quite different purposes from what Binchun seemed to think: it was important to know exactly what the ranks of the Chinese were in order to know what level of accommodation they were entitled to. According to the Birmingham Daily Post: ‘The study of buttons is essential to an accurate appreciation of Chinese life … We have scanned their costumes from their skull cap to their thick-soled shoes; and round the outside of their flowing robes, back and front, without being able to discover the all-important sign of rank about them.’ Speculations about the precise ranks of the commissioner and his suites occupied the British press in the few days, and the ‘great mystery’ was eventually solved after members of the mission made a formal appearance in official attires, complete peacock feathers and buttons.

Visual portrayals of the mission confirmed the anxiety about the status of the Chinese, highlighting the features mentioned in Birmingham Daily: notably, their officials robes, the peacock feathers and ‘button’ decorating the commissioner’s hat, the court beads, the embroidered symbol marking one’s place in the official hierarchy, the woven waist-sash. All members of the mission were depicted with their long, braided queues made emphatically visible.

Figure 2: Binchun and the Tongwenguan students at a French salon, 1866, Le Monde illustré, May 19, 1866.

Indeed, to have their peacock feathers shown, Qing commissioners were probably often asked to look sideways when being photographed in studios, instead of gazing directly into the camera and engaging the eyes of the beholder. This visual strategy can be seen in many well-publicized photographs the early missions.[3]

Figure 3: A portrait of Binchun, ca. 1866, courtesy of Tong Bingxue.

Figure 4: Anson Burlingame with two Chinese co-envoys, Zhigang and Sun Jiagu, and the Tongwenguan students, courtesy of Library of Congress.

Whether intended or not, such visual strategies of portraying the Chinese in their early missions to the West confirmed many existing impressions about the Chinese: that they were extremely status-conscious, fond of social gatherings, and typically gave only somewhat innocent – if not childish – responses to what they saw, depicted by terms such as ‘delighted,’ ‘disappointed,’ ‘disapproved,’ or ‘taken aback.’  In the following image, taken in Stockholm, the juxtaposition of the Qing mission, seen as a moving relic of an ancient and static culture – and the monumental glass-roofed ‘crystal palace’ at the Kungsträdgården, an industrial hall designed by the great architect Adolf W. Edelsvärd, sums up these impressions well.

Figure 5: “The Pin Mission, Stockholm, 1866”. HPC ref: Ha-n01.

Interestingly, these caricatures of the early Chinese travellers to the West, simplistic and condescending as they were, have been embraced by modernist Chinese intellectuals in the reform era – and at present – to show how far China has come along, or has yet to go, towards becoming ‘modern.’ Images of these early travellers to the West, created through the lenses of nineteenth century Western photographers, came to embody the steps China took to walk out of its supposed late imperial isolation and arrogance. Whatever its historical validity, the trope of the Confucian gentleman ‘stepping forth onto the world’ has been widely circulated in the Chinese public sphere, often as a subtle critique of the nationalist, or anti-Western, policies of the People’s Republic of China.

As Qing diplomacy converged with contemporary Western practices and moved towards the permanent legation, the value of Qing representatives as spectacles of the orient also declined, as it was replaced with direct consultations with Foreign Ministries. The role of the diplomat thus differed fundamentally from that of the traveling mandarin by design. Diplomatic negotiations were often conducted in private meetings, in writing or through telegraphy, with little fanfare and publicity. From 1877 onward, the most publicized images of Qing diplomats were standard head portraits similar to those of European statesmen, not visual stories exhibiting them on site.

From the 1880s onward, hardly any visual representation of Qing diplomats could be found in Western newspapers, and when they appeared, the Chinese were not depicted as spectators, but as diplomats and statesmen.

Figure 6: Portrait of Marquis Tseng (Zeng Jize), early 1880s, courtesy of Tong Bingxue.

Figure 7: French political cartoon depicting Zeng Jize playing cards with Jules Ferry as an allegory of their intense negotiations in the months leading up to the Sino-French War. ‘Le monde parisien’, 1883.

So the image of the traveling mandarin gazing the West in wonder came to an end with the Qing’s dispatch of resident ministers and consuls. This change was as much a reflection of China’s changing diplomatic structure, as it was a media artefact of how the Chinese came to be documented by the press.

[1] Binchun, Cheng cha biji (113.

[2] Day, Qing Travelers to the Far West: chapter 1.

[3]  I argue that the name ‘Burlingame Mission’ has tended to downplay Chinese agency in the mission.

Ruins of Macau in Historical Photographs of China collection – part three


Dr. Helena F. S. Lopes is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the Department of History, University of Bristol. This posting is the final part of a three-part series on the ruins of Macau. You can read part one here and part two here.

Hotel Estoril, Macau, c.1975. HPC ref: Aw-t515.

Another image in the ‘20 colour slides of Macau scenery’ series has a rather more subtle connection to 1940s Macau when compared with the statue of Ferreira do Amaral addressed in part 2. In fact, the building depicted above is essentially associated with the post-war period.

This is a view of the Hotel Estoril with its now gone bilingual neon sign: Hotel Estoril / 愛都大酒店. The building’s origins go back to the early 1950s, though the present-day ruin dates from the 1964 reconstruction and expansion. It is often described as Macau’s first ‘modern’ casino-hotel owned by Stanley Ho’s Sociedade de Turismo e Diversões de Macau (STDM).

Those responsible for the building’s appearance illustrate the deep connections between Macau and other colonial port cities in China. The building was designed by Macau-born, Hong Kong-based architect Alfredo Victor Jorge Álvares and a particularly iconic feature is the large mural in the façade designed by Oseo Acconci, an Italian sculptor who arrived in Macau precisely in 1940 after working in Shanghai and Hong Kong. The nude female figure in the mural – considered a rare example of Futurist art in Macau – has generated its fair share of controversy, as has the case for preserving the hotel, which remains abandoned since the 1990s and is planned to be redeveloped as a new Central Library.[1]

At present, Macau has the largest gaming industry in the world. This snapshot of this relatively ‘young’ local ruin, whose golden days lasted less than a decade (until the Casino Lisboa outshone it from the 1970s) but which can be seen, in a way, as pioneering the casino resorts now seen throughout the territory, is perhaps a fitting way to end this three-part series on some of the changes and continuities, rebuilding and disappearances, one find represented in the HPC Macau photographs.

[1] Sonia Nunes, ‘Macau’s Futurist Woman’, Macau Closer, Dec. 2015; Philip Feifan Xie and William Ling Shi, ‘Authenticating a Heritage Hotel: Co-Creating a New Identity’, Journal of Heritage Tourism 14/1 (2019); pp. 67-80; ‘New Macao Central Library to be built on former Hotel Estoril site’, Macau News 10 Sept. 2020.

Ruins of Macau in Historical Photographs of China collections – part two


Dr. Helena F. S. Lopes is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the Department of History, University of Bristol. This posting is part two of three-part series on the ruins of Macau. Part one can be read here.

Ferreira do Amaral statue, Macau, c. 1975. HPC ref: Aw-t524.

In one of the ‘20 Colour Slides Of Macau Scenery’ (c. 1970s) in the Colin and Janet Andrew Collection held at the University of Bristol Special Collections (DM2818/3), sharing promotional space with old temples and new hotels, one finds a site of crucial importance to discussions on ‘disappearance’ and public commemoration of Macau’s colonial past: the controversial statue of João Maria Ferreira do Amaral.

A Portuguese naval officer, Amaral served as governor of Macau from 1846 until 1849. He undertook a series of measures aimed at curbing Chinese power in the territory and asserting Portuguese colonial control. From closing down Chinese customs houses to clearing graves to build roads, his actions met with fierce Chinese resistance which led to his killing in 1849 outside the Macau border. His death escalated tensions between Chinese and Portuguese authorities, which reached the point of military confrontation. Macanese army officer Vicente Nicolau de Mesquita played a leading role in ensuring a quick Portuguese victory with significantly outnumbered forces in the Passaleão/Baishaling incident. Amaral and Mesquita have remained divisive figures: hailed as colonial heroes by some, criticised as colonial oppressors by others.[1]

In 1940, almost a century after Amaral’s assassination, bronze statues of the two men were installed in Macau. At the time, China grappled with the overwhelming effects of the War of Resistance against Japan while the Portuguese Estado Novo dictatorship, capitalising on its Second Word War neutrality, celebrated its imperial history in an international exhibition in Lisbon (the Portuguese World Exhibition, whose architectural legacy remains highly visible today). The placing of these statues in prime locations in Macau (Mesquita’s near Leal Senado, Amaral in a square named after him near where the Hotel Lisboa and the Bank of China skyscraper would later be built) in this particular context has been seen as a way ‘to secure the territory’s neutrality through the means of re-affirming a Portuguese identity.’[2] A more critical reading would, however, note the symbolic act of colonial humiliation at a time when Chinese anti-imperialist activism had more pressing targets. By 1940, Macau – itself a site where the Chinese anti-Japanese resistance was active – was no stranger to the massive disruption caused by the Japanese invasion of China. A significant number of Chinese refugees moved to the neutral territory during the conflict.

The statues of Amaral and Mesquita, by Portuguese sculptor Maximiano Alves, showed the men engaged in positions which seem to glorify, with masculine assertiveness, their role as defenders, by violence if necessary, of Portuguese colonial rule in Macau: Amaral riding a horse while brandishing a whip to, according to an information plaque in the statue’s current location ‘defend himself against his aggressors’; Mesquita drawing his sword while standing. They stand alone, their opponents invisible. Yet not a century went by before their presence was deemed too uncomfortable to remain standing in a post-colonial Macau. Mesquita’s statue was removed first, in the late 1966 clashes that saw Portuguese colonial authority in Macau contested and constrained in events whose wider context had links to the Cultural Revolution in the mainland (but which had specific local dynamics as well). A photograph taken the year before the statue’s toppling can be seen here. Amaral’s statue remained in place beyond the 1960s, but was dismantled in 1992 and shipped to Lisbon, at the request of the then director of Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. The decision to remove the statue before the handover and the figure of Amaral as a symbol of contrasting perspectives on the territory continues to generate discussions and being reimagined in cultural productions (for example novels and an opera).[3]

When the monument was removed, it seems to have been for many just a statue of ‘a guy on a horse’ located in a square where people could stroll and gather together regardless (rather than because) of the figure being commemorated.[4] Indeed, the photograph above shows people riding pass it or congregating in groups. In the background we see the Penha Hill, with Our Lady of Penha Chapel (Capela de Nossa Senhora da Penha) on top (first built in the seventeenth century, the present-day building dating from 1935).

Earlier this year, Amaral’s name came up when an advisor to the Municipal Affairs Bureau in Macau suggested changing street names associated with the Portuguese colonial period – attracting some pushback.[5] In Lisbon, Amaral’s statue was not put in storage nor exhibited in a museum but is on public display, in a small garden in a residential neighbourhood. It appears to remain fairly unnoticed. One should not overlook the power of indifference to rejecting the statue’s original celebratory purpose – perhaps that too is a peculiar form of decolonisation.

Ferreira do Amaral statue, Lisbon, 2020. Photograph by Helena F. S. Lopes. © Helena F. S. Lopes.

[1] On the contrasting meanings of the statues for Chinese and Portuguese see C. M. B. Cheng, Macau: A Cultural Janus (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1999), pp. 28-30.
[2] Paula Morais, ‘Macau’s Urban Transformation 1927-1949: The Significance of Sino-Portuguese Foreign Relations in the Urban Form’ in Izumi Kuroishi, ed., Constructing the Colonized Land: Entwined Perspectives of East Asia Around WWII (Surrey: Ashgate, 2014), p. 155.
[3] E.g. João Paulo Meneses, ‘A maldição da estátua de Ferreira do Amaral’ [The curse of Ferreira do Amaral’s statue], Ponto Final, 11 May 2011; Mário César Lugarinho, ‘Violência e Interpretação, Leituras da História de Macau’ [Violence and Interpretation, Readings of the History of Macau], Abril-Revista do Núcleo de Estudos de Literatura Portuguesa e Africana da UFF, 10/20 (2018), pp. 37-48.
[4] C. H. Clayton, Sovereignty at the Edge: Macau & the Question of Chineseness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), p. 212.
[5] On the meanings (and lack of them) of Macau’s official street names and multiple perceptions of architectural changes in Macau see Clayton’s Sovereignty at the Edge, Chapter Five.

Ruins of Macau in Historical Photographs of China collections – part one


Dr. Helena F. S. Lopes is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the Department of History, University of Bristol. This posting is part one of three-part series on the ruins of Macau.

Part two of a panoramic view of the Praia Grande (南灣), Macau, c.1868. Photograph by William Pryor Floyd. HPC ref: VH03-61.

The South China territory of Macau (澳門) was the first European settlement in the country, with the Portuguese presence there dating back to the 16th century. It returned to Chinese rule in 1999, two years after Hong Kong. Historical Photographs of China holds a small but interesting sample of images of Macau in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The images currently on the website stop in the early 1900s, but a small collection of commercially produced 35mm slides (entitled on the box ‘20 Colour Slides Of Macau Scenery’ and in Japanese ‘20枚スライドにマカオの名勝’) in the Colin and Janet Andrew Collection held at the University of Bristol Special Collections (DM2818/3) offers other views of ‘old Macau’. Amongst these slides, which date from the 1970s, we find some popular old landmarks, often featured in depictions of the city (e.g. Ruins of St Paul, A-Ma Temple) alongside what were, then, relatively new places (like the Hotel Lisboa, built in 1970, or the Governador Nobre de Carvalho Bridge/Macau-Taipa Bridge, opened in 1974). Interestingly – some of the sites promoted in the slides have since ceased to operate, becoming a kind of ruin, too.

The Praia Grande shown in the photograph above is part of a four-part 1868 panorama by William Pryor Floyd, an early China photographer who had his studio there before moving to Hong Kong. The bay has changed so much in the last one hundred years due to land reclamation and rebuilding that those views from the water, a common topic of turn-of-the-century postcards of Macau, are themselves images of something largely gone. As other places around the world, Macau has its share of ‘ruins of empire’ which invite meaningful discussions on the material and immaterial legacies of colonialism. Ruins are remains, they are physically present, but that semi-destructed state also evokes what has since vanished. Ackbar Abbas’ discussion of a ‘culture of disappearance’ in Hong Kong is also fruitful to understand its connected neighbour.[1]

When speaking of Macau, it is not uncommon that one’s immediate visual reference is the Ruins of St Paul, most notably the stone façade that remains of the Church of the Mater Dei (Igreja da Madre de Deus) and St Paul’s College (Colégio de São Paulo), built by the Jesuits in the 16th century and rebuilt in the early 17th century. The buildings were almost completely destroyed in 1835, due to a fire but the sculpted façade survived. The impact of natural disasters and man-made destruction has always had a more pronounced role in reshaping Macau’s landscape than military conflict.

Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Macau, 1911. HPC ref: BL02-050.

Now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the ‘Historic Centre of Macau’, the Ruins of St Paul can be found in some of the HPC photographs. The image above, dated ‘May 22 & 23 1911’, some months before the Chinese Republican revolution, is from an album that belonged to a member of ‘Pelissier’s Follies’, a British theatre troupe who toured East Asia in 1911.

It bears some similarities with a photograph taken by Scottish photographer John Thomson in 1870. The almost deserted staircase towered by the imposing façade is flanked by old buildings on one side. A solitary figure approaches the foreground, with no distinguished features, a silhouette in a land of shadows and light. The contrast couldn’t be sharper with the crowds one would have encountered if visiting the site by day in the pre-Covid-19 tourist boom days.

The ruins of St Paul are a fitting symbol of several dynamics one can associate with the territory. For a start, there is of course the Catholic presence in China, in whose rich history Macau holds a very important place. There is the much-cited coexistence of different communities and influences, even beyond the obvious Chinese and Portuguese – for example, the façade was carved by Japanese Christian refugees working under the direction of an Italian Jesuit priest. It is also testament to the history of the foreign military presence in China, as the college (which had ceased to operate when the Society of Jesus was expelled from the Portuguese empire in 1762) was later used as military barracks, the 1835 fire having started in its kitchen. Its present incomplete and hollow form can invite discussions on the exercise and legacy of Portuguese colonial power in Macau. Its restoration and marketisation as a tourist hotspot also tell a story of rebranding, commercialisation, and development in the running up to and since the 1999 handover. Little wonder, then, that the place has attracted considerable scholarly attention.[2]

St Anthony’s Church, damaged by the 1874 typhoon, Macau. Photograph by Lai Fong (Afong Studio). HPC ref: NA15-18.

Amongst the HPC holdings one finds another photograph of the ruins of a church with Jesuit connections: an impressive photograph by Lai Afong Studio of St Anthony’s Church (Igreja de Santo António) in the aftermath of the 22 September 1874 typhoon. The photograph comes from an album in the UK National Archives documenting typhoon damage in Hong Kong and Macau. St Anthony’s Church is one of Macau’s oldest churches, first built using bamboo and wood in the mid-sixteenth century, and later rebuilt in stone. It too suffered its share of destruction by fire but it still exists, its present building dating from the 1930s. Its successive rebuilding says something about the endurance of Macau’s Christian communities.

These photographs of religious ruins offer a glimpse of past versions of monuments that are still standing. But other, more recent, images in the HPC collection have arguably more obvious links to ideas of disappearance and legacies of empire, as we shall see in the second of this three-part series on ‘Ruins of Macau’.


Ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral, Macau, c. 1975. HPC ref: Aw-t526.

[1] Ackbar Abbas, ‘Building on Disappearance: Hong Kong Architecture and the City’, Public Culture 6 (1994), pp. 441-459.
[2] E.g. Cristina Mui Bing Cheng, Macau: A Cultural Janus (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1999), pp. 83-100; Cathryn H. Clayton, Sovereignty at the Edge: Macau & the Question of Chineseness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009), pp. 1-5 and passim; Gonçalo Couceiro, A Igreja de São Paulo de Macau [Macau’s St Paul’s Church] (Lisbon: Livros Horizonte, 1997); Lee Yuk Tin, Olhar as Ruínas: Igreja da Madre de Deus em Macau [A View of the Ruins: The Mater Dei Church in Macau] (Macau: Livros do Oriente, 1990); Marta Wieczorek, ‘Macau’s Heterotopias: Ruins of St Paul’s as a Spatial and Temporal Disruption’, The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology 20/4 (2019), pp. 312-327.