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Portuguese in East Asia

Bumpy Road for East Asian Trade

After decades of on again, off again relations with the Chinese, the Portuguese finally established a permanent, official trade base at Macau.

Years:  1510 — 1558

The Portuguese established posts at Goa in 1510, and conquered Malacca in 1511, driving the Sultan to the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. The Portuguese under Jorge Alvares landed at Lintin island in the Pearl River Delta of China in 1513 with a hired junk sailing from Portuguese Malacca. They erected a stone marker (padrão) at Lintin Island, claiming it for King Manuel I of Portugal.  In the same year, the Indian Viceroy Afonso de Albuquerque commissioned Rafael Perestrello, a cousin of Christopher Columbus, to sail to China in order to open up trade relations. Perestrello traded with the Chinese merchants in Guangzhou in that year and in 1516, but was not allowed to continue thereafter.

Portugal's King Manuel I in 1517 commissioned a diplomatic and trade mission to Guangzhou headed by Tomé Pires and Fernão Pires de Andrade. The mission was rejected by the Chinese Ming Court, which now became less interested in new foreign contacts. The Ming Court was also influenced by reports of misbehavior by the Portuguese elsewhere in China, and by the deposed Sultan of Malacca seeking Chinese assistance to drive the Portuguese out of Malacca.

In 1521 and 1522, several more Portuguese ships reached the trading island Tamão off the coast near Guangzhou, but were driven away by the now hostile Ming authorities. Pires was imprisoned and died in Canton.

Good relations between the Portuguese and Chinese Ming dynasty resumed in the 1540s, when the Portuguese aided China in eliminating coastal pirates. The two later began annual trade missions to the offshore Shangchuan Island in 1549. A few years later, Lampacau Island, closer to the Pearl River Delta, became the main base of Portuguese trade in the region. In 1557, the Ming court finally gave consent for a permanent and official Portuguese trade base at Macau. In 1558, Leonel de Sousa became the second Portuguese Governor of Macau.

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