Embracing the cultural wealth of a shared historical legacy

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The exhibition at Beijing's National Library of China, Chapas Sinicas-Stories of Macao in Torre do Tombo, features more than 100 facsimiles of documents taken from a collection at the Portuguese national archive. [Photo by FANG AIQING/CHINA DAILY]

Many of the documents on display at the exhibition in Beijing are official exchanges of correspondence between the Chinese authorities and the Portuguese Office of the Procurator of the Loyal Senate of Macao during this period of Chinese sovereignty.

The collection was later brought to Portugal and lay forgotten in the archivist's office of the national archives until 1952, when the late Chinese historian Fang Hao-a specialist in ancient East-West relations-visited the Torre do Tombo and recognized the importance of the documents.

The previously unverified documents were then examined by groups of scholars from both countries over the course of the following six decades.

The ongoing exhibition is divided into eight sections, including the domestic and foreign inhabitants and officials of Macao, Western missionaries and merchants from Europe and the Americas, and two sections that examine the links between Britain and Macao and the rest of Asia.

Also exhibited are documents related to the ancient Whampoa anchorage and the "Thirteen Hongs" (factories), a guild of official Chinese merchants and trading houses that held a monopoly over trade in the region during the early Qing Dynasty.

According to Silvestre Lacerda, director general of the Directorate-General for Books, Archives and Libraries of Portugal, these documents detail the confrontation between the different ideas and visions of the world, negotiations of economic and commercial interests, and how coexisting nationalities resolved conflicts and dealt with opposing viewpoints.

"What is depicted-and dare I say is still reflected nowadays-is the primary expression of the spirit of open dialogue, the ability to cooperate and the ability to overcome obstacles," he says.

The archives are due to be digitized and will be made available online, Lacerda adds.

According to Portugal's culture minister, Graca Fonseca, the exhibition demonstrates how rich and extensive the relationships among the different peoples living in Macao were in the past.

This common cultural heritage and shared past suggest a promising outlook for bilateral relations and deeper bonds between the people of China and Portugal, she says.

The exhibition runs through July 26.

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