Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

The Word "Macao" and Its Special Meaning in the British Colonial Records of Nineteenth-Century Malaya

Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

The Word "Macao" and Its Special Meaning in the British Colonial Records of Nineteenth-Century Malaya

Article excerpt


In contemporary Macau, we know that the word "Macao" indicates a Portuguese spelling of "Macau" since the Portuguese colonial period in the sixteenth century. We do not know, however, the meaning of the word "Macao" used in the nineteenth-century British colonial records. What does the word "Macao" actually mean in the British Malayan context? Does it mean a place name of "Macao" on the Pearl River Delta? Or a particular culture brought originally from Macao to British Malaya in the nineteenth century? These questions are interesting. However, the meaning of the word "Macao" in the colonial Malayan context has not been fully recognised and answered by scholars. For this reason, my paper will explore the meaning of the word "Macao" based on a judicious examination of nineteenthcentury British colonial records. The aim in doing so is to restore the visibility of the word "Macao" before it became invisible in the British colonial records in the 1870s.


The earliest British colonial record that tells us about the "Macao" in Malaya was John Leyden's article in 1811. John Leyden (1775-1811) was a Scottish linguist who joined the British East India Company (hereafter EIC) as a medical staff in Madras in the early nineteenth century. In 1805, Leyden's visit to Penang had inspired him to study the Chinese and the Malays in the Malay Archipelago. As a result, he published an article, which was entitled "On the Language and Literature of the Indo-Chinese Nations", in the Asiatick Researches in 1811.

In this article, Leyden (1811, pp. 266-267) pointed out that there were two major Chinese communities in Penang: the "Macao" and the "Chin Chew". He further identified that the spoken Chinese languages of the "Macao" and the "Chin Chew" into six different types, including: Hyong-san ( UrLÜ ), Sun-tukk ( KIMÍü ), Nam-hói ( PÜ/'Í5 ), Pún-ngi ( ffMI ),Tóngkhún CMvñ) and Fo-khín (fil$É)- According to Leyden, the dialects spoken by the "Macao" were the first five languages, Hyong-san, Sun-tukk, Nam-hói, Pún-ngi, Tóng-khún', while the "Chin Chew" commonly spoke Fo-khin in their daily life. This meant that the way that Leyden classified the Chinese inhabitants he encountered in Malaya was according to their spoken languages.

Unfortunately, Leyden did not explain why were the "Chin Chew" and "Macao" spoken different kinds of dialects in Malaya. He also did not discuss, however, that these languages were transcribed from the Cantonese pronunciations of the names of Guangdong districts and Fujian province, where Hyong-san was xiangshan ( HfLÜ ), Sun-tukk was shunde ( KIM ÍÜ ), Nam-hói was nanhai ( j^j'M ), ; vis-à-vis), Pún-ngi was panyu ( UMI ), Tóng-khún was dongguan ( MlfË ), and Fo-khin was fujian ( ). Despite the lack of detailed information, Leyden's investigation nevertheless was an important early result that shows about plurality of Chinese languages in British Malaya.

The second British colonial record that tells us about the "Macao" in British Malaya was Siah U Chin's article, entitled "the Chinese in Singapore" (Siah, 1848, pp. 283-290). This paper was published in 1848 in the Journal of the Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia. During the nineteenth century, Siah U Chin (1805-1883) was known also as Seah Eu Chin, who was one of most influential Chinese merchants in British Malaya due to his language skills and trading knowledge.3 Amongst the respectable Chinese merchants, Siah was the first who discovered the population of "Macao" people in Singapore. In the 1840s, he estimates that the population of "Macao" people, numbering 6,000, was the third largest Chinese group in Singapore. At that time, the largest Chinese group in Singapore was the "Teochew", which constituted nearly 48 percent out of the total Chinese population in Singapore, followed by the "Hokkien" (23%), "Macao" (15%), "Kheh" (10%), the "Malaya-born Chinese descendants" (3%), and the "Hailam" (2%). …

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