Portuguese galleons first visited Macau to trade in the early 16th century and in 1557, as a reward for clearing out pirates endemic to the area, they were allowed to establish a tiny enclave here. As trade with China grew so did Macau, which became the principal meeting point between China and the West. However, after the Opium War between the Chinese and the British and the subsequent establishment of Hong Kong, Macau went into a long decline.
China’s Cultural Revolution spilled over into the territory in 1966–67. The government reportedly proposed that Portugal should leave Macau forever but, fearing the loss of foreign trade, the Chinese refused the offer.
In 1999, under the Sino-Portuguese Pact, Macau was returned to China and designated a Special Administrative Region (SAR). Like Hong Kong, the pact ensures Macau a ‘high degree of autonomy’ in all matters except defence and foreign affairs for 50 years.