Successful Inscription of the “Chapas Sínicas” on Memory of the World Register

Date : 31/10/2017

As announced by the UNESCO on 30 October 2017, the collection of “Chapas Sínicas” (Official Records of Macao During the Qing Dynasty (1693-1886)), jointly nominated by the Archives of Macao under the Cultural Affairs Bureau and the National Archive of Torre do Tombo of Portugal, has been successfully inscribed on the internationally recognised Memory of the World Register.

The “Chapas Sínicas” comprises a total of 3,600 documents, including over 1,500 official letters written in Chinese, 5 books of Portuguese translated copies of the letters kept by the Loyal Senate of Macao and 4 packets of miscellaneous documents. The collection of “Chapas Sínicas” is the documentation of Macao during the Qing Dynasty preserved in the National Archive of Torre do Tombo of Portuga l, and has been renamed as “Official Records of Macao During the Qing Dynasty (1693-1886)” for the inscription of the Memory of the World Register.

The collection of “Chapas Sínicas” is composed of official and non-official documents created mainly from the mid-eighteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century, namely from the early reign of Qianlong to the late reign of Daoguang in the Qing Dynasty. The largest part of the collection comprises official correspondence exchanged between the sub-prefects of Macao, magistrates of Xiangshan and other Chinese officials and the Procurators of the Loyal Senate of Macao during the exercise of Chinese sovereignty over Macao. Part of the records, which contain the terms and limitations that were established for the Portuguese scope of administration in Macao, reports and petitions submitted by the Portuguese authorities based in Macao and the replies received from the Chinese authorities in Guangdong, are a manifestation of the territorial and jurisdictional sovereignty of China over Macao. In addition, there are documents such as bills, letters, deeds, contracts and other documents that are associated with the social conditions, the people’s lives, urban development, trade and commerce, among others. The Collection also includes official correspondence between the Chinese and Portuguese authorities under the special circumstances when Macao was leased to Portugal.

The collection of “Chapas Sínicas” clearly reflects the special status and role of Macao in the world at that time. Macao, as a major port for China’s foreign trade and exchanges, through marine traffic and other means of communication, was connected to the United Kingdom, France, Russia, the United States, Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Japan, North Korea, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines and many other countries. It became a place where foreign vessels assembled and a convergence point of Eastern and Western culture. The collection of “Chapas Sínicas”, which is closely associated with the fonds of Leal Senado (Loyal Senate) preserved in the Archives of Macao, contains first-hand information of great value for the study of Macao history and the history of East-West relations. It was brought to Portugal in the 19th century and later transferred to the custody of National Archive of Torre do Tombo.

In 1989, the Historical Archives of Macao (now known as the Archives of Macao), under the auspices of the Cultural Affairs Bureau, reproduced this Collection of Chinese documents in microfilm format from the National Archive of Torre do Tombo of Portugal and started compilation of the documents in the following year. In 1997, the catalogue of “Chapas Sínicas” in Chinese and Portuguese was published. In 1999 and 2000, the Macao Foundation also compiled and published the Chinese manuscripts and their translation in Portuguese.

In 2015, a memorandum of understanding on archival co-operation was signed between the Cultural Affairs Bureau of the Macao Special Administrative Region and the General Directorate for Book, Archives and Libraries of the Government of Portugal (DGLAB). The memorandum of understanding facilitated the cooperation between the Archives of Macao and the National Archive of Torre do Tombo of Portugal in the joint nomination of the collection of the “Chapas Sínicas” to be listed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, and in a bilateral collaboration for the conservation and digitization of the collection. In 2016, “Chapas Sínicas” was successfully inscribed on the Asia-Pacific Register of the Memory of the World at regional level.

In celebration of the successful inscription of the “Chapas Sínicas” on the Memory of the World Register, the two Archives will jointly organise a series of archives exhibitions in Macao and Lisbon in 2018 in 2019, and commemorative stamps will be issued in both cities. These endeavours, which are expected to draw more attention on the cultural connotations of Macao’s archives and documentations, are in line with the objective proposed by the Macao SAR Government to transform Macao into a “City of Culturre” and strengthen the cultural exchanges between China and Portugal.

Established by UNESCO in 1992, the Memory of the World Programme is a project for the preservation of documentary heritage. It aims to safeguard the world’s documentary heritage against aging, destruction and dispersal through international co-operation and the most advanced technologies, thus protecting the memory of humanity. The Memory of the World Register was established in 1997 and divided into three categories: international, regional and national. Documentary heritage inscribed in the international level is recommended by the International Advisory Committee and approved by the Director-General of UNESCO as per the criteria of world significance and outstanding universal value.

The nomination of “Chapas Sínicas” carries high historic significance, as it is the first joint nomination by the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China and Portugal to be inscribed in the Memory of the World Register.

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