The emerging of
freemasonry in China in the 18th century has been reported a British
invention, coming from the historical conflict, the Opium War, that involve
Great Britain and China in a dispute about the trading routes in the Eastern
Chinese coast and commerce of the narcotic product among the Chinese population.
In the outcome of this bloody war the British were entitled to several
extraterritorial concessions, namely the island of Hong Kong, concession areas
in Canton and other (Chinese) ports that were fundamental to secure the routes
of its trade and presence as new Imperial power in the East. In the ships that
made the trade of opium from Britain to China, and silk, porcelain or tea
towards London, traveled beyond sailors, merchants, military personnel,
bureaucrats, business men, intellectuals or lawyers that look to start a new
life in Chinese land, transporting the habits, traditions and way of life of the
Old Albion. Freemasonry clubs were part of this British tradition and meeting
places for the gentry and the administrative bureaucracy that followed the trace
of East India Company ships securing the domain of the British Empire.
lodges emerged in the cities were the British built their settlements, separated
from the Chinese towns and were original ways of life were recreated for the
benefit of the merchant and expatriate community. Taking Hong Kong as spoils of
the bloody confront that push it against the Celestial Empire, Great Britain
recreate in the arid scraps a bourgeoning city building it according with
British rules and peculiarities, governed by the common law and imperial
regulations. As lodges emerged in the island as gentlemen clubs, the Chinese
bourgeoisie was let, carefully, outside them. Only after the foundation of the
People’s Republic of China, in 1949, this situation would change whit British
families running from the political turmoil (in China) that led the foreign
presence almost impossible. The British lodges firstly created in China divided
themselves by Hong Kong and Taiwan, in the first territory creating districts
subordinated to the Grand Lodges of England, Scotland and Ireland, and in the
second entering on a process of gradual autonomy that led them to create a Grand
Lodge of China (Taiwan), a corps that for longtime was not recognized by British
freemasonry for reasons that are implicit.
this record, I would tempted to argue that there are factually events that led
us believe that freemasonry came to the East years before than had been argued,
being originated in Macau, a colony of Portugal in the first half of the 18th
century. In 1759 a ship “Prince Carl” of the Swedish Company of the Eastern
Indian Islands arrived to Macau. The freemasons that came in this ship brought a
letter of patent to meet in Lodge in any port they coast, and eventually they
did it in Macau initiating profanes and associating Portuguese and other foreign
freemasons that already lived in the colony. As the ship transported employees
of the Company and other merchants to Canton helped to create an informal
Masonic grouping in Chinese land.
independent segment of European freemasonry took root in Macau, formed by
members of the local communities, and facilitated by the use of the franca
language in the East, the Portuguese. Macau came under Portuguese rule in the
middle of the 16th century (1557), as premium of the assistance given
(by Portuguese ships) to Chinese Imperial authorities in the persecution of
pirates that scourge the (Chinese) ports.
Portuguese presence was never disputed by the Chinese authorities of foreign
powers and this situation extended till the 19th century when China
was defeated in the Opium War.
In 1862 a treaty was signed between the Portuguese monarch and the Imperial
Chinese government. Macau became a colony of Portugal and later a dependent
territory, becoming clear that Lisbon had no sovereign power over the piece of
land but just an administrative political power;
a situation that has been identifies as “divided jurisdiction”, with the
Portuguese local authorities governing the expatriate community and the Imperial
authority of Canton directing the bulk of the Chinese district. This situation
will last till the end of the 20th century when an Administrative
Special Region was installed, dependent on Beijing and Portugal, the first
European power to come to the East, being the last to leave in December 1999.
considerable autonomy from the far-way Portugal, the Portuguese community make
possible the interexchange of cultures, philosophies, moods of leaving, and even
religious practices between the Caucasian minority and the Chinese majority;
Macau emerged as a very cosmopolitan and open city where distinct social
practices were broadly tolerated. Different from what happened in Hong Kong,
inter-racial marriages with Chinese, Indian or Malay women were mostly common,
forming gradually a half-brad group named “Macanese” that interlinked the
Portuguese with the major ethnic group of Han Chinese. Freemasonry accompany
this line of societal compromise and in Macao some lodges and Masonic groups
emerged combining Portuguese, expatriates and relevant members of the Macanese
community, that spread through the administrative bureaucracy, local companies,
liberal professions and the circle of intellectuals that were part of a ferment
local society. Two of them, Camilo Pessanha and Wenceslau de Morais, were
members of the intellectual movement of “symbolism” in the earlier 20th
Century, applauded poets, and usual presence in the clubs and social events of
the local bourgeoisie. Both were freemasons and members of a Portuguese lodge
named Luis de Camões, dependent on the Grand Orient of Portugal. Camilo Pessanha
would progress till the 18º Degree Rose-Croix of the Ancient and Accepted
Scottish Rite according with documents accessible in its personal papers.
logic of the colonization of both empires, the raising influence of the Chinese
in the life in Macau, the hegemonic vision of Britain as grand power in the
Indic and Pacific Oceans made any coordination between the two crafts basically
In the second half of the 18th century, the Chinese authorities in
Canton impose to the European employees of the large Companies of the East India
to live outside the city helping to consolidate the Portuguese rule in Macao.
The two Masonic communities live apart, divided by the mother languages used by
the executive powers, Great Britain and Portugal, although there are reasons to
believe that contact between freemasons of Hong Kong and Macao was possible.
This division would aggravate during the 19th and 20th
centuries, part of it by historical developments happening in Portugal where
liberal and absolute kings rotate; the first allowing freemasons to proceed with
their activities, recruit new members and increase the number of lodges; the
second persecuting freemasons and crashing over the lodges.
freemasons were deeply involved in the liberal movements of the 19th
century, and as it was summarized elsewhere, participated in the political
movements that push the overthrown of monarchies of divine power, that led to
the creation of constitutional monarchies everyplace in Europe.
Portuguese Craft, although a British invention, adhere enthusiastically to the
French stylish club de reflexion and to a more cosmopolitan and
politicized participation in the affairs of the profane world. As reflex,
Macau’s lodges and ritualistic practices were more liberalized than its
counterparts in Hong Kong. A basic point of this diversion is the opposite
attitude regarding regularity.
China and Macau
lodge in China has been disputed has a creation of the Grand Lodge of England or
the Swedish Grand Lodge putting it around 1788. Arthur Waite invokes the
authority of the German Handbook of Freemasonry to argue that a Lodge of St
Elizabeth existed in Canton City prior to 1865 and was the oldest Lodge in China
but with time vanished letting the space for two district Grand Lodges under the
Grand Lodge of England.
No reference is maid to Macau by the American historian that probably ignored
the existence of the territory administered by Portugal or followed acritically
the British sources without taking in consideration others.
What can be said
is that during the 19th century two district Grand Lodges existed,
one the Northern China district gathering five lodges located in Shanghai, that
increase to eleven; the Southern China district had seven lodges under its
Obedience, later increasing to nine. But the Western Masonic presence was not
restricted to English lodges; in 1908 there were Scottish, American and German
lodges at work.
Adding to these one should take in consideration the existence of a Triad
Society, named Thian-Li-Hui, or Heaven Earth League, that had significant
activities during the abovementioned and contacts with European Obediences.
This society whose rituals resemble mostly Masonic traditions was lately
involved in the Patriotic movements that led to the overthrown of the Celestial
Empire and the foundation by Sun Yat-sen of the Republic of China.
Portuguese dominance in Macau, Freemasons participate randomly in activities
organized by foreign crews of European ships that rest in Macau ports. In its
report of Portuguese Freemasonry, Oliveira Marques, the Masonic historian,
quotes from the annuary of GOL (1922), the existence of a lodge named “Luis de
Camões”, with the number 383, located in Macau and practicing the Scottish Rite.
Oliveira Marques names local official of the Portuguese garrison – Domingos
Gregório Rosa Duque – as the official point of contact.
This fact is confirmed by Albert Mackey that asserts that in 1909 the Grand
Orient of Portugal create a lodge with the so-said name in Macao and the Grand
Orient of Italy has made the same in Shanghai.
We may argue with some certainty that since one century before, Portuguese and
foreign lodges met in Macau, namely an English lodge named “Amity” that appears
with the number 407 in the 1768 list of Lodges dependent on the first Grand
Lodge of England, and a Lodge that has been reputedly associated with the Grand
Lodge of the State of Alamaba (United States). The Lodge “Luis de Camões” was
probably a remake of a former Lodge, with the same name, that existed in Macau
at earlier 19th century formed by Portuguese expatriates.
There is some
fundamental reasons for the lack of historical registers considering Masonic
activity in Macau; first endogenous and the second exogenous. The geographical
distance from the motherland, the random participation of local Masters in the
activities of the Grand Orient in Lisbon, make the requirement of proceedings
dispensable. Complimentary the always-tense relations between the Episcopal
Church and the local intellectual liberal circles made that identification
rather risky for those who publically assumed themselves as freemasons. In the
periods of political unresting in Portugal, conservative clerics demand
repression over Masonic lodges and freemasons, in general; this has an immediate
reflection in Macao has the Church had an expressive presence around religious
organizations, the bishop’s entourage and the Order of Jesuits that had in
exclusivity the public and private education. Periodically, as it has been
stated elsewhere, the Church took advantage of the time when a Divine Right King
was enthrone in Portugal to demand the police and the administrative authorities
to lay a heavy hand on Masonic activities and close lodges.
There are no
documents, insofar, that attest the regular visits of Grand Inspectors of the
Order to the local organization, as it is so common nowadays, in Freemasonry. It
is doubtful that the Lodge organized any sort of register about members, minutes
of meetings, dates of initiation, increase of salary and exaltation of members
has they may fall in the wrong hands. A last explanation is that the Craft has
suffered during the 19th century lasting decades of division and
secession, divided by different Grand Orients or Grand Lodges (Grand Orient of
Portugal, Masonic Confederation, Grand Orient Lusitano), and only unified in
1869 by the gavel of Count Parati into a Grande Oriente Lusitano Unido.
It is basically
unknown the profile of recruitment of members to the Portuguese lodge operating
in Macao but if we look descriptions of the life in the colony during the first
half of the 20th century, we may imagine that the ranks were composed
of employees of the government, members of the military, liberal professionals,
and probably some members of the local clergy, sympatric with liberal and
republican ideals in fashion in Europe.
Macau that were freemasons;
Adriao Acacio da Silva Pinto e
António Alexandrino de Melo, barão do
Cercal, autor do Palácio da Praia Grande, Cemitério de S. Miguel, Quartel dos
Mouros e Clube Militar;
Constâncio José da Silva;
D. José da Costa Nunes;