Macau, or, officially, the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, is located to the west of the Pearl River estuary in southern China. Formerly a Portuguese colony, having been leased as a trading post by the Ming Dynasty in 1557 before falling under direct Portuguese control in 1887, China regained full control in 1999. Macau has a 2020 population of 649,335 according to the latest estimates from the UN's World Population Prospects.
The territory has now become a major resort city and one of the world’s top destinations for gambling tourism with up to 38 million visitors each year. In 2019, Macau has a population of about 623,000 with a population density of 55,270 per square mile (21,340/km).
According to official demographics data, the racial and ethnic composition of Macau is made up as:
- 88.8% Chinese
- 4.6% Filipino
- 2.4% Vietnamese
- 1.8% Portuguese/Macanese
- 2.8% Other
Large portions of the Macau population are Portuguese citizens, a legacy of the Portuguese colonial rule. At the time of Macau being returned to Chinese ownership in 1999, 107,000 residents held Portuguese passports.
The main language spoken in Macau is Cantonese. 87.5% of the population speaks Cantonese, followed by 2.3% of the country speaking Portuguese, still recognised as an official language. With an incredibly dense population of 21,340 people per square kilometer, Macau is the most densely populated region in the entire world.
It's believed that the region that came to be Macau was first settled upon during the Han dynasty, the second dynasty of Imperial China, which reigned from 206 BCE to 220 CE. Macau did not become a major settlement until the 16th century with the arrival of the Portuguese.
What was initially a small population of Portuguese merchants soon became a growing city. By the end of the 16th century, the city had reached its peak and was prospering. The following century however, dogged by many Portuguese misfortunes, saw Macau enter a period of decline. Japan halted all trade in 1639, and 5 years later so did China. Following the establishment of Hong Kong in the 1840s, Macau lost its position as a major port.
The Chinese Civil war in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s brought a huge influx of Chinese refugees, leading to Macau building a large workforce. This enabled a thriving economy as it expanded its textiles, tourism, and gambling industries.
After major rioting over colonial status in 1966, Portugal lost most of its control over Macau, relinquishing it fully in 1974. In 1986, after first arranging the declaration for Hong Kong’s return from British rule, China entered negotiations with Portugal for the ownership of Macau. These were concluded a year later, and in 1999 Macau saw its return to Chinese rule after 442 years.