500 years of Italians in Macau and Hong Kong




Personally I have always been a fan of history, especially local history and I have collected books connected to the places where I live.

My contribution to this book was limited to its secular section. My interest in history. Perhaps this is due to the


fact that we have, as modern men, the feeling of living inside an atomic explosion, where everything is accelerating – as a famous physicist once said – and Hong Kong and Macau in particular are places where everything shifts like quicksand. Once we move out from here, our names are quickly gone and forgotten.

In 1513, according to some authors, the first European to set foot on China – after the 1368 fall of the Yuan Dynasty and the Mongols occupation of China – could have been Raffaele Perestrello with Jorge Alvarez. Technically Perestrello was a Portuguese but he had Italian roots: his grandfather had emigrated from Piacenza to Portugal and his cou


sin, also a Perestrello, was the wife of Columbus, the Genoese that prompted by the Florentine Pozzo Toscanelli sailed West looking for China.


Perestrello and Alvarez landed on Lintin Island, known today as Nei Lintin – visible from Castle Peak, very close to Hong Kong but part of Zhuhai

During a presentation at the Asia Society at the end of last year I concentrated on Eugenio Zanoni Volpicelli, a Neapolitan consular representative here for 20 years (he retired to Canton in 1919 and then went to Yokohama in Japan, where he died in 1936)
He was a great sinologist and


a scholar. I have presented him in a more complete way at the Asia Society and an article about him will be published on an historical magazine going to be launched in Macau next month by my friend Ricardo Pinto.

We recently discovered that he had translated in Chinese the 1764 book by Cesare Beccaria On Crimes and Punishments (Dei Delitti e delle Pene) a milestone for the Illuminist movement.

This year will mark the 250 anniversary of its publication, there are celebrations coming in Italy and Beijing. We have been unable to locate a copy in China of the translation made by Zanoni Volpicelli.

This book was first printed anonymous in Leghorn in 1764 when Beccaria was only 26 years old. He was not only advocating the abolishment of the dead

2fpenalty but also that of torture which in France was still in force (abolished in Sweden, Austria, Prussia, Switzerland).


He was also against life imprisonment and against considering suicide a crime which, at that time, was a punishable on the dead body or on the relatives. In 1766 was put in the index of forbidden books by the Catholic Church. Beccaria died at 59.

Volpicelli wrote several other books, but not in Italian, always French, English, Chinese and Japanese.





He was born in Taurianova, Calabria, South Italy in 1651 – died in Naples in 1725. Studied at the Jesuits college and took the judiciary, he became a magistrate. Took up travelling and was wounded by Turks at Budapest. Returning to Naples wrote Campaign of Hungary (1689) and Travelled in Europe (1693).


  1. He left Sat 13 june 1693, went to say farewell to his brother, an Abbot, wrote his will with everybody trying to stop him and left for Egypt. He told everybody that he was going to the Holy Land and then would return.

He got a boat to Macau, where he expressed admiration for Portuguese courage and industry, ‘people will stop at nothing, they push forward at risk of their lives and their accumulated riches’

He wrote: ‘In no other place I had such good meals as in Macau!’


‘Having arrived at the time of such disturbances (the Rites controversy with Bishop De Tournon put in jail in Macau only a few years later) they all believed that I was an envoy of His Holiness to get secret information. One suspected I was a Friar, another a Priest and, even if I always told them the truth That is that I was a Neapolitan magistrate and I was travelling for my pleasure, adding that the Pope had not given me even a coin for my trip, and I did not care for their Missions, but they seemed unconvinced adding that since the time of their first mission they had never seen a Neapolitan there who was not a missionary.’

He met emperor Kangxi together Fr. Grimaldi s.j. who was working on the new Kalandar of 1696. They enter the room of the throne where Kangxi sits, books close and ink and pen. He was wearing a vest in gold colour with 2 dragoons embroidered, on his left and right were eunuchs.

The book ends with a letter he found in Naples, written from China in French by Jean Basset, 25 March 1697.

He tells him that several father in China though wonderful the fact that he could make to Beijing alone. he recommended that no others should follow his example ‘plusers curioux vous imiter’ there he announced the dead of some old missionaries, Fr. Prospero Intorcetta s.j. author of the  Sinarum Scientia Politicus Moralis with most of the Confucian corpus. Updated him about the latest war in Tartary organized by Kangxi.






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