Historian C.R. Boxer takes great pleasure in the tribulations of pugnacious Portugal as over the centuries it struggled to keep its far-flung, shoestring empire intact. Which is why he’s a great read. I’ll spare you the “rigor of mercy,” medieval fears of moonlight, and Jerónimo de Albuquerque, the “philoprogenitive conquistador.” I’ll leave you with Boxer on Portugal vis-à-vis China, where in the sixteenth century the Portuguese established the trading center of Macau, a city that would later host a cluster of casinos and James Bond, and which would remain in Portugal’s possession until 1999:
Their first attempts to establish themselves on the shores of the south China coast had failed, partly through their own mismanagement and partly through the reluctance of the Chinese imperial bureaucracy to take any official cognizance of unwanted barbarian intruders from the Great Western Ocean. But a precarious smuggling trade was connived at by the coastal officials of Kwangtung and Fukien provinces for their own profit. This eventually led to the Portuguese securing a footing at Macao (c. 1557), which was reluctantly sanctioned by the Emperor at Peking when he belatedly discovered the existence of this settlement after some twenty years.
Twenty years? It’s like the Portuguese were a freckle on the emperor’s lower back.