Battle of Tunmen

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Battle of Tunmen
DateApril or May 1521
Location22°22′17″N 113°58′42″E / 22.3713°N 113.9782°E / 22.3713; 113.9782Coordinates: 22°22′17″N 113°58′42″E / 22.3713°N 113.9782°E / 22.3713; 113.9782
Result Ming victory,
3 of 5 Portuguese ships managed to retreat with severe losses
Ming dynasty Portugal Kingdom of Portugal
Commanders and leaders
Wang Hong [zh] (汪鋐) Portugal Diogo Calvo
Portugal Duarte Coelho
Portugal Ambrósio do Rego
50+ Junks 5 Caravels
Siamese and Patani junks
Casualties and losses
Unknown 2 Caravels abandoned
all junks abandoned
Battle of Tunmen is located in Hong Kong
Battle of Tunmen
Location within Hong Kong
Battle of Tunmen is located in Eastern China
Battle of Tunmen
Battle of Tunmen (Eastern China)
Battle of Tunmen
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese屯門海戰
Simplified Chinese屯门海战
Portuguese name
PortugueseBatalha de Tamão

The Battle of Tunmen or Tamão was a naval battle in which the Ming imperial navy defeated a Portuguese fleet led by Diogo Calvo in 1521.


Portuguese diplomat Fernão Pires de Andrade arrived at the mouth of the Pearl River in June 1517 and asked the naval commander of Nantou for permission to take his ships to Guangzhou. After a month with no definitive reply, Andrade decided to sail up the river to Guangzhou without permission from Ming authorities. When they arrived the Portuguese ships discharged cannon fire as a friendly salute, however this was not seen as a friendly gesture by the local Chinese who were greatly alarmed by the noise. The Portuguese explained that the Chinese traders did the same thing in Malacca, but the local officials only became even more suspicious as Chinese overseas trade was forbidden under Ming law. When official reception from Guangzhou arrived, tensions relaxed, and the Portuguese were received with much pomp as well as the right to trade their goods for silk and porcelain. Tomé Pires and seven other Portuguese as well as their slaves were given lodging for the embassy. A Portuguese record states that they had made a good impression.[1]

Andrade's negotiations with Ming officials were thwarted when his brother Simão de Andrade arrived in August 1519. Simão immediately made a bad impression upon the locals of Tunmen, who had previously been open to all foreigners. Upon arriving with three ships, Simão executed a Portuguese citizen and built a fort on Tunmen, barring other foreigners from conducting trade. When a Ming official arrived to inquire as to the situation, Simão became aggressive and knocked off his hat. Following this, Simão began purchasing as well as kidnapping child slaves along the Chinese coast to sell in Portuguese Malacca.[2] Even children from well-off families were stolen and found years later at Diu in western India. Rumors that Simão and other Portuguese were cannibalizing children for food spread across China.[1][3] Simão's pirating activities greatly angered both the Chinese people and the court, which led Ming officials to order the eviction of the Tunmen Portuguese.[4]

The Portuguese embassy arrived in Nanjing in May 1520, but news of Simão de Andrade's conduct had reached Beijing, as had the ambassadors from the exiled King of Malacca bringing complaints about the Portuguese. Ming officials sent memorials to the throne that condemned the Portuguese conquest of Malacca and advocated for the rejection of their embassy.[5] The Zhengde Emperor died on 20 April 1521. The newly appointed Grand Secretary, Yang Tinghe, announced the rejection of the Portuguese embassy the day following the emperor's death. The Portuguese embassy left for Guangzhou, where they arrived in September.[6]

The battle[edit]

The Portuguese refused to comply with eviction orders from Tunmen that arrived from Beijing. In response, commander Wang Hong assembled a squadron of fifty ships and imposed a blockade on the Portuguese as well as the Siamese and Patani junks they had requisitioned.[7] The battle, which occurred in April or May, began with direct boarding action by the Ming fleet, but the fleet was unable to draw close due to the superior range of the Portuguese guns. The enclosed terrain was also to the Portuguese's advantage; the Ming encirclement proved detrimental to the attackers. Subsequenlty, Wang Hong sent in a screen of fire ships to trap the Portuguese. Although the Portuguese managed to evade the fire attack, they were unsuccessful in evading Ming's boarding attempts and the fighting took a heavy toll on Portuguese manpower. Eventually, the Portuguese realized it was not possible to sail all five ships with their remaining men. They were forced to abandon two ships, as well as the rest of their junks, to make their escape. A strong wind arose at this point and scattered the pursuing Ming fleet, which allowed the Portuguese to retreat and make their way to Malacca in October.[8][9]


Despite hostilities, the Portuguese continued to trade along the Fujian coastline with the aid of corrupt local merchants. Simão de Andrade's activities also continued for decades after he left Guangzhou in 1520, and he sailed to Xiamen and Ningbo where he established settlements.[10] Simão eventually ran afoul of a trade deal and was double crossed by a local in 1545. In response Simão sent a band of armed men into the town, pillaged it, and took their women and young girls as captives.[10][11] This led to a punitive expedition by the locals, however, who banded together and slaughtered the Portuguese under Simão.[10] The Portuguese also accosted other foreigners. In one instance Coelho de Sousa seized the house of a wealthy foreign resident in Jinzhou of Fujian. Ming authorities responded by cutting off supplies to the Portuguese and the Portuguese ransacked a nearby village for supplies. In retaliation, the Ming destroyed 13 of their ships. Thirty Portuguese survivors fled further south to Guangdong in 1549.[11][12]

The new Portuguese trading presence in Guangdong got off to a solid start in 1554 when the merchants Leonel de Sousa and Simão d'Almeida offered bribes to Wang Bo, the vice-commissioner for maritime defense. After a pleasant reception from the Portuguese merchants on their ships, the two sides agreed to a payment of 500 taels per year made personally to Wang Bo in return for allowing the Portuguese to settle in Macau as well as levying the imperial duty of 20 percent on only half their products. Following 1557 the Portuguese were no longer asked to leave Macau during winter.[13] The Portuguese ambassador Diogo Pereira arrived in 1563 to normalize relations. Portuguese presence in Macau was further strengthened in 1568 when they aided the Ming in fighting off a hundred pirate ships. The nature of Wang Bo's business transactions were almost discovered by imperial observers in 1571, but the vice-commissioner obfuscated the payments by identifying them as "ground rent" made to the imperial treasury. Macau's merchant oligarchs continued to bribe their mandarin overseers and in this way the settlement persisted. The most important incident of bribery occurred in 1582 when the viceroy of Guangdong and Guangxi summoned Macau's chief officials for a meeting. Remembering the fate of Tomé Pires decades earlier, Macau's leaders chose an elderly judge and Italian Jesuit to go in their place. The viceroy raged at the Macau representatives, accusing them of conducting governance in contravention of Ming law, and threatened to destroy the colony and evict all Portuguese from Macau. His attitude changed dramatically after the two presented him with 4,000 cruzados worth of presents. In his words: "The foreigners, subjects to the laws of the Empire, may continue to inhabit Macao."[14][15]

The Malay Sultanate of Johor also improved relations with the Portuguese and fought alongside them against the Aceh Sultanate.[16][17][18]


Looking towards Lintin Island from Castle Peak, Tuen Mun

The precise location of the battle has never been established.

The Portuguese called their settlement Tamão, which is understood as a corruption of "Tunmen" (traditional Chinese: 屯門; simplified Chinese: 屯门; Sidney Lau: Tuen4Moon4), the name for the western Hong Kong and Shenzhen area that has existed since the Tang dynasty. Chinese sources state that the Portuguese settled around the Tunmen Inlet (Chinese: 屯門澳; Sidney Lau: Tuen4Moon4O3), but the current whereabouts of the Tunmen Inlet is unknown, so the precise location of the Portuguese settlement and the battlefield remains under debate among historians.

In the present day, "Tunmen" refers to Tuen Mun, the Cantonese reading of the same Chinese characters. This leads some researchers to link the Tunmen of Ming times to Tuen Mun in the New Territories of Hong Kong. "Tunmen Inlet" would then refer to one of two bays around Tuen Mun: Castle Peak Bay, next to the current Tuen Mun New Town; or Deep Bay between the New Territories and Nantou in present-day Shenzhen, where a Ming coastal defense force was stationed.[19]

Adding to the confusion is the description in Portuguese sources that Tamão was an island. As Tuen Mun is not an island, researchers have proposed that Tamão actually refers to one of the nearby islands. Lintin Island, west of Tuen Mun, is commonly accepted in Western academia as one of the more likely possibilities,[20] while the much larger Lantau Island has also been suggested.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Wills 2011, p. 28.
  2. ^ Chang 1978, p. 57.
  3. ^ Twitchett 1998, p. 338.
  4. ^ Dutra 1995, p. 426.
  5. ^ Wills, 338–339.
  6. ^ Wills 2011, p. 30.
  7. ^ Ng (1983), p. 65. Quote: "were more than fifty ships in the fleet. These were the heady days when Wang Hong was able to engage and defeat a Portuguese expedition"
  8. ^ Hao 2010, p. 12.
  9. ^ Pires 1990, p. xi.
  10. ^ a b c Douglas, 11.
  11. ^ a b Williams, 76.
  12. ^ Douglas, 11–12.
  13. ^ Wills 2011, p. 38.
  14. ^ Wills 2011, p. 45.
  15. ^ Diffie 1977, p. 390.
  16. ^ Tony Jaques (1 January 2007). Dictionary of Battles and Sieges: F-O. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 620–. ISBN 978-0-313-33538-9.
  17. ^ J. M. Barwise; Nicholas J. White (2002). A Traveller's History of Southeast Asia. Interlink Books. pp. 110–. ISBN 978-1-56656-439-7.
  18. ^ Merle Calvin Ricklefs (2001). A History of Modern Indonesia Since C. 1200. Stanford University Press. pp. 36–. ISBN 978-0-8047-4480-5.
  19. ^ Lau, Chi-pang; Liu, Shuyong (2012). 屯門: 香港地區史研究之四 [History of Tuen Mun] (in Chinese). Hong Kong: Joint Publishing. p. 35. ISBN 9789620431470.
  20. ^ Braga, J. M. (May 1939). "The "Tamao" of the Portuguese Pioneers". Tien Hsia Monthly. VIII (5): 420–432.
  21. ^ Lau and Liu (2012), p. 39
  •  This article incorporates text from Journal of the China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society for the year ..., Volumes 27-28, by Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. China Branch, a publication from 1895, now in the public domain in the United States.
  •  This article incorporates text from Journal of the North-China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Volumes 26-27, by Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. North-China Branch, a publication from 1894, now in the public domain in the United States.


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