City Profile: Macau in the 21st Century

May 21, 2019 | Culture, Macau

Macau continues to be a relevant global outpost for trade and economy in the 21st century

Macau is a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China. Located at the southwestern quadrant of the Pearl River, and is just 40 miles away from Hong Kong. Macau is currently ranked as 34th freest economy in the world, making it a robust and healthy place for business and leisure. Geographically, Macau can be seen as a ‘jutting’ land from the Guangdong Province, and is historically known as the Gateway of the Bay.

The Portuguese in Macau

In the 16th century, Portuguese colonizers set foot on Chinese soil and like the British on Hong Kong, established a colonial trading post there. Jorge Alvares led the first colonizing contingent in 1513, arrived some 80 kilometers from the Pearl River. Undesirable conditions for maritime travel pushed Alvares’ contingent to look for another potential trading post.

In 1557, the Cantonese-speaking fisherfolk and farmers who were living in Macau (then called Ou Mun), allowed the Portuguese to set up temporary shelters there. The Portuguese were required to pay rent and custom duties in exchange for their stay on the land. The Portuguese also promised to help maintain the Gateway of the Bay by fighting pirates that were all too common at sea in the sixteenth century.

Ruins of St. Paul's - Macau

Ruins of St. Paul’s – Macau | Roberto Trombetta

The Portuguese acted as a trading agent for China. They were responsible for bringing Chinese goods to Goa, before trading Goa good for Malaccan spices and sandalwood, and then eventually these goods were brought to Nagasaki, as the Japanese traded silverware, weapons, and other goods.

Japanese goods were then brought back to Macau so that more Chinese goods can be acquired, beginning the global cycle of trade once again. The beginnings of transnational grade began in places like Macau.

In less than fifty years, the Portuguese crown formalized its stronghold on Chinese soil. Macau was named Cidade de Nome de Deus, which meant “City of the Name of God.” By the seventeenth century, Cidade de Nome de Deus had a bustling population, and almost a thousand Portuguese settlers. By the end of the century, there were already 40,000 people here, including colonial slaves from Africa, India, and the Malay Peninsula. Macau became the center of Christianity in Asia, as it became home to converts.

Eroding of the Portuguese Stronghold

Portugal’s rule over Macau was threatened by the actions of the Spaniards and the Dutch. The Dutch actually sent over 1,300 men to Macau to grab it from Portugal’s control. The warship only retreated when a Jesuit priest fired and ignited a gunpowder stack on the Dutch ship, effectively causing the ship to implode. In 1862, Portugal emulated the British and negotiated for the sovereignty of Macau from China. It took several years before the treaty was signed (1887), and China recognized the autonomy of Macau.

Chinese Homecoming

With the advent of the steamship and great leaps in maritime technology, the relevance of Macau as a port for Japan and other territories declined. In the 20th century, it became little more than a place for refugees, especially the Chinese who fled Mao’s communist revolution.

In 1974, Portugal’s newly established left-wing government expressed its desire to cut ties with Macau, as it is a remnant of the old colonial empire. China did not immediately respond to this, but was able to forge the Sino-Portuguese Pact of 1986, which made Macau a SAR or special administrative region of China.

In 1999, 442 years of Portuguese rule of Macau finally ended. Like Hong Kong’s handover, the Portuguese handover of Macau meant that it will retain its economy and enjoys its own freedoms (like Hong Kong). This SAR has a directly-elected Legislative Economy, which continued to function well after the handover ceremony.

Population and Economy

41% of Macau residents are ethnic Chinese, and 46.2% are settlers from the Mainland. 2.6% of the population are Filipinos, while 3.5% are migrants from the adjacent SAR, Hong Kong. The remaining 6.8% of the population is a combination of different ethnicities, including Europeans who have settled and have created families in Macau.

Shopping Center - Macau

Shopping Center – Macau | Pittaya

Right now, the economy is partially dependent on gaming revenue (gambling), but it is already taking steps to diversify its economy and reduce this dependence. In 2017, Macau had collected a record $70 billion in taxes from casinos alone. However, it has invested less than 10% of that in much-needed infrastructure.

Macau remains a free and neutral port, and continues to generate statewide revenue from global trade. Taxation in this SAR is low, and the collection of dues from all sectors is highly efficient, much like Hong Kong. The Macanese pataca, Macau’s own currency, is tied strongly to the Hong Kong dollar, which in turn is strongly associated with the USA’s own greenback.

Current government spending has declined slightly at 90%, but the SAR’s fiscal health remains at an all-time high. Taxation has increased ever so slightly at 77.1%, and business freedom slightly lags at 60%. Trade freedom has mostly been frozen at 90% for some years now, and is closed to investment freedom and financial freedom at 90% and 70%.

Lisboa - Macau

Lisboa – Macau | Gavin Anderson

Meditarrasian Culture

Like other melting pots, Macau’s culture and language are largely hybridized, and we can say that its ‘national’ culture is unique and distinct from Mainland Chinese culture. The hodgepodge of other languages being spoken in this SAR, has led to the creation of a Creole language called Patua.

Patua is a mixture of Malay, Cantonese, Sinhalese, and Portuguese linguistic expressions. The linguistic heterogeneity in Macau is much higher than in neighboring SAR Hong Kong, as it has several major languages and multiple languages from minority populations, too. English has grown widely in recent years, and this has been worrying the champions of the decidedly Mediterrasian traits of Macau language and culture.

The three major religions in Macau are Taoism, Buddhism, and Roman Catholicism, though from a universal standpoint, we can say that Macau is predominantly Buddhist now, compared to its 15th century orientations as a Portuguese city. Roman Catholicism has shrunk greatly in the 21st century and now comprises only 6% of the total population of Macau.

The mixture of major festivals and events in Macau are quite telling of its hybrid culture. For instance, it does celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year and has several associated events after the Lunar New Year, but it also celebrates its own Arts Festival, the Macau Grand Prix, and the Macau International Parade, which encourages participants to showcase their creative talents and be more competitive. The Macau International Parade, specifically, aims to showcase the diversity of cultural industries operating in this SAR, as Macau is populated by multiple ethnicities, not just the ethnic Chinese.

Luna New Year Celebration - Senado Square - Macau

Luna New Year Celebration – Senado Square – Macau | Travel Oriented

Additional festivals to look out for are the Dragon Boat Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival, and the Macau Lotus Festival. Now, remember: each of these events may be rooted in festivals in the Mainland, but Macau always has its own twist, its own was of doing things.

 

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