As I prepared to return to America, I knew there was so much I would miss in both Zhuhai and Macau. I would miss Zhuhai for how Chinese it was. I would miss the basketball games with locals who greeted me as a foreigner but let me play with them as an equal. I would miss the cheap $2 lunches of pork and duck with a side of rice. I would miss people passing by on bikes carrying everything from water jugs to leave trimmings, and I would miss the blatant disregard for traffic signals. To me each of these things represented a part of China because I had experienced each of them not only in Zhuhai but in Beijing and Shanghai. To me these things are an integral part of China.
I didn’t find any of those things in Macau, though I am sure there are plenty of traffic violations and pick up basketball games and even cheap street food. Macau was so different from every other city in China that I had lived in, partly because of China’s “One country, Two system” policy. This is the policy that the PRC began to use when it struggled to find a way of incorporating another former colony-Hong Kong in 1997 (Clayton 6). The ‘One country, Two system’ policy had been the solution to the dilemma and China looked to the same policy when it reincorporated Macau in 1999.
The policy is slated to last at least fifty years and will come to an end in Macau in 2049 at the earliest. Until then they have been able to enjoy a certain level of autonomy, while maintaining its own political, economic, and legal system. The differences between Macau and the mainland were most apparent to me each time I crossed the border, as Macau, Hong Kong and China each have different regulations and visa requirements (Clayton 3).
The impact of this policy is also evident in the casino industry. Gambling is technically illegal on the mainland, it is still legal in Macau. Currently their profits from gambling are five times of that of Las Vegas. The casinos have come to dominate the city, as they are the first thing that greets you as you enter from crossing the border gates, and it was often the last place I went before returning to the mainland.
Their continued success has also resulted from the flexibility of the “One country, Two system” policy. In my page about Macau’s colonial history I quoted Jonathan Porter who elaborated on the benefits , saying that in 1993, “(Expectation for growth are justified by the) comparative advantage it enjoys in tourism: a relative lack of restrictions on entry and departure, low rates of taxation and high rates of return, as well as access to the rapidly developing South China region (14).” Those expectations now a decade old have still held true, and the future still looks bright as the region continues to grow and prosper at least until 2049.
To any Chinese, whether from Canton, Shanghai, or Beijing, and even to a foreigner with little knowledge of China, a short stroll through Macau will tell him this city is different from any city in China and from Hong Kong and Taiwan.
However other parts of Macau, have a more forced history. The famous St. Paul’s cathedral was built by Jesuit priests who came to Macau. It took them 20 years to build having finished construction in 1602. The southern facade would take another seven years to build, and it was completed in 1627. Now it is all that remains, as the rest of the cathedral had been destroyed in a fire during a typhoon that hit in 1835 (Wiarda 30). However between 1990 and 1995 the local government invested $3 million to transform what had become a run down ruin into a major tourist attraction (Clayton 2).
Clayton argues that these investments were in fact part of a larger project to convince the people of Macau of their unique heritage, rather than focus on the “national humiliation” discussed on my narrative of Qingdao (3). This contrast in objectives is just one illustration of the differences that exist between former European colonies, and helps explain Macau’s own perspective on its colonial past.
Macau’s move to emphasize their uniqueness is not only apparent in the money spent restoring St. Paul’s Cathedral. Even more money was spent on a number of museums that were built in the decade preceding the handover. The most expensive of these, the Museum of Macau, was said to have cost $16 million to construct (Clayton 224).
However there is some truth to the propaganda. In the case of Macau, colonialism’s deep roots have left a much deeper impact on the city and the people. The very culture has become fused to a small degree with a Portuguese influence. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in the food of Macau. I have written a number of blogs already about the influence of colonialism on Macanese cuisine, and you can expect more, because it is a rich history that shows how colonialism often involved the fusion of East and West. Although food highlights some of the positives of colonialism it also simultaneously vales what was at times a dark time in Chinese history.
At a panel discussion on Macau in 1999 the city’s Director of Culture commented that “To any Chinese, whether from Canton, Shanghai, or Beijing, and even to a foreigner with little knowledge of China, a short stroll through Macau will tell him this city is different from any city in China and from Hong Kong and Taiwan (Wiarda 17).” As my time in Macau ended, I left having learned well that Macau is indeed unlike any other city I have ever been to in Asia.