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Promoting Hybridity: The Politics of the New Macau Identity

  • Wai-man Lam (a1)

This article traces the unique process of reconstructing the identity of the Macau Special Administrative Region and its people after the political resumption to China in 1999, and the political and economic significance of the reconstruction. As in other postcolonial contexts, identity is an arena of political contest where various discourses that embody re-appropriation of political traditions and legacies criss-cross. In Macau, the post-handover identity comprises the local, the national and the international components, with Macau characterized as a historical, colonial/cultural hybrid and economic object. In fact, the Macau identity after 1999 represents a re-appropriation of the image of colonial Macau propagated by the Portuguese administration since the 1980s. Also, identity making has been a process of incorporating instead of repressing or eliminating the identities of “the other,” and building a stand-alone national identity is not the prime task in the reconstruction of an identity. Rather, multiple identity components are deliberately incorporated and promoted. The success of the process has fabricated Macau's relatively smooth reintegration with China and enhanced the legitimacy of its new government.

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1 The article focuses on the identity construction of the Chinese population in Macau and the place as a whole. It does not attempt to deal with the Macanese and Portuguese in Macau. Macanese refers to the descendants of Portuguese and Asians who are born in Macau.

2 Examples include India, Algeria, Kenya and many other colonies in Asia and Africa. See, for example, Chatterjee Partha, Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse? (London: Zed Books, 1986) and The Nations and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993); Fanon Frantz, A Dying Colonialism (trans. Chevalier H.) (New York: Grove Press, 1965);Janmaat Jan Germen, “The ethnic ‘other’ in Ukrainian history textbooks: the case of Russia and the Russians,” Compare, Vol. 37, No. 3 (2007), pp. 307–24;Zajda Joseph, “The new history school textbooks in the Russian Federation: 1992–2004,” Compare, Vol. 37, No. 3 (2007), pp. 291306.

3 Economic nationalism is generally defined as the sentiments and attempts to protect and advance national economic interests and to establish a strong nation by economic means. Helleiner Eric, “Economic nationalism as a challenge to economic liberalism? Lessons from the 19th century,” International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 46 (2002), pp. 307–29;Wei C.X. George, “Economic nationalism versus capitalist economic liberalism: the negotiation of the Sino-American commercial treaty,” in Wei C.X. George and Liu Xiaoyuan (eds.), Chinese Nationalism in Perspective: Historical and Recent Cases (Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 2001), p. 149.

4 A comparative study of the process of building nationalism in Hong Kong and Macau, China's two SARs, will be interesting. Both governments are keen to promote nationalism and in particular economic nationalism among the locals. However, the Hong Kong government is keen to reform the local identity and cultivates state nationalism whereas the Macau government pools its effort in promoting a local and international identity. The nation building process has been met with great resistance in Hong Kong while in Macau it is just the opposite.

5 “Identity” can be variously understood in different academic traditions. Broadly speaking, there are two possible understandings, constructionist and essentialist. See e.g. Anderson Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London & New York: Verso, 1991); and Smith Anthony, Nationalism: Theory, Ideology, History, Polity (Oxford: Polity Press, 2001).

6 Derrida Jacques, Positions (trans. Bass A.) (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1981);Smith Anthony D., Myths and Memories of the Nation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 75.

7 Breuilly John, Nationalism and the State (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1985);Gellner Ernest, Nations and Nationalism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1983) and Encounters with Nationalism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994).

8 Derrida, Positions; Said Edward, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979);Triandafyllidou Anna, “National identity and the ‘other’,” Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 21, No. 4 (1998), pp. 593612.

9 Triandafyllidou, “National identity”; Chan Elaine, “Defining fellow compatriots as ‘others’ – national identity in Hong Kong,” Government and Opposition, Vol. 35, No. 4 (2000), pp. 499519.

10 Chatterjee, Nationalist Thought, p. 23.

11 Stepan Alfred, Arguing Comparative Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 197.

12 Smith Roger M., “Citizenship and the politics of people-building,” Citizenship Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1 (2001), pp. 7980.

13 Alfred Stepan and Juan J. Linz, “Political identities and electoral sequences: Spain, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia,” in Stepan, Arguing Comparative Politics, p. 210.

14 For example, “Depoliticization in Morocco,” in Diamond Larry, Plattner Marc. F., and Brumberg Daniel (eds.), Islam and Democracy in the Middle East (Baltimore & London: The John Hopkins University Press, 2003), p. 67.

15 Clayton Cathryn, “Valuing the past in the Museum of Macao,” in History and Memory: Present Reflections on the Past to Build Our Future, Macao Ricci Institute Series 5 (Macao: Macao Ricci Institute, 2007), pp. 349–72.

16 Anderson, Imagined Communities, p. 204.

17 Smith, Myths and Memories, pp. 253–58.

18 Neal Arthur G., National Trauma and Collective Memory: Extraordinary Events in the American Experience (2nd ed.) (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2005), pp. xi, 3–19.

19 Edmonds Richard Louis, “Macau and Greater China,” The China Quarterly, No. 136 (1993), pp. 878–80;Yee Herbert S., Macao in Transition: From Colony to Autonomous Region (New York: Palgrave, 2001), pp. 45;van der Putten Frans-Paul, “Representative government and the investment development path: Macao's colonial legacy,” Portuguese Journal of Social Science Vol. 3, No. 3 (2004), p. 184.

20 Yee, Macao in Transition, table 4.12, p. 72.

21 Ibid. table 5.7, p. 97.

22 Ibid. table 4.14, p. 74.

23 Ibid. table 4.11, p. 71. Nevertheless, a survey conducted in 1991 indicated that a higher proportion of respondents, 53.6%, were proud to be Macau citizens. See Yee Herbert S., Bo-long Liu and Tak-wing Ngo, Aomen huaren zhengzhi wenhua (The Political Culture of the Macau Chinese) (Macau: Macau Foundation, 1993), p. 42.

24 Yee, Macao in Transition, table 4.11, p. 71.

25 Yee Herbert S. (ed.), Aomen huigui qianhou de wenti yu duice (Problems and Solutions for Macau before and after Reunification) (Hong Kong: Mingliu, 1999), p. 9.

26 Porter Jonathan, “The transformation of Macau,” Pacific Affairs, Vol. 66, No. 2 (1993), pp. 711.

27 CIA, The World Factbook 1999, at, accessed 17 December 2007.

28 The 12.3 riots in Macau were triggered by some pro-Beijing Chinese groups and led to a series of concessions from the colonial government, importantly including the elimination of pro-Taiwan factions' political influence in Macau. This directly helped consolidate Beijing's influence there. See, for example, Chan Ming K., “Different roads to home: the retrocession of Hong Kong and Macao to Chinese sovereignty,” Journal of Contemporary China, Vol. 12, No. 36 (2003), pp. 514–16;Lo Shiu-hing, Political Development in Macao (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1995), pp. 5859.

29 Chou Bill K.P., “Interest group politics in Macao after handover,” Journal of Contemporary China, Vol. 14, No. 43 (2005), pp. 191206; Yee, Macao in Transition, pp. 33, 159.

30 Brooke James, “China sees advantages in Macao's Portuguese past,” New York Times, 21 October 2004, p. 4.

31 Edmonds, “Macau and Greater China,” pp. 904–06; Yee Herbert S. and Lo Sonny S.H., “Macau in transition: the politics of decolonization,” Asian Survey, Vol. 31, No. 10 (1991), p. 911.

34 The journal ( aims to promote discussion on Macau history and culture as well as anything pertaining to “Macau studies,” and to unravel the unique identity of Macau.

37 For example, Secretariat for Social Affairs and Culture, Policy Aims (Macau: Macau SAR Government), 2001, p. 3; 2003, part 1, p. 37, para 5.2.1, and part 2, p. 80, para. 5.1.1.

38 Ho Edmund Hau-wah, Policy Address (Macau: Macau SAR Government, 2002), part 3, para. 10.

39 For example, Macau Daily News, 20 December 2002, p. B01; Jornal San Wa Ou, 21 November 2001, p. 01; Ho, Policy Address, 2001.

40 For example, Ho, Policy Address, 2001, part 2, para. 3; 2004, part 4.

41 Ho, Policy Address, 2004, part 2, para. 4. Also see Ho, Policy Address, 2007, p. 24.

42 For example, Apple Daily, 20 December 2004, p. 23; Ho, Policy Address, 2006, p. 23; 2007, pp. 15, 25–26.

43 Ho, Policy Address, 2004, part 2, para. 4.

44 Brooke, “China sees advantages,” p. 4.

45 For example, Macau Daily News, 14 October 2001, p. B03; Ho, Policy Address, 2006, p. 4.

46 Clayton, “Valuing the past,” p. 355.

47 Ho, Policy Address, 2007, p. 3.

48 Hong Kong-Macao Comparative Study: Macao People Support Their Government More (press release on 4 February 2004, p. 4), at, accessed 27 March 2007.

49 Ibid. p. 2.

50 Yee Herbert and Kwok-man Lui, “Public political culture,” in Siu-lun Wong et al. (eds.), Records of Macau Society: Indicators Study and Quality of Life (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Institute of Asia Pacific Studies, Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2007), table 13.5, p. 306.

51 Ho, Policy Address, 2000, part 3, para. 14.

52 For example, Gries Peter Hays, China's New Nationalism: Pride, Politics, and Diplomacy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004);Guo Yingjie, Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary China: The Search for National Identity under Reform (London, New York: Routledge Curzon, 2004);Crane George T., “‘Special things in special ways’: national identity and China's special economic zones,” in Unger Jonathan (ed.), Chinese Nationalism (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1996), pp. 148–68; Wei, “Economic nationalism”; Guoqi Xu, “Nationalism, internationalism, and national identity: China from 1895 to 1919,” in Wei and Liu, Chinese Nationalism in Perspective, pp. 101–20.

53 Wei, “Economic nationalism,” p. 149; Helleiner, “Economic nationalism.”

54 Ho, Policy Address, 2006, p. 14. Also see China's official views stated by Bai Zhijian, director of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Macau SAR in Jornal San Wa Ou, 23 December 2006, p. 02; Wang Hai, “Rebuilding Macao as an international economic and cultural exchange platform,” People's Daily (overseas edition), 20 December 2006.

55 For example, Secretariat for Economy and Finance, Policy Aims (Macau: Macau SAR Government), 2006, pp. 20–22, para. 9.2–9.4; Ho, Policy Address, 2006, part 2.

56 Ho, Policy Address, 2002, part 3.

57 Secretariat for Economy and Finance, Policy Aims, 2002; Ho, Policy Address, 2006, p. 14.

58 Hong Kong-Macau Comparative Study, p. 2.

59 Ibid. p. 4.

60 Ibid. p. 2.

61 Secretariat for Social Affairs and Culture, Policy Aims, 2002, para. 5.4.

62 See n. 34.

63 “Opening,” Review of Culture, No. 1 (1987), p. 3.

64 “Reason for being,” Review of Culture, No. 1 (1987), p. 6.

65 “Connecting link,” Review of Culture, No. 1 (1987), p. 4.

66 “Opening,” p. 3; “Connecting link,” p. 4; “Reason for being,” p. 6.

67 “Reason for being,” pp. 5–6; and de Santa Maria Bernardo, “The scope and dimension of the Portuguese consciousness in the Far East,” Review of Culture, No. 1 (1987), pp. 2628.

68 The analysis covered the articles in Vols. 38 (1999) to 64 (2007).

69 Review of Culture (Chinese version), 1998, editorial, p. 1.

70 Ibid., Introduction.

71 Ho, Policy Address, 2007, p. 24.

72 Ibid. p. 10.

73 For example, Ho, Policy Address, 2003, p. 12; 2004, s. 3; 2005, p. 14.

74 For example, Jornal San Wa Ou, 23 December 2006, p. 02; Ho, Policy Address, 2006, p. 14.

75 People's Daily Online, 25 September 2006, at, accessed 8 February 2008.

76 Macau SAR Government Fact Sheet, at, accessed 12 January 2008.

77 The Basic Law is the mini-constitution of both Macau and Hong Kong.

78 Article 23 stipulates that the SARs of Macau and Hong Kong shall enact laws on their own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the central government or theft of state secrets; to prohibit foreign political organizations from conducting political activities in the cities; and to prohibit political organizations of the SARs from establishing ties with foreign political organizations.

79 Crane, “Special things,” pp. 149–53.

80 People's Daily Online, 15 October 2005, at, accessed 9 February 2008.

81 Chinese Ministry of Commerce, China-Portuguese-speaking Countries Trade and Economic Cooperation Made Active Achievements, 26 September 2006, at, accessed 10 February 2008.

82 Brooke, “China sees advantages,” pp. 2–3.

83 MacauHub, China: Trade with Portuguese-speaking Countries Rises, 29 January 2008, at, accessed 8 February 2008.

84 Brooke, “China sees advantages,” p. 4.

85 Loro Horta and Ian Storey, “China grooms a strategic relationship with the community of Portuguese language countries,” Yale Global Online, 22 June 2006, at, accessed 8 February 2008.

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