The Grey Side Of Macau

Sometimes, when people learn that I live in Macau, they are curious about this little city because they know very little about it. Indeed, Macau has a very interesting history, thanks especially to the foreign powers that have owned its body, but seldom its heart, over the centuries. Yes, it is like this. The Portuguese were a very important presence in the city, administering Macau for 400 years; but they never really mixed with the Chinese, with the exception of the Macanese community, where you find people of both descents. I am not completely blaming the Portuguese for this fact—certainly they were not interested in Macau to make new friends—they wanted to continue their businesses with China. Chinese people were living here, so the Portuguese needed to deal with them in some ways, but the general opinion is that the Europeans were not successful in helping the development of a local culture similar to Hong Kong’s thanks to the British. As a matter of fact, in Hong Kong, one frequently hears local Chinese people express nostalgia for the British period, the colonizers who developed Hong Kong into a real international financial center. Not Macau. Macau is more the playground of Mainland China, owing most of its revenue to gambling.

In an interesting book of Geoffrey C. Gunn, the author states: “Especially alongside Hong Kong, political and civic education appears low in Macau” (G.C.Gunn, “Encountering Macau. A Portuguese City-State on the Periphery of China, 1557-1999”, 167). Discussing the political situation in Macau in recent times, the author later states: “It is clear, then, that Patten-style attempts to expand the number of directly elected seats in Macau were not tolerated in China, nor did Portugal antagonize China on that issue by forcing the pace of reform beyond tacitly agreed limits. This led some observers to suggest that a “subservient” Macau was in a different league from Hong Kong and that even China would have liked Hong Kong to fall in line with the Macau model of obedience” (Gunn 2005, 168). Civic consciousness in Macau never developed on a large scale, and its submission to Chinese authorities was smoother than in Hong Kong. Macau is certainly more “Chinese” than Hong Kong, in the sense of being more connected to Mainland China than the former British colony. The policies regarding the futures of these two ex-European settlements are not likely to change due to outside pressures: even Benny Tai, a leader of the Occupy Hong Kong protesters, recognized that their actions will probably not have a big impact on the tighter election framework for Hong Kong Chief Executive in 2017, which is decided by Beijing leaders. And if Hong Kong can do little to influence Chinese authorities’ decisions, Macau can do much less. It is like a family with two or more kids, and one of them is always silent, introverted, and pushed aside: people will tend to prefer him or her, regardless of the reasons behind this behavior that, sometimes, are not at all positive. But, people like kids when they do not present a problem. If the kid hides a psychological problem that requires assistance, it’s better not to investigate too much; mutatis mutandis…But this involves a sort of self-reflective understanding of the local people, that prevents Macau from having real growth, the kind that will make economic growth sustainable as well. We should not forget that economic growth here has mainly to do with the gambling industry and not so much the creativity of the local people (and I am not saying that people here cannot be creative if they have the possibility, but the local situation has never encouraged creativity to develop). The journalist, Paulo A Azevedo, said it very well: “In Macau, there’s this idea that you shouldn’t stand out because you will become a target” (“Unacceptable inertia”,, posted on 2/26/2011). Better to cultivate a safe mediocrity—your grey side—than to go after ideals, whatever color they may be. The rule, or “mathematical equation”, also mentioned by Azevedo in the same article is: “If you don’t work, you will not commit mistakes, and if you do not commit mistakes, you will be promoted”. That is, cultivating the grey area is much rewarding than standing and fighting. But we know that people that stand and fight, and use their creativity for a better cause make advancements. But here, this notion is foreign. Here, it’s better to follow the “mathematical equation”, to protect your clan by assuring them positions in administrative or academic places, positions they would never get in other countries. I am not saying this to disqualify people of Macau, as I mention there are certainly talents in this city, but they can never come out if they remain here. As someone well informed once told me, Macau cannot keep good people. This is the reason for what it is.

Macau attracts with its entertainment business, with casinos blooming with lights, but behind this “splendor” there is the grey side, not even dark, but grey. Sometimes sins are mediocre. Everything is supported by the gambling world, and this is no place for cultural development, especially in recent years and despite efforts of a few that, given the situation, lack the ground to flourish.