Social Problems in Macau
This article examines the current social problems in Macau—inequalities, problems in urban housing, traffic and transportation, air pollution, crime and deviant behaviour, and education. It does not focus on one social problem in detail; rather, it attempts to offer a broad picture of the issues from a sociological perspective. To help solve these problems, it seems that Macau has to build a stronger civil society and continue to democratise its political system. How Macau deals with these problems will determine the identity that people in Macau want to build for themselves1.
This city of indulgence need not fear
The major sins by which the heart is killed,
And governments and men are torn to pieces:
Religious clock will strike; the childish vices
Will safeguard the low virtues of the child
And nothing serious can happen here.
W. H. Auden (1938)
OutlineTop of page
1Similarly with Auden’s observations above, the actual social problems of Macao are much more intense in the gambling area of town than in public services or workers, and these may include those from the gangster groups that control prostitution, or the derelicts and impoverished who lose all money gambling. Women prostitutes, for instance, sent from poor villages in north China, are held in near slavery by these local elements, and the police seem to actually look the other way. That may very well be true, and it has probably been true since the rise of the gambling industry in the middle of the nineteenth century.
2This article is not, however, focusing on the problems in the area of gambling, which, as the reviewer points out, are “eminently worth an article”. Rather, the intention is to give a bird’s eye view of the social problems in Macau, including gambling. Specifically, the issues discussed here are gender inequalities, race and ethnic relations, class inequalities, urban housing, traffic and transportation, air pollution, crime and deviant behaviour, and education.
3Some of these issues, such as gender, crime and education, can be viewed as problems of the human environment, and others, like housing, air pollution and traffic, can be viewed as problems of the physical environment. These problems interact with and influence one another2.
4Is it true that “nothing serious can happen here”, as Auden sarcastically observes? This article implies that further development towards a democratic political polity and a stronger civil society may be more important than any single force in dealing with Macau’s problems.
5In traditional Chinese culture, women have a lower status than men in terms of power, wealth and prestige. We will look at some of the important indicators of women’s status: the number of women in important political positions, the money they make, and how they feel about themselves and their position relative to that of men3.
6Women constituted 52% of the population of 465,000 in Macau at the end of 2004. Yet, out of the 27 legislators in the second Legislative Assembly of the Macau Special Administrative Region of the PRC, only five, or 18.52% of them, were women4. Women constitute about 20% to 40% of the government officials at various levels in Macau, except at the lowest rank (see Table 1). The average number is already fairly high compared with the PRC5.
1. Proportion of women and men among gouvernment officials
7According to He Gui-ling, women constituted 47.2% of the labour force in 2002, yet they comprised only 0.6% of business employers and 1.3% of business owners6. Men and women also vary greatly in the amount of money they make. In manufacturing, men make an average of MOP$5,901, while women make only MOP$3,974. In utilities supply, the figures are MOP$19,298 vs. MOP$15,036; in hotels, restaurants, and similar activities, MOP$6,578 vs. MOP$4748; and in financial institutions, MOP$16,746 vs. MOP$10,6367. On average, women earn 70% of a male’s salary.
8It is of note that there are fewer women than men in the first three categories of work, which are the three highest paid (see Table 2); women are more likely to be clerks or unskilled workers who are lower paid8.
2. Number of People in Different Categories of Employement
9It is not clear to what extent such differences are due to gender discrimination. But we may determine a hint of the problem in a survey of Macau women by Penny Chan in the early 1990s9. According to this survey, 77.0% of the women felt that they had equal status with the males in their families, and 13.5% of them felt that they had low or lower status in the family. In the workplace, only 59% felt they were equal to men in status, and 30% felt they had low or lower status than men. In addition, while 75.5% felt they were not discriminated against because they were women, 19.4% did think that they were.
10Since East-West exchanges began in the 1500s, Macau has at one time or another been one of the most international cities in China. The emergence of an independent Macanese community implied both a clash and integration of civilisations10. According to the 2001 census, Macau had a population of 435,235. Of that population, 95.17%, or 414,200, were Chinese by nationality; 2.02%, or 8,793, were Portuguese11; 1.23%, or 5,334, were Filipino12; 0.17%, or 733, were Thai; 0.28%, or 1,217, were American and Canadian; and 1.15%, or 4,985, were other13. Although the population in early 2005 was 469,000, the proportion of each group has most likely changed very little. Given the fact that the large majority of the population is Chinese, and the Chinese in Macau have political power since the handover in 199914, one might assume that the effect of ethnocentrism and racism may not be very noticeable. This may be true in particular because the non-Chinese population is comparatively small and members of these groups have a relatively high social status15. That said, the existence of multiracial groups in Macau, among them those with a lower socio-economic status, indicates a possible ethnic relations issue. Such issues need to be addressed if the government wants to create a more fair and just society in Macau.
11After the handover, the Macanese community understandably felt concern for the preservation of their cultural heritage, even of their power, as they feel a need to maintain a fairly high social status as a minority group in a sea of Chinese.
12On the whole, however, the Macanese and Portuguese seem to be doing well. While some have taken on other positions following their government service, others have stayed in the government to play more important roles. In addition, the Macanese and the Portuguese have maintained their niche in the arena of law in Macau. They have insisted, and succeeded, in maintaining the use of Portuguese, almost exclusively in the higher courts, along with Chinese in the lower courts16. UNESCO’s approval of Macau as a world heritage site in 2005 should also give the Macanese and Portuguese a boost in preserving their culture. Efforts to use Macau as a platform for economic co-operation among the Portuguese-speaking countries in the world can also help enhance the importance of the Macanese community.
13Nonetheless, ethnic groups in Macau are still socially separate from one another, although this may change with the younger generation. While the older Macanese generations’ social circles remain largely Portuguese-speaking, the younger generations tend to be speak two or three languages or are even bi- or tri-lingual and tend to have more friendly contact with Chinese people than in the past, though social boundaries remain17. The same applies to the relationship between Chinese and other groups, including foreigners. Our interview data finds that foreigners and the local Chinese have little social contact with one another, as the Cantonese and Fujianese, especially the older generations18. As one of the reviewers points out, “The number of mainland Chinese becoming resident in Macao has increased in the last ten years.” Thus there is conflict between new and old immigrants, and among the Macanese, Hong Kong Chinese and mainlanders, who are all Chinese.
14The Filipina interviewed felt that she suffered discrimination by the local Chinese. Even though this may have to do with her social status, as many in Macau are maids to families in Macau, the discrimination exists19. This treatment is very similar to that of South and South-East Asians by the Chinese in Hong Kong. As the latter example indicates, class may not matter. Race does20.
15In a word, although ethnic relations in Macau seem to be cordial, there is separation. In other words, groups still tend to keep their distance from one another. One group is generally not in the inner circles of the other. Above all, ethnocentrism, racism and discrimination can often be a problem. Cultural integration is thus still a mission unaccomplished, despite frequent claims to the contrary, and as such claims of any government that its society is a fair and just one are disputable. For cultural integration and development to occur, everyone in Macau, people from all the different cultures there, as well as the government, must make an effort to create a Macau identity that all who live in Macau can share and enjoy and live in co-operation, which must be through basic education and understanding of Macau’s history and culture.
16In July 2001, the number of the employed was 215,059. Of that number, 57.6% made less than MOP$6,000, 20.5% made between MOP$6,000 and MOP$9,999, 15.2% made between MOP$10,000 and MOP$19,999, and 5.6% made MOP$20,000 or above21. (Meanwhile 1.1% of the employed were family helpers without pay)22. Thus a majority of the people in Macau made less than MOP$6,000.
17It is true that the economy has picked up since then. But benefits do not seem to be distributed any more equally, and the gap between the lower and upper salaries of earners remains large. People working in industries related to gaming have seen increases in earnings, especially in hotels and restaurants. For example, by the end of 2004, the average salary in wholesale and retail businesses was MOP$5,972, with an increase of 6.4% over the same period in 2004, and the average salary in the hotel and restaurant industries was MOP$5,593 in the first quarter of 2005, with an increase of 4.7%23. Employees in the gaming industry averaged MOP$10,730 in 2004, the Chief Executive now makes MOP$136,000, a chief secretary responsible for a number of bureaus makes MOP$102,170, and an Assembly legislator makes MOP$34,05024.
18In addition, while the cost of living has been rising, many workers’ salaries remain unchanged. Salaries in the retail sales industry have not increased. Rather they decreased during the SARS epidemic in 2003 and have remained at this level. Meanwhile some such businesses have applied for more migrant workers from outside Macau to pay lower wages. People have to work longer hours, more than the usual eight hours a day, in order to keep their jobs (see Table 3 for the median number of hours people work every week in different industries.)25. A survey at the end of 2004 by the Macau General Federation of Unions found that over 60% of workers had seen no salary increase in 2004, and that the average salary of workers in manufacturing were lower than MOP$3,00026. The most recent data indicate that about one-third of employees of all kinds, 78,200 people in total, made less than MOP$4,000—47,500 of them making less than MOP$3,00027. In addition to the problems above, the number of the underemployed was 4,339, or 1.9%, of the labour force, and the unemployed 11,046, or 4.8%, in 200428.
3. Industires and Median Number of Hours People Work per Week
19As a result, the gap between the rich and the poor keeps widening. The government survey in 2002/2003 indicates that the bottom 20% of the households made an average monthly income of MOP$3,316, with a decrease of 1.6% compared with 1998/1999, while the top 20% of the households made an average monthly income of MOP$27,792, with an increase of 9.5%. The Gini co-efficient was 0.45 in 2002/2003, and some Macau economists believe that the number may have increased to 0.46 in 200529. It makes Macau one of the areas in the world where the gap between rich and poor is the largest.
20This gap comes with other problems. One of them is the conflict among workers and between workers and employers. Macau workers tend to be strongly against the importation of labour. There is a workforce of imported labour of about thirty thousand in Macau now. Some employers give priority to such migrant workers and use the local workers only as substitutes. This has aroused protests from local workers who frequently complain to the government for violations of Macau law30. Tour bus drivers too have found their jobs going to workers hired from outside Macau31. So far there has been no violent conflict between local and migrant workers, but the situation has become tense and needs the government’s serious attention. It is going to be difficult to find a fair and just way of handling this issue.
21The other problem, already mentioned above, is the mistreatment of workers, by paying less while increasing work time. Migrant workers may face even more serious problems, tending to live in crowded quarters, and in isolation from the local people. In addition a gap in industrial health and safety causes injury and fatalities32. Oftentimes employers will delay or refuse to pay due wages, and workers have been known to resort to drastic measures to obtain their wages, including threatened suicides33.
22The status of sex workers in Macau is another serious issue. If about 13% of women workers are in prostitution in Hong Kong, one can assume the same percentage for women in Macau, i.e., about 16,500 of them34. This is probably where the greatest human rights abuses can be found and yet they are not really addressed by the government.
23To create a fair and just society, the government has to deal with the widening gap between rich and poor. For most workers, to enforce the eight-hour work day without decreasing their salaries might be a good place to start.
24One of the things visitors to Macau may notice is the striking contrast between the well-preserved historic buildings on one hand and the dilapidated urban housing on the other. In the 1950s and 1960s, many five- or six-story buildings were put up in Macau, especially on the Macau peninsula35. They are small, worn-out and sanitation is bad. The Macau government has set a goal to rebuild these areas36. The new community of high-rises the government is planning to build in Youhan, for example, would include a school, a park and other community facilities like underground car and motor cycle parking37. But this is only the planning stage, and Youhan is an experiment to see how such projects might be undertaken. It will take years for the buildings to materialise. Meanwhile, many other older areas are still awaiting transformation. Finding new homes for those who will be moved is a big challenge for the government. Some of the residents in Youhan already point out that they applied for low income housing several years previously, but with several thousand households applying and only a hundred homes available, as in 2004, their chances are slim38.
25But the slow progress in urban reconstruction reinforces the gap between rich and poor.
26Traffic problems are the first concern among young professionals, according to a survey by Macau Polytechnic University in 200539. The other concerns are drug abuse, public healthcare, education and social welfare. With an area of 27.5 square kilometres, Macau had 142,583 motor vehicles (68,730 cars and 72,528 motor cycles) in 2004. In the same year, out of the 12,758 traffic accidents involving transportation vehicles, there were 16 fatalities, 332 serious injuries, and 3,801 minor injuries40.
27Although public transportation is fairly convenient, it is not unusual for taxi drivers to overcharge passengers or refuse to take them. In the first three quarters in 2005, according to government statistics, 336 complaints were filed, a 15% increase over the same period last year. Most of them were concerned about the rudeness of the drivers and their refusal to take passengers. Among those cases, 40 were successfully prosecuted41. And one frequently sees taxis with handles above the windows falling off or simply broken. Like taxi drivers, many bus drivers do not seem to understand Putonghua, either, let alone English.
28With the rising number of vehicles, the government needs to think at least about accident prevention, which would include road improvement, driver education, and enforcement of rules and regulations42. For example, certain areas are accident black-spots, which may indicate bad road planning or directions. Green lights at some crossings last for such a short time that there is not enough time for pedestrians to cross the road43. Drivers do not generally give way to pedestrians at crossings44. The government, however, does not seem to be making much progress on improving the human and physical environment regarding traffic and transportation issues.
29According to the government’s Environmental Protection Committee, in 2003 there were 14 to 24 days when the air quality was bad—the high density population areas and roadsides being the worst affected. The overall quality of air in Macau has worsened45. In 2004, the number of bad days had increased to 4246. Meanwhile, the number of people with respiratory diseases has risen, according to government statistics47.
30Although pollution on mainland China may also affect Macau’s air, there are some major polluters in Macau as well. These are mainly the power plants, solid waste incinerators, sewage treatment plants and cars and trucks. Whether the government is going to take any effective measures against these polluters remains to be seen. It is an issue of balancing business interests and the interests of the people in general in Macau48.
31In Macau, crime is punished by law while deviant behaviour generally raises people’s eyebrows but bears no legal consequences.
32The overall crime rate in 2004 was lowered by 1.4%: the number of crimes decreased to 9,786 in 2004 from 9,920 in 2003. Robberies decreased 37%, from 541 to 340, and extortion 23.2%, from 95 cases to 73. In a small place like Macau, however, these figures may still seem too high. In addition, theft increased 1.6 times, from 278 to 73249. In the first quarter of 2005, theft further increased by 20%, to 786 cases in one quarter of the year. Furthermore, the overall crime rate in the first quarter of 2005 increased by 12% compared with the same time in 200450.
33Some of these crimes are related to the gaming industry and the large influx of visitors from the mainland, although the overall crime rate for mainland visitors is low, 7.6 out of 100,000. The most reported crimes related to gaming may be usury, or “loan sharking”, and the control of street prostitution by gangs.
34“Loan sharking” causes the second highest number of arrests after drug-related crime (Figure 4)51. The usury groups would lend money at high interest rates to those who lost at gambling. If the latter could not pay the loans back, they would lock them up until their families found the money52.
4. Number of Arrests by Nature of Crime in 2004
35Gang control of street prostitution often involves violence. People from different provinces form different gangs, entice women to Macau to work, and use them as prostitutes to make money. The gangs would have their own turf, and the gang members would serve as pimps, controlling the women’s money, and protecting them from the police and competition53. There is not much research regarding women in sex work in Macau, which is considered as deviant behaviour, if not as crime. Partly because of the difficulty in carrying out such studies, the ones we see tend not to be very comprehensive, albeit enlightening54.
36Another social problem related to gaming is gambling addiction. Although not a crime, it is considered deviant behaviour. The Institute for the Study of Commercial Gaming at the University of Macau researched the gaming activities of Macau citizens in 200355. Out of a representative sample of 1,121 Macau residents, ranging from ages 15 to 65, the researchers found that two-thirds of the respondents participated in at least one kind of gambling activity in the past year. While it may be true that most of them might have done it for recreational purposes, 1.78% were “probable addicted gamblers” (keneng yi chengwei bingtai dutu), and 2.50% were “probable problem gamblers” (keneng yi chengwei wenti dutu). If the ratio holds, out of 460,000 Macau residents, that would be 8,188 in the first category, and 11,500 in the second.
37The problems of such gamblers can be seen, indirectly, from the following Hong Kong example. In the year between 2003 and 2004, Ming Ai Zhan Qing Center, or Caritas A G Counselling Centre, of Hong Kong, helped 350 addicted/problem gamblers who came to them a first time. Each still had a debt of HK$200,000 to HK$300,000. Half were addicted to gambling. Fifty had thought about suicide. Women gamblers had increased to 12%56.
38Macau government’s Social Welfare Institute is thinking about setting up a counselling centre as well, since problem gambling has become a serious issue as the industry develops57. But given the scope of the problem, the government may have to encourage more social organisations to help with the issue. This is especially true if we consider the problems in high school students. The Institute for the Study of Commercial Gaming at the University of Macau also found that 2.66% of high school students were probable addicted gamblers and 5% were probable problem gamblers. These are higher-than-average figures for Macau. The government has to start dealing with the problem from elementary and middle school level.
39In Macau, there are 143 educational institutions. Among them, 131 provide pre-school, primary school, middle school education and technical or occupational training. While 84.7% of these schools are private, 15.3% are public. In the 131 schools, 111 of them use Chinese as their main teaching medium, 5 of them use Portuguese, and 15 use English. Of the 111 private schools, 88, or 79.3% are in the government network of free and subsidised education. There are also 15 schools of special education, and 129 places that provide adult education. In the year 2003/2004, 96,814 students were enrolled in all these schools. In the same year, 4,483 students graduated from high school, and 1,964 of them graduated from vocational-technical high schools. The enrolment rate for higher education was 39.2%, which means that the majority of the 6,447, or 3,920 graduates, went to work or look for work58.
40In addition, there are 12 institutions of higher learning after secondary education, eight of which are private and four of which are public. In the 2003/2004 academic year, 14,526 students were enrolled, with 6,566 males and 7,960 females. In the same year, 2,743 students graduated, 1,006 males, and 1,737 females59.
41In the same year, 4,908 students left school before graduation60. About one-third of them went to work in the gaming industry and the rest either helped with their family businesses or stayed at home61. Altogether 6,663 graduates from both high schools and colleges and 4,908 students who left school early all went on to the labour market that year62.
42In terms of numbers, a large amount of the labour force is not well-educated. 64.7% of the employed population in 2004 did not have a high school education (see Table 5). Although the number of high school and college graduates had increased as compared with the 1990 data, those who did not have a high school education still constituted about two-thirds of people employed. More importantly, only 12.4% of them had a college degree. Among the civil servants, only 23.3% had a university degree, and 64.8% of them had a high school degree or lower63.
5. The Employed Population by Educational Attainment in 2004
43In 2003 the Education and Youth Bureau distributed a survey to 3,413 public as well as private employers, asking them to evaluate the performance of middle-school graduates they had hired64. They collected 148 responses. The middle-school students they evaluated graduated from 1966 to 2003, but mostly they were graduates from the past ten years. The responses covered ten major industries and social organisations, 63 occupational groups, and 326 different occupations.
44Among other things, 73.0% of employers thought that English was necessary in their work, but only 6.8% of them were satisfied with employees’ spoken English, 29.1% were unsatisfied, and 45.6% of them thought these employees’ English was just so-so. Regarding Putonghua, 68.9% of employers thought it necessary in their work, but only 8.8% were satisfied with employee ability in speaking Putonghua, 20.9% were unsatisfied, and 48.0% thought it just so-so. Regarding Portuguese, 18.2% of the employers thought their work needed Portuguese, but only 0.7% of them were satisfied with employee ability to speak Portuguese, 24.3% were unsatisfied, and 2.7% thought it so-so. The rest did not express an opinion. Overall, the satisfaction level with graduates’ language ability in English, Putonghua and Portuguese was very low. Their scores in reading and writing were a little higher, but not very high.
45Regarding employee ethics, employer satisfaction response was higher than their language ability scores, 47.3%, but considering the importance of the issue, the score is still too low. This is mostly a problem of the city’s schools. One survey found that in 1993/1994 only about one-third of the schools had classes of civic or ethics education65. The government’s Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau has just started an information website to publicise all kinds of activities they organise to educate citizens about building a society where people will care about each other and about the environment. But since this is a large social project, the Bureau’s efforts will be far from effective if the schools are not formally involved in this in their curricula and if people do not learn about such issues early on.
46If graduates have no unawareness of what is civil and ethical, one can expect more social problems, including those mentioned. As another example, in the 2005 legislative election, over 500 complaints and inquiries were filed regarding bribery by some candidates, and 14 cases were formally filed with the Commission against Corruption, a government watchdog organisation66.
47Also affecting quality of life in Macau are less serious civil and ethical problems such as: people not queuing when waiting to get on a bus; young people not often giving up seats to elderly people on a bus; drivers generally do not give way to pedestrians at a crossing, etc. According to government statistics, the number of incidents of drivers not yielding to pedestrians or vice versa increased 76.89%, from 424 to 750 in the first ten months of 2004 compared with the same period in 2003; similarly, the number of incidents of not following traffic signs increased 26.87% in the same period, and the number of incidents of crossing the street in violation of traffic rules increased 96.06%67.
6. Number of College Graduates and their Specific Degree of Study at Graduation
48In higher education, students should have enough classes in humanities and social sciences in addition to ethics classes, but this does not seem to be the case. Looking at some statistics, as one can see from Table 5, from 2,743 college graduates in 2004, only 49 were graduates of social and behavioural sciences, which would have to include anthropology, sociology, political science, economics and psychology. The University of Macau offer all these social science programmes now except political science (they offer public administration instead) and anthropology (although there are courses in anthropology within the sociology programme)68.
49Various social organisations, including churches and news organisations, will have to play a more active role in the further development of democracy so that the government can be more responsive to social problems and more responsible for solving them. It is not clear how big a role Macau’s churches play. The Catholic Church’s newspaper, Aomen guancha bao (Macau Observer), seems to be critical of the government, for example, concerning its lack of efforts in curbing corruption. But it is not clear how influential the paper is. The Macao Daily seems to be making a special effort to maintain a very cordial relationship with the government. But only when citizens are more responsible for and responsive to what is happening in the city can they elect the most responsible and responsive decision-makers for the city, who will then make changes for the better. Education alone is not enough to effect social change. A more active civil society needs to be built and the political processes in Macau have to be more open and democratic69. It is true that much change has taken place since the handover in 1999, and Macau is seeing economic development in leaps and bounds. But social progress is still quite slow in comparison. How and whether people in Macau deal with their social problems will determine what kind of identity they want to build for themselves.
Zhidong Hao, « Social Problems in Macau », China Perspectives [Online], 62 | november - december 2005, Online since 20 December 2006, connection on 28 August 2014. URL : http://chinaperspectives.revues.org/552Top of page
© All rights reservedTop of page