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Eilo W. Y. Yu and Ming K. Chan (eds), China’s Macao Transformed: Challenge and Development in the 21st Century,

Hong Kong, City University of Hong Kong Press, 2014, 412 pp.
Éric Sautedé
p. 75-76

Full text

1Books dealing with current affairs in Macao, whatever the language, do not come often; good publications about Macao are even rarer.

2At least three sets of reasons can explain this dearth of academic production. First, the Special Administrative Region is small – 650,000 inhabitants on a land area of slightly more than 30 sq. km – and thus does not attract much attention, as its relevance within the broader perspective of China’s evolution is considered marginal and is clearly over-shadowed by Hong Kong’s more sophisticated, buoyant, and challenging development. Second, it is commonly acknowledged that starting in 1967, in the wake of the “12.3” incident, Macao’s polity, even under the Portuguese colonial administration, has yielded to the People’s Republic of China’s views on its future, and thus any publication regarding Macao somehow constitutes an update of that deferential position – hence not requiring frequent repetition. And third, sources and surveys, when available and/or funded, often exclude one another: government-sponsored research in social sciences is rarely made public and often gets trapped in excessive praise or un-analytical rebarbative descriptions, while more critical writings, when firmly grounded in first-hand and meaningful investigation, often address segmented narrow issues.

3The edited volume published by the City University of Hong Kong somehow comes as a counterpoint to these assumptions, thus showing that Macao is indeed a wonderful laboratory for social sciences, not only in itself but also within the Chinese “living tree,” according to the expression of Tu Weiming, and as an embodiment of the “one country-two systems” formula in particular, and a case study of “partial sovereignty” in general. This book is therefore a must-read for anybody with an interest in Macao. Moreover, being a collective work divided into five sections – a long introductory and contrasted first part (105 pages by four authors!), followed by the usual politics, socio-economic issues, socio-cultural concerns, and finally external relations comprised of 15 contributions – this volume easily allows for browsing and selecting among very diverse takes. To choose but one example, the admirable final chapter authored by Cathryn Clayton on “Macao Local, Macao Global” acts as a conclusive and far-reaching reflection on the hybrid nature of Macao today, but it will also be of great interest to scholars of globalisation and identity-building alike. The great merits of this publication cannot be stressed enough: first of all because this is the end-product of various seminars and conferences held in Lisbon, Canada, Hong Kong, and Macao starting in 2009; and second because it is one of the few, if not only, truly academic publications released in 2014 in English on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the handover. In this age of excessive celebration for everything and anything, this very fact speaks volumes about the precious character of the whole enterprise.

4But being a collective endeavour also has the usual drawbacks, which deserve to be stressed. If one cannot blame the book for not being comprehensive, there are several important “loopholes”: Bill Chou’s chapter on public sector reform is well-rounded, but an additional contribution on public services would have been welcome; then, when it comes to external relations, Macao’s place in international organisations or as a signatory to international covenants and agreements deserves attention, and clearly the connection to Europe goes beyond Portugal and Portuguese-speaking countries, even though José Carlos Matias’ essay on the latter is – as usual – very thorough. Then, collective books are rarely even in the quality and length of the contributions, and unfortunately this one is no exception. The chapter on political reform written by a law professor is far too short, analytically limited, and clearly too static. The chapter on patron-clientelism and elections – such an important feature of Macao politics – fails to bring anything new (tongxiang associations deserve a special section!) and simply ignores significant previous publications such as those by Annie Lee Shuk-ping and Lam Wai-man. One of the chapters on identity within the socio-cultural section is grounded on very incomplete data, thus resulting in far-fetched conclusions bordering on the bizarre while mixing Mandarin and Cantonese transcriptions for no justifiable reason – the name of the cousin of the Chief Executive is transcribed as either Chui Sai Peng (usually) or (very rarely) Cui Shiping in pinyin, but not as Chui Shiping!

5Yet, most of the papers are truly remarkable, starting with Eilo Yu’s introduction, which is an extremely courageous, thought-provoking, and well-argued demonstration of the most salient aspects of the “debacle” of the “one country-two systems” formula in Macao, although he trusts that it is never too late to turn things around. Then, in order of appearance, several chapters deserve a special mention for the quality of their research or the novelty they provide: Herbert Yee’s update on the practice of “one country-two systems”; Sonny Lo’s renewed exploration of casino capitalism; Ricardo Siu and Miao He’s detailed exposition of the casino economy model at work; Hayes Tang’s thorough examination of the constraints weighing on academic freedom in tertiary institutions; Derrick Tam’s extensive and case-study based analysis of the interaction between heritage protection, tourism, and urban planning; Minxing Zhao’s original take on North Korean assets transiting through Macao, and how the case of Banco Delta Asia can be seen as the perfect and renewed illustration of the common Chinese idiom of “killing a chicken to scare the monkeys”; and again, the closing chapter of Cathryn Clayton on a possible narrative to better articulate the transformation of a local identity that is both passive and active when confronting global forces.

6To be honest, even the long introductory part, besides Eilo Yu’s incisive opening, actually justifies an attentive read. Three very different if not contradictory perspectives act as a stimulus for what is to come in the volume: a scholar-turned-civil servant insists on the achievements of the past 15 years and somehow blames the previous colonial administration for some of the most important present difficulties – while never failing to make multiple references to the “harmonious” nature of society; a former number two in the colonial administration turned head of an educational institute praises the Portuguese heritage and how “accommodation” provided the perfect conditions for a successful transition, but warns nonetheless that fast-paced development constitutes a threat to Macao’s unique identity – whatever that is; and last but not least, Ming K. Chan’s own chapter manages to reconcile these two by pondering Macao’s history in the long run and what he characterises as current issues of “over-development.” Clearly, a diverse and contrasted take on what Macao is today.

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References

Bibliographical reference

Éric Sautedé, « Eilo W. Y. Yu and Ming K. Chan (eds), China’s Macao Transformed: Challenge and Development in the 21st Century, », China Perspectives, 2016/2 | 2016, 75-76.

Electronic reference

Éric Sautedé, « Eilo W. Y. Yu and Ming K. Chan (eds), China’s Macao Transformed: Challenge and Development in the 21st Century, », China Perspectives [Online], 2016/2 | 2016, Online since 01 June 2016, connection on 25 September 2017. URL : http://chinaperspectives.revues.org/7001

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About the author

Éric Sautedé

Éric Sautedé is an associate researcher with the CEFC (esautede@gmail.com).

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