Macau - a world of difference

Just minutes from Hong Kong is the exotic former Portuguese colony of Macau. Besides its distinctive European architectures and relaxed atmosphere, Macau is also synonymous with being Asia’s entertainment haven. Crowned as “Las Vegas of the East”, Macau boasts numerous mega casinos, tantalizing cuisines and a bustling nightlife. Besides it’s fame as an Entertainment Mecca, Macau earned a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2005. Comprising over 20 ancient monuments and urban squares interwoven in the heart of the city, Macau stands today as a living testimony to the integration and co-existence of eastern and western cultures over a unique chapter in history.

Whether your wish is round of golf on one of the Peninsula’s championship courses, a romantic evening stroll along Macau’s spectacular waterfront, or run your luck at one of Macau’s hottest casinos, Macau promises a memorable 72-hours that will last a lifetime!

History of Macau

The first Portuguese ship anchored in the Pearl River estuary in 1513, and further Portuguese visits followed regularly. Trade with China commenced in 1553. Four years later Portuguese paying tribute to China settled in Macau, which became the official and principal entrepôt for all international trade with China and Japan and an intermediary port for ships traveling from Lisbon to Nagasaki (at the time, Japan’s only outport for trade). China, nonetheless, still refused to recognize Portuguese sovereignty over the territory. The first governor was appointed in the 17th century, but the Portuguese remained largely under the control of the Chinese. Missionaries carried over on Portuguese ships transformed Macau into an East Asian centre of Christianity. Even though China’s trade with the outside world was gradually centralized in Guangzhou (Canton) toward the end of the 18th century, merchants were allowed into Guangzhou only during the trading season—from November to May—and the international merchant community established itself at Macau. By the mid-19th century the British colony of Hong Kong had surpassed Macau in trade, and within a few years the merchants had largely deserted the Portuguese possession, which never again was a major entrepôt.

In the 1930s and ’40s Macau, declared a neutral territory during the Sino-Japanese War and World War II, became a refuge for both Chinese and Europeans. The Chinese population in the territory continued to grow when the communist government assumed power in China in 1949. In 1951 Portugal officially made Macau an overseas province. Following a military coup in Portugal in 1974, the government allotted more administrative autonomy and economic independence to the territory. The constitution promulgated in 1976 established the Legislative Assembly, which was dominated by the minority Portuguese. Until diplomatic relations were solidified between Portugal and the communist government in China in 1979, discussions on transferring Macau to Chinese control were fruitless.

In March 1984 the Portuguese governor dissolved the assembly in response to opposition within the government to extend the right to vote to the Chinese majority. A few months later new elections, which included Chinese suffrage, finally brought a significant number of Chinese deputies into the government. In April 1987 Portugal and China reached an agreement to return Macau to Chinese rule in 1999, using the Hong Kong Joint Declaration between Britain and China as a model. They agreed to provisions under the Basic Law that would ensure the autonomy of Macau for 50 years after the start of Chinese rule. These included Macau’s right to elect local leaders, the right of its residents to travel freely, and the right to maintain its way of life, both economically and socially. Defense and foreign policy matters were to be administered by China, and those living in Macau without Portuguese passports would become Chinese citizens. Elections continued to turn out record numbers of voters and a Chinese majority legislature. On December 20, 1999, Macau became a special administrative region under Chinese sovereignty, as Hong Kong had in 1997.

The period since reunification has been peaceful and marked by increasing prosperity. Much of the region’s economic growth has come from the tremendous expansion in gambling and gaming since 2000, which transformed Macau into one of the world’s largest gambling centres (in terms of revenue). Tourism also has risen sharply from levels in the 1990s. Major infrastructure projects have included continued land reclamation throughout the region and a third bridge (opened 2005) between Macau Peninsula and Taipa Island. The political situation has been stable, with orderly legislative elections. Ho Hau Wah (Edmund Ho) was named Macau’s first chief executive at reunification in 1999; he was reelected to a second term in 2004. In 2009 Chui Sai On was elected president, succeeding Hau. By the mid-2010s his administration was facing a sharp decline in gaming revenues.

People of Macau

Nearly all of the population, of which a great majority lives on Macau Peninsula, is ethnic Chinese, born on either the mainland or Macau. There are also small groups of other Asians (including people of mixed Chinese and Portuguese ancestry, often called Macanese). However, the once-significant Portuguese minority has been reduced to only a small proportion of the population. Of the ethnic Chinese, the vast majority are Cantonese speakers, and a few speak Hakka. Chinese (Cantonese) and Portuguese are both official languages; English is also commonly spoken.

Macau’s population is overwhelmingly Buddhist, while others adhere to Daoism and Confucianism or combinations of the three. Among the small number of Christians, the great majority are Roman Catholics. About one-sixth of the population professes no religious affiliation.

Macau is one of the most densely populated places in the world, and the entire population is classed as urban. Macau has a relatively older population, with less than one-fourth being younger than age 25.

Cultural Life of Macau

Chinese culture predominates, overlaid by a veneer of Portuguese architecture (notably churches and cathedrals) and customs. Chinese temples and shrines coexist with restored villas from the colonial period. Barrier Gate, which links Macau Peninsula to the mainland, is a popular spot for tourists, as are such early 17th-century structures as Monte Fort and the nearby ruined facade of St. Paul’s Cathedral (destroyed 1835). The historic buildings on the peninsula collectively were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005.

As is the case in Hong Kong, Cantonese pop (“canto-pop”) is a popular form of music. Spectator sports include both dog and horse racing. The Macau Grand Prix attracts numerous international competitors and fans of motor racing. Macau’s major sports complexes include the Macau Olympic Complex and the Macau East Asian Games Dome; the latter was built for the 2005 East Asian Games, hosted by Macau. Football (soccer), track and field, volleyball, and roller hockey are popular team and individual sports. In the 1990s Macau hosted several roller hockey world championships.

The former Luís de Camões Museum, named for the Portuguese poet and writer of the epic Os Lusíadas, was in a 17th-century house that once was used by the British East India Company; its collections are now part of the Macau Museum of Art and feature Chinese pottery, paintings, and artifacts. Adjacent to the art museum is the Macau Cultural Centre, with several performance and exhibition venues. Also of note is the Macau Museum in the Monte Fort compound, which has exhibits on the history of the region.

Local radio stations in Macau (one state-run) and a state-run television station broadcast programs in Chinese (Cantonese) and Portuguese. In addition, cable and satellite television broadcasting is available, and television and radio broadcasts also come from Hong Kong. Several daily newspapers are circulated; most are published in Chinese, but a handful are in Portuguese and English. Internet use is widespread, and mobile telephone usage is ubiquitous.

A-Ma Cultural Village

Close to the world’s tallest statue of the goddess A-Ma (or named Tin Hau) on the mountaintop on Macao’s Coloane Island, A-Ma Cultural Village is a 7,000-sq. m. complex which celebrates the legend of the Goddess of Seafarers. The village architecture mainly comprises a pavilion-style front gate, a carved marble altar, Tin Hau Palace, Dressing Hall along with Bell Tower and Drum Tower. The grand complex attracts A-Ma devotees and interested tourists alike for a visit. Nearby, visitors can refresh themselves at the park next to the village, or follow the hiking trail up to the magnificent A-Ma Statue on hill top and enjoy a captivating view of the island.

Luxury tours of Macau