The Newsletter 64 Summer 2013

Macau's 'sort-of sovereignty' and the contested meanings of cultural heritage

Cathryn Clayton

As you stroll through the exuberantly neon-drenched architectural massifs that line the streets of downtown Macau and Cotai in 2013, the city’s history of Portuguese rule may seem like a very distant memory. Fourteen years after the handover to Chinese administration and a decade after a change in the regulatory framework allowed a massive flow of foreign capital into the casino economy, the city’s orientation toward mainland China and its affinities with other ‘tourist utopias’ like Las Vegas and Dubai1 may seem to have overwhelmed all but the most superficial Iberian influences. But dig a little deeper, listen a little harder, and it is evident that two of the questions that provoked the most anxious debate among Macau residents in the waning years of Portuguese rule still resonate today: What is the nature of Macau’s difference from its Chinese neighbors? And to what extent is that difference attributable to the city’s history of Portuguese rule?

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