Young people born in Macau during the territory’s handover to China fear that the city’s closeness to the mainland might give way to a certain dilution of their own identity.
Aged between 15 and 18, Dorothy Leung, Wallis Lau, Stephen Wong, Venus Leong, Linda Han and Heidi Chow do not remember the pre-handover period. What they know of Portugal is that it left in Macau buildings, gastronomy, the traditional pavement, and multilingual signs on Macau’s streets. They’ve come to appreciate Macau as a cultural melting pot and the freedoms it enjoys in opposition to the mainland.
“In China, students learn there are many restrictions. They do not know many things that for us, mean freedom. Macau is a little bit like a foreign country, as people here can think about things that the Chinese government do not allow [mainland Chinese] to think about,” said 15-year-old Wallis Lau.
Venus Leong, 17, shares similar opinion: “I believe that I enjoy greater freedom in Macau. In China they’re required to learn about certain political affairs. Macau is more liberal.”
But what does it mean to be from Macau, for those who have only known the territory after its handover to China? “It’s a very special [place]: it’s not China, it’s not Portugal. It’s Macau,” 18-year-old Dorothy Leung, sums it up.
“For me, to be from Macau is something quite interesting. China and Macau are very different, culturally and in particular in education,” said Wallis Lau.
Stephen Wong, 16, and Linda Han, 17, believe that Macau’s uniqueness relies mainly on its casinos, the city’s main source of wealth.
Heidi Chow, 15, who was born in Hong Kong, acknowledged that Macau is a far “more relaxed” city, where students feel comfortable, enjoy more free time, and are not under as much competitive pressure as in Hong Kong.
Portugal might have administrated Macau for over 400 years, but they recognize they know little about it. “My parents never really talked about it,” Dorothy Leung admitted.
Wallis Lau acknowledged he too knows little about Macau’s past, but he pointed out that there are many Portuguese cultural elements that we can identify in the city, although not nearly enough that citizens know about.
“At school we were told that Portugal ruled Macau, and I know that’s why Portuguese is one of the city’s official languages and that we have old buildings,” said Linda Han. Heidi Chow has also heard of Portugal
administrating Macau back in her classroom: “I do not know much about it. But I think the Portuguese [language] has less and less impact on Macau.”
Unlike Europeans, Macau’s youth see their future in an extremely positive light, although it’s not because the city boasts the world’s fourth highest per-capita GDP and will provide them with the
opportunities they’re hoping for. It’s rather because the territory’s prosperity prevents them from forseeing inevitable difficulties.
“I believe that if I give my best and create opportunities, the future will be good,” said Linda Han. “In ten years’ time, there will be many jobs suitable for me,” Stephen Wong added.
However, they do not see Macau’s future in the same positive light. They believe the city will most likely suffer from mainland China’s pressure in both demographic and political terms.
“Things are good for now, but we cannot receive more from China, more policies and involvement. We are reaching our limit. China isn’t something positive for us. I feel that I am from Macau and here we do not love the nation like others do,” Dorothy Leung acknowledged.
The student backs up her position by recalling the exceeding number of people walking around the streets of Macau – a city that welcomed 29.3 million tourists last year. “It’s not a matter of not receiving less people from China, all visitors are welcomed. But we’re being
invaded, they’re trying to change Macau and are not adapting [to it],” she stressed.
Heidi Chow agrees that the problem has worsened. “More and more mainland Chinese come to Macau and it’s all full. Sometimes it’s bad, when we go shopping and we can hardly move as we’re surrounded by so many people,” she argued.
Stephen Wong, on the other hand, worries about the future of Macau’s economy, which has relied on gaming over the past 15 years. “Macau deals with a lot of issues. It’s a casino land; casinos are everywhere. And that’s bad. If one day casinos close, Macau is doomed.”
Wallis Lau believes Macau will follow in the footsteps of Hong Kong, where citizens are now fighting for greater freedom. “In Hong Kong people are fighting for their freedom because China is trying to impose constraints. That worries me. I don’t want to be constrained. People should have the right to fight for what they want and for saying what they wish to say. Freedom is the most important thing for me.” MDT/Lusa
Young generation discouraged from engaging in politics
University of Macau’s scholar Teresa Vong believes younger generations born in Macau over the past 20 years are being discouraged from engaging in politics by older citizens, who fear social unrest. The director of UM’s Educational Research Center acknowledged that Macau’s society is preventing young people from engaging in politics, while seeking an unquestioned social harmony. “Young people are being homogenized; they all play the same music,” she recalled, adding that they do not participate in demonstrations because their family and teachers say they will become social agitators. “In reality, they have the right to express their opinions through protest, it’s a right ensured by Macau’s Basic Law.”