Jonathan Kaufman

Pulitzer Prize-winning author happy to see people ‘thrive’ in Macau

A former journalist who first visited Macau some 40 years ago has said he was happy to see people in Macau “thrive,” although he likes the year-1979 Macau more.

Jonathan Kaufman, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and current journalism professor at the Northwestern University in the USA, recently visited Macau to launch his book, “The Last Kings of Shanghai: The Rival Jewish Dynasties That Helped Create Modern China”, alongside a seminar.

On the sideline of the event, he discussed with the Times his impression of Macau, then and now. His most vivid memories started with his voyage from Hong Kong, which took him nearly four hours. Nonetheless, his first impression was positive.

“Upon arrival, I was struck to find Macau looking very much like a European city – but quite poor – and there was only one nice hotel, the Lisboa Hotel,” he said. “It was a nice place to go and relax, but it didn’t have the kind of energy and excitement that you see today.”

He said the skyline now is completely different. “It feels like a much more modern city than I remember back in 1979,” Kaufman said.

When questioned on whether he likes the current Macau or the city as it was previously, Kaufman admitted that he personally likes the old Macau. “Because when you’re in Hong Kong, Hong Kong is so busy all the time,” said Kaufman. “It’s nice to go to a place that is more relaxed.”

Despite this, Kaufman expressed his respect for the current state of the city, saying that he felt happy to see people in Macau are benefitting economically from the two-decade long economic boom.

Kaufman was also asked about suggestions for aspiring writers in Macau. He said the current period is both a good time and tough time to launch a writing career.

“It’s good because there are so many outlets for you to write: through the internet, newspapers all around the world, blogs and digital publications. The hard part is to breakthrough and get a lot of readers,” he explained.

However, he believes that all stories have their audience. Moreover, while reading is crucial to refine writing skills, he emphasized the importance of respecting existing copyrights.

“Otherwise, people like me cannot earn a living,” he said with a laugh.

On why Jews have become the center of his writing, Kaufman said he is himself Jewish. The former journalist says he finds it intriguing to look into the reasons behind existing realities.

“I just find it interesting that in Shanghai and in China – probably the last place you would expect to find Jewish people – there are all these signs of Jewish people being there,” he said. “As a reporter, you see something and you want to find out the story behind it.”

He started working on these investigations when he saw evidence of footprints that Jewish people left behind in Shanghai during the early days of modern China. He later discovered that Jewish people took refuge in China during World War II.

Kaufman’s book is a story of two families – Sassoon and Kadoorie – who amassed great wealth in Shanghai, surviving challenges and hurdles during a globally unsettling era. The book lays bare the moral compromises of the two families, and their exceptional foresight, success and generosity.

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