The 20th Anniversary of Macau SAR

By: Jonathan Evans
Photography: Leong Im Kai / Amy Wong / Wu Sai Cheong 

On 20 December 2019, the same day that its new chief executive Ho Iat Seng takes office, Macau also celebrates the 20th anniversary of its handover from Portuguese rule to a special administrative region under China. The occasion will be observed as a public holiday, “Macao Special Administrative Region Establishment Day”, and will be celebrated with a spectacular pyrotechnic display – distinct from the annual ­Macao International Fireworks Display Contest in September and October, and the traditional New Year fireworks on 31 December – on the evening of 20 December

     

Indeed, special events have been staged throughout 2019 that have not just marked the anniversary of the handover but also reflected Macau’s growing pre-eminence as an arts and cultural hub, one of the government’s key priorities as it attempts to direct visitors away from the city’s casinos and point them towards its burgeoning creative industries. The biggest festival of the year, taking place from June to September, Art Macao transformed the city into an eclectic art gallery with exhibitions displayed across many locations.

    

    
    Photography: Art Macao

Mindful of the fact that 2019 marks its own 20-year anniversary as well as that of its host city, Macao Museum of Art – which has hosted more than 450 exhibitions since its founding – is publishing a book, Selected Works from Collections of the Macao Museum of Art, and launching a range of souvenirs to celebrate the milestone. An impressive lakeside hub, Anim’Arte Nam Van, launched in June as a new zone for creativity and leisure, hosting a range of exhibitions, markets, creative workshops, performances and street art. Even long-standing festivals such as the aforementioned fireworks competition have been expanded: this year’s event was contested by 12 countries over September and October, with six show nights instead of the usual five.

      
    Photography: Macao Museum of Art

    
    Photography: Anim’Arte Nam Van

China has presided over Macau since 1999, when the handover after 442 years under its previous landlords effectively ended the Portuguese overseas empire. But while Macau’s sovereignty was transferred to its new owners, the newly coined SAR maintained its own independent judiciary, legislative assembly, a legal system broadly based on Portugal’s and a nominally free press. Under its “one country, two systems” style of governance, which remains in place until 2049, the territory enjoys a higher degree of autonomy and political self-determination than the rest of the People’s Republic.

    
    Photography: University of Macau 

While Portuguese culture and heritage remain ubiquitous in the city – its cuisine can be tasted all over Macau, cars drive on the left, Portuguese is still an official language – gradual changes are being seen. Portuguese-inspired public holidays have been abolished; its national anthem has been replaced at closedown on television stations by China’s; the University of Macau relocated to Zhuhai in 2009; Mandarin is starting to become the unofficial de facto language of the government; and Portuguese representation in the criminal courts has diminished.

    

    
    Photography: Macau Tower

By almost any metric, the last two decades have seen significant changes to life in the city and its economy, as well as to the global image of Macau as a destination. The landscape of the city centre has also transformed beyond recognition: manmade lakes are surrounded by skyscrapers including the Macau Tower (2001); architectural landmarks such as I.M. Pei’s Macao Science Center (2009) and Zaha Hadid’s Morpheus hotel (2018) have sprung up; the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau bridge opened last October, effectively connecting the whole Greater Bay Area; and major development of reclaimed land climaxed with the 2005 opening of the Cotai entertainment haven.

    
    Photography: Macao Science Center

    
    Photography: Morpheus hotel

    

    
    Photography: Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau bridge

In that same watershed year of 2005, more than 10 million mainland Chinese visitors arrived in Macau as revenue from casinos rocketed to almost US$5.6 billion. That figure, though, pales in comparison to the $37.8 billion which was earned last year. Again in 2005, the Historic Centre of Macau was designated a World Cultural Heritage site by Unesco, and in the ensuing years the growth of the tourist industry has become a major factor in Macau’s rapid economic development. As if to underscore these recent achievements, as well as marking the anniversary, new 20 pataca banknotes are being issued this year by Banco da China and Banco Nacional Ultramarino. 

    
    Photography: World Cultural Heritage site by Unesco, Ruins of St Paul’s and Guia Fortress

    
    Photography: Historic Centre of Macau -  Na Tcha Temple (Left) and A-Ma Temple (Right)

    
    Photography: Historic Centre of Macau - St. Dominic's Church

As Macau celebrates its 20-year milestone under Chinese rule, major construction initiatives are under way including the Macau New Urban Zone – a reclamation and land-development project to the west of the city – and the Light Rail Transit, whose first phase is readying completion, and will serve Macau peninsula, Cotai and Taipa. While wealth disparity remains a sticking point, by 2020 Macau’s GDP is predicted to reach around $143,000 per person, according to the International Monetary Fund ­– the world’s highest. As its anniversary year nears its end, Macau’s future seems very much assured.

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