New Book on Macau

June 6, 2010

I took a short break from finals week to read about half of Cathryn H. Clayton’s new book, Sovereignty at the Edge: Macau and the Question of Chineseness (Harvard East Asian Monographs, 2009), which is excellent. Like João de Pina-Cabral’s book, Between China and Europe, Clayton includes a chapter on the 1996-1999 boom in triad-related violence and assassinations right before the 1999 handover. Like Pina-Cabral, she argues that it was mostly gang-on-gang violence, with relatively few civilian casualties, but she gives special attention to the frustration of local Macau residents that the violence reinforced mistaken stereotypes of Macau as a lawless gangster haven and drove away a huge portion of tourists, when tourism 70% of Macau’s economy. Locals placed a lot of the blame on the sensationalist Hong Kong media, apparently, for stoking the myth that Macau was horribly dangerous.

Perhaps most interesting, Clayton argues that the surge of violence led locals to accuse the departing Portuguese colonial administration of ineptitude in dealing with the triads, not because they thought that the triads should or could be totally suppressed, but that the state was supposed to ensure that business could proceed as usual, despite the fact that corruption and triad involvement in government and business was pervasive. They welcomed the incoming PRC-led government partially because they were confident that it would be able to restore Macau’s image, and many residents apparently held the (totally wrong) belief that the PRC had totally destroyed and suppressed triad activities on the mainland (ha!).

Can’t wait to read the rest of it.

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