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João de Pina Cabral
Antónia Pedroso de Lima

Part IV. Monopolies and Enclaves

10. How Do the Macanese Achieve Collective Action?

João De Pina-cabral

Note de l’auteur

This chapter corresponds to part of an argument presented in Em Terra de Tufões (Pina-Cabral and Lourenço 1993; Chinese version, 1995), a project originally undertaken in collaboration with Nelson Lourenço and financed by the Instituto Cultural de Macao.

Texte intégral

1An ethnic community finds its definition in the course of individual situations of social confrontation where it is symbolically contrasted with others. The members of such a collectivity not only feel that they belong, they are also led to act in forms that reflect that belonging. And, in order to act out their belonging, they state their belonging. All of these are acts of social construction. From a series of personal decisions concerning 'who I am', one gets to answer the question 'who we are'.

2In the words of Jaber Gubrium:

Interaction in general and talk and language-use in particular, do not merely convey meaning, but rather, are ways of 'doing things with words' to 'create' meaningful realities. From this perspective, the orderly and recognisable features of social circumstances are 'talked into being'... Descriptions... are not disembodied commentaries on ostensibly real states of affairs. Rather they are reality projects-acts of constructing the world for practical purposes at hand (1990: 210).

3In defining oneself as belonging one is staking a claim on a shared future.

4Survival through time of ethnic belonging, thus, depends on shared sentiment, on collective action and on common expression. In turn, these require a complex interplay of power relations. In particular, when a collectivity finds its cohesion around the control of specific resources, by means of which its members acquire political power and/or material advantages, the transmission across generations of the control over these resources is of the utmost importance.

5Personal unitary leadership is one of the means through which this process may be achieved. This is the traditional situation of succession. In many other instances, however, leadership is diffuse, and the instituting of successors is not a clearly personalized occurrence. Nevertheless, the collectivity's survival always depends on the achievement of some level of unitary action and of transfer of power across generations. In such situations, the collectivity may not have a corporate existence, being a function of the control of the resource that guarantees its survival.

6The present chapter attempts to show how an ethnically defined collectivity, without a clear corporate existence, achieves collective action through time, thus managing to hold on to the ethnic monopoly that has been its primary condition for survival for a number of centuries.

Macao and its Eurasian Bureaucratic Elite

7In this chapter, I will focus on the Eurasian bureaucratic elite of Macao - the macaenses or to2 saang1, as they are known respectively in Portuguese and Cantonese. The 'Macanese' are the result of four and a half centuries of Portuguese presence in the Pearl River Delta. In spite of the major differences that have marked this long period, some things have stayed relatively stable that differentiate Macao from other ports on the China Coast. Firstly, the Portuguese Administration has always had to share power, in more or less informal ways, with the Chinese State and its representatives (cf. Pereira 1995). Secondly, the financial capital that has moved this city as a trading post and given their subsistence to the city dwellers has usually been either Chinese or, for a period, British. Thirdly, the labour force that has moved the city has always been Chinese.

8The Macanese, living in relative isolation from mainland Portugal from the late 1500s to the late 1800s, developed a local Creole culture - with its own language (not unlike most Portuguese maritime Creoles), its own forms of dressing and its own cuisine. Apart from the heavy hand of the Catholic Church, they were left very much to their own devices and governed their city by means of a local parliament, the Leal Senado. From the late nineteenth century, however, Portuguese colonial administration was progressively installed. If they wanted to retain their privileges, the Macanese had to demonstrate their 'Portugueseness'. They were, therefore, forced to respond by dropping their Creole culture and integrating themselves into mainstream Portuguese culture. The Leal Senado, in turn, was demoted to the role of a municipal authority. The Lisbon-appointed Governor and his government have become the major political power-holders in the territory - at least in formal terms.

9The Macanese have always been in close contact with the Chinese population and have always interbred with the Cantonese lower classes (cf. Pina-Cabral and Lourenço 1993). Their major form of subsistence, apart from administering the city and tapping the correlative informal resources, has been their capacity to function as intermediaries and línguas (translators) in business deals between foreign merchants and the Cantonese merchant elites.

10In particular, ever since the British started taking an active interest in the China Coast, at the end of the eighteenth century, the Macanese have played the role of intermediaries. In 1840, in the wake of the Opium Wars, the British took over Hong Kong and established their own colony, abandoning Macao. This was a serious blow to the city, which forced it to rely increasingly on more marginal forms of economic activity: as a gambling centre (cf. Pina-Cabral and Chan 1997) and as a point of passage for internationally repressed merchandise, such as coolies, opium, gold bullion and the like (cf. Pina-Cabral 1998a).

11The Macanese, however, found an important role in Hong Kong, where they again played the same intermediary role, both in the Administration (particularly of the New Territories) and in the all-important banking sector (their role in the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Corporation was legendary). Furthermore, they held a similar position in most other European footholds in China from the middle of the nineteenth to the middle of the twentieth centuries. After the Second World War, and particularly after the 'Liberation' in 1949, they were increasingly drawn back to Hong Kong and Macao. In Hong Kong, however, the Portuguese, as they were known there, found their niche in the state and financial administration challenged by the budding Chinese Westernized middle class that developed in the 1960s and 1970s. In Macao itself the conflict between these two middle classes took on the aspect of an open fight around the civil disturbances that accompanied the Great Cultural Revolution in 1966/7 (known in Macao as the 1,2,3, cf. Dicks 1984).

12After the Democratic Revolution of 1974, Portugal's desire to hand over Macao to the People's Republic of China became official policy. When the Portuguese State withdrew its military presence from the city in 1976, it became clear that Macao's days as a foreign-administered enclave were coming to an end. In fact, only in 1987 did the Chinese State finally devise a political solution that allowed it to prepare for the integration of both Macao and Hong Kong. Macao was handed over to Chinese Administration under the 'one country, two systems' policy on 20 December 1999, after which it became a Special Administrative Region, on terms somewhat similar to those that have applied in Hong Kong since July 1997.

13Since 1976, therefore, the Macanese have been fully aware that the hold they have over the middle ranges of the administration of the city would be coming to an end. Their adjustment to this, both in linguistic terms (cf. Pina-Cabral 1994) and in terms of marital practices (cf. Pina-Cabral and Lourenço 1993), was particularly swift and efficient, considering that we are dealing with aspects of ethnic identity that involve deep personal investments. Ironically, however, the 1980s and early 1990s were a period of incomparable prosperity in the city. After Mao's death in 1976, Deng Xiaoping's policies of opening up the economy and of greater freedom of movement meant that Macao was swamped by a wholly new population eager to make a living (cf. Pina-Cabral 1998a). The fast development of the Pacific Rim during this period also meant that increasingly wealthier patrons as well as a growing number of Mainland Chinese visited Macao's casinos. The GATT agreements gave Macao export quotas that also opened up new financial possibilities. Finally, the Portuguese invested in a full renovation and modernization of the administration of the city. By contrast with Hong Kong, where the Chinese middle class expelled the Macanese from their established economic niche, in Macao they succeeded in renovating their ethnic monopoly and reconstituting themselves as an administrative elite.

14This chapter is based on materials gathered from 1990 to 1995, and focuses on the means through which the community achieved this process. It is a process that does not depend on the production of single successors to particular positions. As an administrative elite, the community's legitimacy depends on accomplishing universalistically defined administrative goals (cf. Cohen 1981). Thus, if the Macanese are to hold on to their 'privilege', they require both a diffuse production of successors to unspecified positions and the institution of an unstated structure of authority that allows for joint action.

15Today, they are confronting a major new challenge: Macao's hand-over to China in December 1999 means that they will finally be replaced in their traditional role. To what extent this will occur and how they will reintegrate themselves into a polis that was historically grounded on their very existence, but that will henceforth be governed from Beijing, is something that only future studies will be able to determine.

16The Macanese are an 'ethnic community' in the sense of a collectivity defined by reference to a common origin, whose members are closely linked by relations that constrain them to act in the interests of the group, being connected with each other by ties of long-term personal acquaintance and by a number of diffuse obligations (cf. Pina-Cabral 1994; Anthias 1990; Calhoun 1980). Moreover, they give evidence of the existence of a close network of personal relations of familiarity and of the corresponding 'reality projects' (cf. Gubrium 1990).

17This sense of a belonging steeped in both shared experience and shared subordination is admirably captured by a member of one of the most distinguished Macanese families when writing for a local newspaper:

  • 1 The Portuguese-language original allows for a formulation that does not specify the gender of the s (...)
  • 2 Ceclia Jorge, O Clarim, 7/6/91, p. 18.

If you take away from the Macanese his or her1 environment, isolating hint from his community, you take away his capacity for survival; and that, because being Macanese is above all feeling Macanese and part of a group.... To be Macanese implies that one feels Macanese, but it also implies passing by the test of being considered Macanese by the other Macanese. Elitism? Perhaps. But things are what they are and there is no point in cloaking them, as that way one wouldn't get anywhere.
This condition fully justifies the circumstance of someone's being able to consider himself Macanese who, in other terms, might not have all the necessary characteristics for that; and, on the other hand, the marginalizing of others who, whilst possessing those characteristics, have in some way betrayed the community. Betrayed, but rather in the sense of someone who doesn't work for the community, when he has every opportunity to do so.

18In more general terms, what is being said here is that, as a political entity, the Macanese community functions by means of a system of authority that, albeit informal, is fully determinant for the individual life of each member, quite as much as for the continuation through time of the community as a whole. The Macanese constitute an 'informally organised interest group', 'protecting or developing power for their members through informal organisation mechanisms' (Cohen 1974: 120). In order to belong to a group of this nature, as the quotation above amply illustrates, it is not enough to adopt a specific life-style that would externally symbolize group belonging. It is also necessary, on the one hand, to be 'hooked onto the dense network of interpersonal relationships between the members of the group' (Cohen 1974: 124) and, on the other, to show openly that one is willing to follow the dominant reality project, as legitimized by the collectivity's authority structure.

19In the pages that follow, I will attempt to unravel the way in which collective action is achieved by means of this authority structure, grounding it both on the legitimization of informal power-holders and on the functioning of informal networks of sociability.

20Although this is not the place to discuss the issue at length, it must be stated from the start that research in the Territory has indicated beyond doubt that phenotypic appearance is not an inescapable marker of ethnic belonging. Albeit one among other factors of Macanese self-definition, it is by no means a single determinant of ethnic group belonging (cl. PinaCabral and Lourenço 1993). Portuguese, as well as Chinese dispositions towards racial matters (cf. Dikötter 1992) have always differed considerably from those that characterized the British Empire in its heyday. They allow for a wider margin of ambiguity, where ethnic group belonging is not externally imposed on Eurasians by the fact of their phenotypic characteristics but is largely the result of identity options.

The Privilege

21If we were to consider the fact that the Macanese have held until today a virtual monopoly over the intermediary levels of the public administration of a Territory whose population is mostly Chinese, we might be tempted to classify them as a typical 'colonial elite'. This would be a mistake, however, as it would be grounded on a superficial consideration of the apparent legalities, disregarding the complex political reality that has always characterized the city throughout its history and, most of all, since the uprisings of 1966/7. By contrast with what happened in Hong Kong at that time, the Portuguese Administration lost most of its capacity for independent decision-taking (cf. Scott 1989), governing the city since then through a system of complex negotiation with the mainland Chinese authorities.

22Even although they fully exercise citizenship within the territory, the Macanese have lost their rights of sovereignty, both at the time of the 1966/7 incidents and later on, when the Portuguese democratic authorities declared that Macao was 'a Chinese territory administered by Portugal' (1976 Constitution-cf. Pereira 1995).

  • 3 For a study of how this process functioned at the turn of the eighteenth to the nineteenth centurie (...)

23Thus, on the one hand, their condition as subjects of the Portuguese King (and later the Portuguese Republic) has shielded them from the worst insecurities that have befallen the population of South-western China through the chaotic political events of the past two centuries: from the Taiping Revolution, to the Opium Wars, to the various civil wars, to the Pacific War and finally to the series of tragic campaigns of the Maoist period. But, on the other hand, it has also implied considerable insecurity in the face of a Chinese state that has always been ambivalent to Macao and, most of the time, militarily dominant.3

  • 4 'The deficit of social citizenship resides in the areas of frustrated socio-juridical demand (namel (...)

24The ethnic monopoly, therefore, has constituted an indispensable condition for the Macanese to cohabit with the Chinese population. The latter hold the rights of ultimate sovereignty as well as the greater military and economic power; but, in contrast, they have suffered from a 'deficit of social citizenship'.4 Even today the full exercise of the rights of citizenship on the part of most Chinese inhabitants of the Territory is considerably limited by the transitoriness that has historically characterized their presence in Macao (what Hong Kong social scientists have called 'the steppingstone syndrome' - cf. Yee 1989).

25Thus, the monopoly is perceived as a 'privilege' - such is the very word often used by Macanese to refer to it, as it allows for a modicum of security within a region that has been subject to considerable political, sociological and financial turmoil. Furthermore, there are material benefits. By integrating itself into the Macanese ethnic field, a mixed couple from the lower classes (both Portuguese and Chinese) can gain for its children the considerable benefits that result from informal access to the ethnic monopoly. Characteristically, the children of such mixed couples are socially promoted by relation to their parents. But, although the Macanese ethnic condition usually brings with it a privileged access to middle-class status, the fact is that the very same condition imposes radical limitations for anyone who wishes to promote him- or herself above that middle-class layer.

26Thus, in some aspects, to refer to the Macanese as an elite could be misleading: in the first place, because the 'Macanese privilege' is one among other possible privileges within the city, and involves a loss of other substantial privileges. For example, the Macanese have never been the dominant economic force in the Territory, the principal fortunes being in the hands of Chinese capitalists (gambling is the most obvious, but not unique, example). Small-scale commerce is also, with rare exceptions, out of their reach. The more recent development in industry, as well as in the service sector, is largely also in Chinese hands. This means, therefore, that the sudden expansion of the private sector of the economy that took place in the 1980s would have left them out, had they not succeeded in taking advantage of their control of the administrative bureaucracy for obtaining material gains.

  • 5 In The Politics of Elite Culture, he provides us with two definitions that are close but interestin (...)

27And misleading in the second place, because the very notion of 'elite' is ambiguous. It is never very clear whether the term refers to the whole of a social group that controls a privilege (for example, an ethnic or a socio-professional group) or, on the contrary, whether it refers only to those members who, within that group, hold positions of authority, allowing for the informal enforcement of patterns of collective action. Abner Cohen, for example, who might be considered an inspiration in this field, hesitates over this issue.5 In what follows, I shall rather opt for the second definition. The Macanese, therefore, will be treated as an ethnic community that becomes an informally organized interest group by means of the operation of a 'moral economy': that is, 'the slowly evolved but carefully maintained community consensus on many fundamental issues which orders and legitimates responses to the upset of the community's way of life' (Calhoun 1980: 121). And the people and families who hold a central place in the maintenance and management of this consensus - who hold authority within the community - will be more properly referred to as an 'elite'.

  • 6 Cf. Callon and Latour, 1981: 279. I am grateful to João Arriscado Nunes for having called my attent (...)

28The Macanese community is not a formal group. As such, the authority to which I refer does not assume any contractual or official aspect. On the contrary, it inheres in the personal status of those people that hold it. One might best describe it by means of Bruno Latour's notion of translation: 'all the negotiations, intrigues, calculations, acts of persuasion and violence by means of which an actor or social force assumes, or confers upon itself, the authority to speak or act in the name of another actor or force'.6


29Depending on the nature of the interests that each particular informal group aims to protect, so its elite will be primarily formed in the areas of social action where those interests are situated - that will be the primary locus of 'translation'. In the case of the Macanese, the determinant area is the Portuguese Public Administration of the city. Thus, we can define two profiles that constitute a disposition to assume elite condition, which may or may not be associated within the same person. The first is professional. That is, either people who hold jobs at leadership level in the Administration or the government or, alternatively, members of the liberal professions who function as interfaces between the Administration and the Chinese economic interests dominant in Macao and Hong Kong. I have in mind lawyers and solicitors, and, to a lesser extent, doctors, architects and civil engineers.

30The second profile is familial: that is, loosely defined, families who both maximize the principal symbolic vectors of community belonging (Catholicism, Portuguese culture and Eurasian background) and have accumulated over time a number of members who correspond to the former critera of elite status. These are identified in the Territory as famílias tradicionais (traditional families). They have special claims to Portugueseness - being usually more proficient in Portuguese and often sending their children to Portuguese universities; they are staunchly Catholic - investing symbolically in the Catholic churches and cemeteries; and they correspond to older Eurasian stock - discriminating against recent intermarriage.

31On the one hand, therefore, we have the capacity for action in the area of interest of the ethnic monopoly; on the other hand, we have the capacity to represent the community through a maximization of the symbolic elements that most visibly define it historically. This polarization, however, has a somewhat artificial nature since both profiles are often combined in the most clearly marked elite elements of the Macanese community.

32To be the child of a traditional family, to be married to an offspring of such a family, or have found the skills necessary to represent culturally the values associated with these families is often not enough to achieve 'translation'. But it is an important head start for someone who acquires university education, who is promoted to a leadership post in the Administration or who achieves some form of political significance in the Territory.

33Similarly, to be a graduate, to be rich or to hold a leadership post is not enough to achieve elite status. But it is an important door, by passing through which one may come to form a new 'traditional family' or find a marital alliance that will associate one with an already existent family.

34Thus the important official positions that a number of Macanese have achieved during the 1980s and 1990s are not necessarily a condition for the informal power that such people seem capable of exerting. On the contrary, these positions rather tend to be the result of the power they have achieved. Precisely because it is informal, this power is not grounded on a single factor (to be rich, to be the son of so-and-so, to be Director of this or that service, or to be elected to this or that political post). Rather, it corresponds to the integration of a whole network of relations and conditions that converge on a particular person.

35What this means is that this elite condition is personal and non-transferable. No leader will ever succeed another, as the Territory's newspapers so often seem to presume when they comment on the death of particular Macanese leaders. The example of the death of Carlos D'Assumpção was paradigmatic. Before he died he came to be one of the most widely acknowledged mouthpieces of the Macanese ethnic community. One of the main questions the newspapers raised at the time of his unexpected death was 'Who will occupy the space he left vacant?' This question, however, is wrongly formulated, for his position was genuinely non-transferable to the extent that it depended directly on his own personal conditions and his individual life history. It combined, (1) being the offspring of an old and numerous 'traditional family'; (2) having a distinguished career as a lawyer; (3) having collected a vast network of informal links of amity created throughout the various moments of his life in which he exercised his notable skills as mediator - from being President of the Students' Union in the University of Coimbra at the height of Salazar's power, to being on the winning side of the negotiations that led to the new Gambling Contract in 1961, to mediating the ending to the 1966/7 incidents both with the local Chinese magnates and then with the People's Liberation Army, to the conflict between the Macanese old-fashioned cadres of the Administration and the governor who launched the process of modernization in the early 1980s (Almeida e Costa), to being central in the negotiations with the Deng Xiaoping period Chinese authorities that led to the Joint Declaration and, subsequently, to the drafting of the Basic Law that will govern the Territory after 1999.

36This impossibility of replacing the figures with specific capacities for 'translation' contributes to a sentiment that I have come to recognize in Macanese conversation and in the Macanese press as the mirage of the community's death. When an informally organized interest group feels that its power base is under threat, as was the case for the Macanese community throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the death or disappearance of such 'translators' assumes menacing aspects, as the equilibrium of forces that that person incorporated can never be precisely reconstituted by any other person. This feeling, nevertheless, may be characterized as a 'mirage' to the extent that the community, with the passing of time, has also renovated itself. The new dynamics that have arisen require new equilibria, which other people will come to personify. In the case of the Macanese, however, this feeling is justifiably more intense, owing to the lack of ultimate rights of sovereignty to which I have referred earlier on.

Macao's Elites

37Throughout the 1980s there was a significant renovation of the Macanese elite. Starting from a small group of young graduates who were called from Lisbon by the first governor of the Territory after the 1974 Democratic Revolution (Garcia Leandro), a nucleus of cadres with university education was formed that assumed roles of increased importance. A major crisis occurred in the early 1980s at the time of Almeida e Costa's governorship. His attempts to adapt the Administration to the growing demands of population increase, of increased demands for citizenship rights on the part of the Chinese inhabitants, and of the new financial possibilities resulting from renegotiations of the gambling contracts, led to a fear that the ethnic monopoly might be broken. This, however, was not to be.

38The demands of the Chinese government for greater 'localization' of the Administration were systematically circumvented by the promotion of Macanese rather than of Chinese cadres. This was facilitated by the unavailability of Portuguese-speaking educated Chinese residents. Owing to the 'stepping-stone syndrome', the young Chinese candidates to middle-class status see Portuguese as a less worthwhile investment than English. The Administration being in Portuguese, it was therefore easy for the Portuguese authorities to circumvent the repeated pressure exerted by the People's Republic, particularly after the signing of the Joint Declaration.

39With the passing of the years, and particularly since the governorship of Carlos Melancia (1987-1990), Macanese people assumed a growing number of leadership positions in the Administration, the Municipality and the liberal professions. The number of Macanese who were directors of services and members of government or of the Legislative Assembly was greater at the beginning of the 1990s than in most periods during the previous century - and certainly far beyond anything that their numeric presence in the Territory would justify.

40Some of these people originate in traditional families or are associated to them by marriage alliance; others have succeeded in forming a name for themselves independently, owing to their personal qualifications. A common characteristic of practically all of them is that they opted for a public image that associates them with some form of Portugueseness: they are mostly graduates from Portuguese universities and they all speak Portuguese far more fluently than the common Macanese person. This is interesting, as in fact during the 1980s most Macanese families went in the opposite direction: Cantonese became the domestic language of most families, and proficiency in Portuguese tended to decrease.

41Notwithstanding, while the older elite members are noted for their poor Cantonese and are illiterate in Chinese, among the younger ones we have witnessed a greater effort to avoid Chinese illiteracy. Some were even undertaking concerted efforts to learn to write Chinese. Another noteworthy aspect of these younger 'translators' is that, in the construction of their public image, they have become less dependent on Portuguese-style symbols of prestige, adopting more readily a language of prestige that is clearly associated with the Hong Kong Cantonese-speaking mass media.

42Characteristically, the Macanese whose careers of success have been in the private sector of the economy tend to assume a smaller public visibility. This confirms our reading of the Macanese as an informally organized interest group whose privilege lies in their control over the Administration. By contrast, among the Chinese of the Territory, the figures with greater capacity to 'translate', who are therefore also those whom the local media follows more closely, are invariably associated with the private sector.

43In broad terms, the elite profiles among the Chinese of Macao are associated either with commerce (for example, the people surrounding Ho Yin and their successors) or with the new industries (magnates such as Susana Chow or Eric Yeung). The heads of the triads have had a more discreet public profile in the past, even although they have always been most influential. The recent public prominence of Wan Kwok-Kui of the sect named '14 Carats' is not characteristic (cf. Pina-Cabral 1998a). Finally, a complex profile such as that of Stanley Ho - the Hong Kong Eurasian who is the figurehead of the casino industry - would require a study of its own.

44There is, therefore, a vast difference between the two ethnic elites of Macao. The Macanese elite finds its following among an old middle class, and is grounded in a control of the Administration, for which it relies on what one might call a 'capital of Portugueseness'. The Chinese elite finds its power base among a recent middle class, and is solidly grounded in the private sector.

45The old alliance between the Macanese elite and the Chinese elite, which was forged at the time of the challenges that marked the beginning of the 1980s, was represented by persons who have died in the meantime, such as Carlos D'Assumpção and Ho Yin. The 1990s have seen a rapidly changing scene. The 1992 elections to the Legislative Assembly showed that the capacity for political mobilization of this alliance was still considerable. Furthermore, the new prominent figures that have emerged among the Macanese are still associated to the classic terrain (such as the member of government Rangel or the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Anabela Ritchie).

46Finally, however, by 1996/7, the Administration started appointing Chinese people to positions of leadership. This will inevitably lead to a change, even if it turns out to be less radical than some Chinese people in the city presently hope. The struggle for position among different Chinese elites appears to be still undecided. The recent incidents, known locally as 'the Triad Wars', have shown that the terrain is moving very fast.

  • 7 With the exception of Hong Kong, of course.

47As the Macanese grip on the Administration loosens, will their identity die out in the Territory? I believe that a number of Macanese public figures have already started the process of trying to shift their role towards that of mediators both with the historical past and with the international networks that that historical legacy facilitates. These are advantages that the city holds over the competing Chinese cities of the Pearl River Delta.7 The way will then be open for greater prominence for those Macanese 'translators' who have been investing in a more 'cultural' profile (such as the designer Conceição or the painter/architect Marreiros).

48For the Macanese, the period between 1987 (when the future of Macao was finally determined) and the mid-1990s (the 'ethnographic present' of this paper) can be characterized by two diverging tendencies. On the one hand, there was a slight decrease in the rhythm of growth of the Administration and an increased pressure on the part of the Chinese middle class to penetrate it. On the other hand, however, since the initial launching of the reforms was based on Macanese cadres, this meant that by the mid-1980s they had been promoted to positions of seniority that granted them the means necessary for 'translation'.

49The Macanese elite of the mid-90s was a relatively uniform group of people in kinship terms (their association to the traditional families), in educational terms (being graduates from Portuguese universities) and in linguistic terms (being predominantly Portuguese-speakers but very fluent in Cantonese). It is also worthwhile noting that there was a solid presence of both genders, even if men were in a majority.

Which Kind of Community?

  • 8 The 1991 official census of the city estimated the population as 403,038 persons; all realistic ind (...)

50In the 1980s and 1990s, the Macanese have represented an ever smaller percentage of the population (by the late 1980s they constituted approximately 1.6 per cent of the population of the Territory).8 In spite of this, they have given ample evidence of managing to hold on to their ethnic monopoly and of being able to continue to negotiate it politically. This means beyond any measure of doubt that they have achieved collective action. In turn, that shows that their elite has successfully managed to 'translate'.

51That being the case, then, our next step is to attempt to describe the processes by means of which the community both invests certain members with authority and then agrees to follow their authority. This is less simple than it may seem, as the Macanese have no official structures of community leadership, nor could they have, as these would have placed them in an awkward position vis-à-vis both the Chinese majority and the Portuguese governing minority. Thus we also have to explain how the people who hold the capacity to 'translate' achieve some sort of coherence among themselves.

  • 9 'The self-regulation of community is dependent on dense, multiplex bonds' (Calhoun 1980: 115).

52As an informal interest group, the Macanese form a community - that is, their social interaction is based on a series of criss-crossing links of long-term personal acquaintance.9 As such, we must not search for formal processes of integration, but rather for processes based on what Abner Cohen calls a network of amity (1981: 222). These networks of criss-crossing interpersonal identification link people together; but above all they function as vectors for the diffusion of the 'reality projects' without which there can be no legitimate authority and, therefore, no successful 'translation'.

53Having said this, it must be stressed that there is no unanimity of opinions or interests within the community. On the contrary, conflicts internal to the community frequently arise, even concerning the most central aspects of the management of their 'privilege'. For example, in the summer of 1993 there was a public conflict in the Legislative Assembly concerning the maintenance of the relatively high level of salaries obtaining in the Administration in relation to those that were offered by the private sector. The principal contenders were both distinguished members of the Macanese community.

54This conflict, as well as so many of those that occupy the pages of the local Portuguese newspapers, are a sign of the growing difficulty that the Macanese elite experienced during the 1980s and 1990s in adopting openly exclusivist attitudes. We may look at this under the light of the opposition between the particularistic and the universalistic interests of elites adopted by Abner Cohen (1981). In their quality as members of the political or the administrative structures of Macao, these people feel obliged to assume universalistic positions. Seeing that the Macanese are a numerical minority in the Territory, however, such positions will often conflict with the particularistic interests of their own community.

55This growing difficulty in assuming publicly attitudes of exclusivism vis-à-vis the Chinese must not be taken as a sign of the disappearance of the Macanese as an ethnic community or of an increased irrelevance of the label of Macanese to their personal sense of belonging. This willingness to operate with moving and porous community boundaries is nothing new to the Macanese. For a long time their relation to the Portuguese from Portugal was precisely of this nature. In the days before the 1966/7 incidents, they claimed a greater permeability with the Portuguese (calling themselves proudly 'the Portuguese of the Orient' - os Portugueses do Orienté) and assumed openly exclusivist attitudes towards the Chinese.

56By the mid-1990s all this had changed, however. The symbolic relevance of their 'capital of Portugueseness' (cf. Pina-Cabral and Lourenço 1993) had diminished considerably, whilst the age-old competition with administration personnel coming from Portugal became more intense. Contrariwise, there was a greater facility of cultural contact with the new Chinese middle class. This meant that the boundaries with the Chinese ethnic group lost much of the clarity that they had formerly possessed. The awareness that, after 1999, the future of the community, as well as of each individual Macanese that stays behind, depends on a negotiation with the Chinese, means that any form of public manifestation of exclusivism became clearly undesirable.

57This explains how, progressively, there has been a reduction bordering on total disappearance in the Macanese arenas of community, by which I mean the public spaces and occasions where community belonging was openly staged before non-community members and where community members openly performed their own internal hierarchies of prestige. The clubs, private beaches, theatre performances, café meetings, religious ceremonies, brotherhoods and kermesses that played such a central role during the first half of the century progressively vanished. The famous chás-gordos (the Pantagruelian tiffins they offered at their homes), the exclusive club balls, the 'Portuguese-style' weddings, the spontaneous evening meetings of the local youth bands (tunas), the theatre performances in Creole (patuá), all of these are today nostalgic memories that, when exceptionally enacted, only serve the purpose of creating a sense of a shared past. Books are written about these things, restaurants are opened where this type of cuisine is now available to all customers, the Administration subsidizes tunas where the musicians may well no longer be Macanese, poetry books in patuá are published that only a learned few can read, local literati are busy writing lengthy and abundantly illustrated studies of local culture, and voluminous genealogical studies are compiled and published at great public cost where all sorts of genealogical acrobatics are performed, with ample if not always accurate biographical detail. But the Clube de Macao was sold, the D. Pedro Theatre was closed for over a decade and was then re-opened by the Municipality as a public service, the Tennis Club was taken over by the Chinese middle class, and of course there are no longer restricted areas of beach front.

58None of this means that the community has vanished, of course; nor that it has lost its capacity for collective action. In order to undertake an overall assessment of the intensity of community links among the Macanese, we will follow Calhoun's suggestion of measuring three dimensions of community:

1. the density (does one observe all possible links?);

2. the multiplexity (are people linked in more than one way?);

3. the systematicity (are people integrated within a unifying system of corporateness?) (1980: 118).

59As to the first dimension, density, one can observe almost total coverage in terms of personal acquaintance. There are, of course, areas of lesser relational density associated to internal socio-educational stratification.

60Nevertheless, very seldom can one find two members of the community between whom there is not some sort of a link: be it of kinship, of marriage alliance, of professional association, of school peers or of neighbourhood youth gangs. Seldom do these links involve more than one intermediary person. That is, if we were to include cousins of Cousins; colleagues or boyfriends or affines of siblings or cousins; students or subordinates of parents or children of students or subordinates, we would easily cover the whole community. In short, in terms of density, one can consider the Macanese community resident in the Territory as probably well above average.

61Let us now consider Calhoun's second dimension. If we try to assess whether community members are individually connected by more than one type of relation, the conclusion will definitely be that the Macanese evince a high level of mutiplexity. Work colleagues are either relatives, children of relatives, old school friends, affines, or simply neighbourhood cronies. This dimension, however, needs further consideration, for it covers two considerably different aspects. On the one hand, we may ask ourselves if people are linked by more than one type of relation. As we have seen, the Macanese are. On the other hand, however, we may want to assess to what extent the different roles combine with each other and interpenetrate. For example, do the roles of cousin and director of services, or the roles of employee and old school colleague, tend to interpenetrate? Here the answer would not be so clear-cut. Macao is a modern city, with a complex bureaucratic administration, whose legal framework obliges people to measure their gestures by means of univocally expressed legal principles. In other words, whether a person is or is not my cousin, sibling or friend, I have the same obligations towards him or her as towards any other of my colleagues. In this second sense, pre-modern communities and peasant communities, such as have been described by many ethnographers, show considerably higher levels of multiplexity than the Macanese.

62Nevertheless, whoever has lived in Macao for any length of time knows frilly well that the 'administrative culture' that is dominant there allows for a considerable margin of permissiveness towards the interpenetration of roles. Most people tend to look away whenever they encounter what elsewhere might be criticized as nepotism. As a matter of fact, as we shall discuss further, in a multiethnic context such as this one, the maintenance of any sort of ethnic monopoly depends precisely on a careful management of multiplexity.

63As a bureaucratic elite, the Macanese elite must preoccupy itself with the efficiency of the Administration (a universalistic value); thus it must circumvent the effects of multiplexity. As an ethnic elite, however, it has a strong particularistic interest in preserving its 'privilege', which often is contrary to the universalistic rules of bureaucratic procedure.

64Finally, concerning systematicity, we must ask ourselves whether the Macanese are integrated within a unifying system of corporateness. This does not seem to be the case. Community boundaries tend to be porous, and there are no open arenas of community. The Macanese community is not defined by clearly demarcated borders. Rather, it forms itself around a publicly identifiable elite nucleus by relation to which each individual member situates his or her individual (and/or familial) belonging. Notwithstanding this, there are some organizations that, without being ethnically exclusivistic, wind up representing the interests of the Macanese. In the period under study perhaps the most important of these was the Associação dos Trabalhadores da Função Pública de Macao - the civil servants' trade union. In the mid-1990s, this was still fully controlled by the Macanese.

  • 10 Thus we may attribute to these nodules the functional characteristics that Abner Cohen applies to h (...)

65We can conclude that the Macanese community is relatively intense, even although it does not possess strong public arenas of community and has low systematicity. This being the case, we must turn to private relations in order to search for the processes by means of which the community acquires its internal structure of authority. In the pages that follow, therefore, I will attempt to identify and characterize the principal spaces and occasions where the dialogical process of the production of intersubjectivity occurs that allows for the continuation of the community as an informal interest group. These time/spaces shall be named nodules of community, in order to indicate that they endow with relative systematization that network of amity (a large network of interpersonal identification) that forms the foundation of this ethnic community.10

Nodules of Community: The Family

66One of the principal characteristics of the Macanese families that today are considered 'traditional families' is that they used to be very large. During the second quarter of our century, it was common to find couples with 9 and 10 surviving children. After the Pacific War this fertility tended to decrease. During the 1950s and 1960s, couples tended to have 3 to 5 children. After the 1970s, however, very few couples have more than 2 children. This gradual process of reduction is openly recognized by the Macanese, but is also clearly visible from the numerous family histories that I gathered in the course of research (cf. Pina-Cabral and Lourenço 1993).

67A number of reasons were given for the earlier high rates of fertility. Principal among them was the availability of domestic service. A Portuguese lady who met her husband at university in Coimbra and followed him to Macao immediately after the end of the Pacific War described to me with vividness the domestic situation she came to encounter in her father-in-law's extended family. It was a patriarchal home, where it was expected that each son would bring his wife to live in the parental household. Apart from the older house servants, each young couple was assisted by their own maid. When she and her husband arrived, she was surprised to find that her own personal maid had already been chosen in preparation for her arrival. On top of that, each new-born child received an ama, who would serve him or her exclusively until schooling age, and often after that. These amas taught the Macanese how to speak Cantonese and to be familiar with Chinese domestic habits. In those days, however, before the mid-1970s, most of these elite families forced the children to speak Portuguese with everybody but the servants, in order to ensure that they would acquire the necessary capital of Portugueseness, which in those days was so central for their elite status. An old man reported to me that he used to be punished each time he used a Cantonese word in front of his parents.

  • 11 Cf. Jorge 1992, where she reports on the cuisine practised in the house of her grandfather - José V (...)

68I have received documented reports of household compounds that were very akin to those of wealthy Chinese families at the end of the Qing Dynasty. Around his own house, the father would construct houses for each son and their respective families. The compound that Pedro José Lobo built for his children in Mong Há and that of the Jorges near the Lilau are instances of this. So long as the father was alive, the children continued to eat together, so that the culinary practices were marked by these large communal meals. 'Macanese cuisine', writes a lady from the Jorge family, 'was born of the need to satisfy large families and justify constant conviviality, two circumstances that are no longer part of our way of life'.11

  • 12 Cf. Pina-Cabral 1997 for a discussion of this concept.

69Such families constituted a powerful base of support for their members. These patriarchs personalized a family project. As was the case with the wealthy families of Imperial China, the death of the patriarch constituted a moment of rupture, which normally terminated the familial communality. Nevertheless, powerful links of continued identity12 survived that allowed the members to benefit from the family's prestige and from the large network of kindred.

70The lists of names of traditional families that I have asked people to produce have a high level of overlap: names such as the Senna Fernandes, the Jorges, the D'Assumpção, the Nolascos, the Batalhas, are always present. Other names tend to be absent from the lists provided by younger people - for example, the Melos, descendants of the Baron of Cereal, whose home is today the Government Palace, but whose descendants no longer live in the city. Others, for a number of reasons, have a slightly less 'traditional' status: for example, the Leitão or the Lobos.

71It is important to stress that, when the Macanese cite one of these names, they are by no means referring to a group of persons all of whom are equally identifiable or even who form a corporate group. These names are no more than continued identities. In certain cases, profound bitterness has developed between different branches of the family, resulting from events of such insignificance that even the descendants find it hard to recount them.

72I can cite as an example the case of a man who gave me a detailed genealogical tree of his family. Starting in the mid-nineteenth century with a man who purchased a nobility title, this genealogy included people currently living all over the world, some of whom had left Macao two generations ago. Nowhere, however, in that detailed genealogy could I find one of the principal branches of the family, some members of which are today Macao notables. The cause for this, I later found out, was an inheritance conflict that none of them could now clarify and that had taken place in the 1940s!

  • 13 In Ponto Final, 30/7/93, p. 13.

73In spite of these quarrels, and even after the death of the patriarch, these continued identities constitute a social referent of major symbolic importance for their members, both because of the vast networks of relations that they provide and because they pave the way for a claim to elite positioning. Talking to a journalist, a member of one of these families who returned to Macao after many years of absence abroad explained that his 'respectable family name has frequently helped to open a number of doors'.13

  • 14 Once again the example of the Creole elite of Sierra Leone studied by Abner Cohen is relevant: 'In (...)

74Yet another distinguishing feature of traditional families is their relations of marriage alliance. Marrying a member of one of these families is a considerable advantage if one has the ambition of assuming an elite role. A number of the most influential political figures of the community in the 1980s and 1990s fit into this mould. A Macanese man once said to me in a joking mood that he was thinking of forming an 'Association of the Spouses of the Xs', as it would be the most powerful association in the city. For the people that establish an alliance with such a family, the access to the prestigious name and the correlative network of relations is of the utmost importance. For the members of the family, however, and especially for the less successful ones, these elite allies constitute indispensable assets.14

75Traditional families are not the only ones whose large numbers of children produced vast networks of relations. There were some couples economically less well endowed and socially less prestigious that gave rise to families whose importance in the Territory is recognized by all. Even though few of their members achieve elite status, these families are known by everyone, for their members are widely placed throughout the various branches of the Administration. I have in mind cases where the father was a police agent or a clerk at the Department of Finances or in the Inspectorate of Games. In a number of these instances the father was from Portugal and the mother was either a lower-class Chinese woman or a Macanese with low claims to prestige. Their children and grandchildren and their respective spouses came to form a veritable web of connectedness throughout the Administration. This network allows them to compile information gathered from very diverse sources, thus enabling them to reap a number of informal benefits - from achieving small clerical privileges (such as jumping queues and tapping limited resources) to more clandestine types of activities that need not be detailed here. In some of the families I studied, it became clear to me that this strategy of spreading people as widely as possible throughout the various services of the Administration was actively and consciously pursued.

76These networks of siblings, brothers-and sisters-in-law and cousins are further extended by the bigamy of the father. The practice of maintaining more than one house has never been uncommon in Macao, among both the Macanese and the Chinese, among whom it is generally taken as a claim to prestige. The family histories compiled indicated that there is not a unique pattern to these types of bigamous relations. Some are so informal that they hardly correspond to a kind of marriage, being limited to the perfïlhação (legal recognition of paternity) of the offspring; while others assume the nature of fully public lifelong concubinage. In either case, they have the consequence of enlarging the sibling group at a later moment in time. I have found out that, alter the death of the mothers, most of these 'siblinghoods' operate as favoured networks of relations, even in cases where, before the death of the official wife, there was an avoidance relation between the different households.

77Finally, as has been said, the cohabitation that characterized the large patriarchal houses and compounds terminated, largely because of the population growth that started in the late 1970s. The construction boom of the following decades meant that these large sprawling houses situated in the older parts of the city acquired incalculable value. For the majority of families, rather than keeping their outdated family mansions in Macao, it seemed more sensible to rent flats and invest in real estate in Portugal, Australia or Ganada. Most of the houses bought overseas were left empty, awaiting the moment at which political conditions might force the owners to flee the Territory. At the same time, the Administration's policy of offering rent-free apartments to its civil servants meant that the majority of young couples could expect to receive an apartment from the Administration.

78In fact, by the mid-1990s, when this policy was significantly reduced, the Macanese came to develop a sense of grievance in relation to the expatriate Portuguese personnel. A Macanese lady from the Administration once voiced this to me:

The people who come from Portugal are not especially qualified, they have no place, so they trample on the ones that are already here, taking their homes. People are in the housing queue. The married people from here...just married. They can be waiting for up to five years for the right to receive a rent-free apartment, because they are civil servants. But along comes another person from Portugal, who is a friend of so-and-so, and there goes the apartment! They - the Portuguese - stay in the apartments! And they stay in the apartments with rights to everything for free, even toilet paper.... My brother-in-law, for example, in order to get a flat had to go around complaining loudly and showing his clout, because otherwise he would have got nothing, just because he did not go and get some sort of university degree. So, that's it.

79In spite of the fact that domestic servants remain cheap (hy the mid-1980s this sector of employment was largely in the hands of Filipino women), the apartments in the new high-rise blocks did not allow for large numbers of servants. Furthermore, most women who entered came into adult life in the 1970s and 1980s took on salaried jobs in the Administration, and to smaller extent in commerce. This also means that there are no longer enough housewives with free time on their hands to run that 'society of ladies' to which our older female interviewees refer so nostalgically. Nor could the new professional women afford to look after such large and intense domestic arrangements. All this means that, after the second half of the 1970s, the domestic environment tended to reduce itself to the conjugal family-with extensive support from the grandparents' houses in raising the children.

80If we further took into account the facts that the number of children per couple was reduced drastically, that divorce came to be a regular event, and that the domestic establishment is now numerically slimmed down, we might be led to conclude that Macanese families lost their effectiveness as nodules of community. The study of twenty families that I undertook, however, shows beyond any doubt that such a conclusion would be completely mistaken.

81Macanese families remain an important network of integration into the community and one of the bases for the functioning of the ethnic collectivity as a structure of authority and, consequently, of collective action. As the laborious process of collecting family histories developed, I became increasingly aware that new practices had come to substitute for the domestic socialization around the famous chás-gordos or the large meetings on Catholic feast days. For example, the Macanese organize with intensity and regularity family reunions in restaurants. Typically, the family hires a 'private room' for a whole day (generally a Saturday or Sunday) and spends the entire day lunching, speaking, singing karaoke and playing mah-jong. Note that the principal form of entertainment, in which everyone participates actively, is gambling. This is always played with real money, as the Macanese on the whole partake of the Chinese notion that otherwise the game would lose all its appeal. Such a practice, which would be deeply criticized in Portugal, is here taken for granted.

82When I tried to establish the regularity of these meetings in each family, I obtained very varied responses. The regularity reflects the relative vitality of each specific 'family project'. The more alive the project, the more frequent and varied are the meetings. It is common for parents to bring together their married children with their associated grandchildren once a week or once a month on a predetermined day. Further on along the family development cycle, when the widowed mother or father is still alive, it is expected that a reunion will be organized for the day of his oilier birthday - people come from abroad specially to be present at such meetings. In some cases, the children and grandchildren continue to meet yearly on the same date, or on the date of his or her death.

  • 15 It should be further noticed that, in the cases where the mother was Chinese but the family adopted (...)

83Each person participates in a number of cycles of such reunions. Now it's the parents and the siblings; then it's the parents, their siblings and the siblings' descendants (both on the paternal and on the maternal side); then it's the parents and siblings of the spouse; or again the parents-in-law and their respective siblings and descendants (both on the paternal and on the maternal side). Thus, once we account for patrilateral and matrilateral extension, as well as for alliance relations, it is easy to see that the network of meetings could be vast if it were not for the fact that not all family identities have the same capacity for the mobilization of potential members. As is the case probably everywhere, neither are all family projects equally strong,15 nor do family projects retain the same vitality as time passes.

  • 16 Family names pass along the agnatic line, cf. Pina-Cabral 1994.

84It does happen that, as a response to the visit to Macao of a long-absent family member, sporadic family reunions are organized for members who have long been dispersed and whose family project in the Territory had little vitality. At those occasions it is said that reuniram-se todos os Fulanos ('all the X's have met'). This does not mean that all of the people that have a formal right to claim that name were present - in fact, normally, old family quarrels tend to prevent the achievement of this ideal. Often too, people that do not have a right to the name, but are closely associated either by marriage or by uterine descent, play a central role.16

85Today, these family reunions constitute the primary nodule of community that grants coherence to Macanese ethnic belonging. They are essential for the way in which a Macanese person's professional life develops, and they are the principal vehicles for the management of the ethnic monopoly. They allow for, on the one hand, the spreading of information and opinion - 'reality projects' - and, on the other hand, they reproduce the particularistic links that are essential for the community's survival in the face of the universalistic demands of the administrative and legal structure of the Territory. Each person participates in several of these cycles of reunions. There, in contexts of great intimacy, he or she meets regularly a substantial large number of kinsfolk, who, in turn, by participating in other such reunions, meet a yet wider range of people. In this way, a cycle of intimacy is silently created that ranges throughout the whole of the community, reaching to its furthest extensions abroad.

Nodules of Community: Friendship

86One of the most common phrases for identifying group belonging among the Macanese is the expression nós' malta ('our folk'). The expression has connotations that associate it to male youth gangs and stresses the importance of the friendships made at the time of high school for the integration of the Macanese ethnic community as a whole.

87The fact that the Macanese have co-opted a number of people whose familial past may not have granted them automatic belonging to the community is often the result of such an insertion into school friendship groups. I have found with some surprise that the importance that these connections assume for people who are today in the middle of their professional careers cannot be exaggerated. It is something to which I was not attuned at the outset of the research. Slowly, however, as the evidence of the functional relevance of these links mounted, I became aware that the sporadic reports of reunions of old school friends that I kept receiving, amply illustrated by photographs, were extremely significant. Far more than they would have been, for example, in Portugal, where they do take place, but do not mark quite so definitely a person's connection to the power structure of the community. These class reunions or youth group meetings turned out to be a major nodule of community. Although this cannot be proved beyond doubt, I came to hazard the hypothesis that such meetings were held with greater intensity at times when a response to particular community challenges was required. In my supposed capacity as an expert on Macanese identity, I myself was asked to participate in one or two of these meetings.

88Much like the family reunions, they tend to be realized in private hut not domestic spaces, such as the private rooms of restaurants or religious premises, loaned for the purpose. They assume different formats with varying intensity: from the small closed group that meets once or even twice a month; to the less close-knit groups that meet once or twice a year; to the mammoth meetings, sporadically organized to welcome or to say goodbye to someone who is arriving back in or leaving the Territory. The most all-encompassing reunion of which I had notice was not even held in Macao. It was the grand meeting of all the old students of the Macao Portuguese High School, which took place in Lisbon at the Hotel Penta.

89On the most intense side of the gamut - the weekly or monthly meetings - we are dealing with an exclusively male sociability. The feminine counterpart - that sociedade de senhoras ('society of ladies') whose meetings used to be domestic - was dispersed from the moment the majority of wives became working women. As a matter of fact, in the conversations I held about this in the Territory, a clear conceptual opposition emerged between, on the one hand, male sociability (accompanying a kind of 'old boy' spirit) and, on the other hand, domestic sociability.

90Women's social life is more permanently marked by the family - such extra-familial contexts tend to be subsumed by family connectedness.

91Women who meet with their old school girlfriends tend to do so in contexts that are either domestic or more open to familial participation. Thus the attitude of wives towards this aspect of the social life of their husbands was on the whole ambiguous. On the one hand, they felt excluded and vaguely threatened, but on the other hand, they were perfectly aware that this was a matter of the utmost importance, on which depended both the economic survival of their family and the political survival of their ethnic group.

92A wife once told me:

In the old days great friendships [were made in High School]. So my husband is also one of those that... You see, this thing one hears of the thirty-year-olds who meet all the time? They were the last. But the ones that are fifty, like my husband, they also have their group. They have their group, but sometimes they link up with the wives and the children. They make one of those parties.
Otherwise, there is a day... I do not know if it is monthly or what... some kind of day, that they put aside to be together.... It's like they were boys again. They need that to refurbish themselves. It is a kind of search for identity; because they have a bit of a lost identity. This is important, so that they get it back again, at least once in a while. Perhaps it is not all that efficient, but... But, you know, it cannot be denied that, in fact, in these meetings sometimes discussions come up that are really, really useful, attitudes that are taken, etc. So, the thing is, they continue to meet each other.

93On the less intense side of the gamut of variation, one finds the irregular meetings that bring together both men and women. This is not surprising, considering that the present generation of working people integrates a large number of professional women whose levels of scholarly and professional achievement are at least as high as those of the men. While looking at photographs of these events and listening to the reports that accompanied them, I became aware that a number of these meetings had been central to the efforts leading to the re-launching of the ethnic monopoly in the wake of the challenge posed by Almeida e Costa's governorship. In these photographs, I could see people who, in the public arena constituted by the Portuguese-speaking newspapers, assume opposing positions and present themselves as political opponents.

94Meetings of this nature were responsible for the return to the Territory in the course of the 1980s of a significant number of elite members who had set up home in Portugal or elsewhere. Called to visit Macao by family members and old friends, they found that they had a ready position into which to fit by simply reviving these available networks. In some cases, some associations were created that had some permanence. A man I interviewed who had been in this situation explained:

I was abroad for seventeen years. It was a great surprise to me to discover that, as I passed people in the street, they called out 'So-and-so!' That was great! The second thing I noticed is that they said 'So-and-so, how are you? We must meet!' And then... well, it was not like that in all cases (there was a good number of more intimate friends that never forgot it), but the 'we must meet' was often forgotten.... From there came the idea of founding an association of old school friends. It was a way of trying to bring people closer together. This association has developed a number of regular activities, among them a radio programme - a small thing of twenty minutes where we present weekly one old schoolmate.

95This is an interesting example because it points to the role played by the Portuguese-speaking mass media as nodules of community for the Macanese. Their role is by no means univocal. In particular in the case of newspapers, there is a marked difference between the writers whose sensibility approaches them to the Macanese civil servants and those who represent more the views of the Portuguese expatriates. In spite of that, Portuguese-language newspapers have functioned as the principal means of divilging publicly community decisions, political reactions and complaints concerning the protection of the ethnic monopoly. The newspapers are one of the principal means for the personal legitimation of a Macanese elite position. This explains the peculiar practice of these newspapers and radio programmes of publishing and broadcasting curricula of people who have no specific connection to any current news event, or of publishing long curricular-type interviews. This seems to be done especially when the people in question are changing their status in some way or their employment, and it is by no means limited to top-ranking leaders.


96In spite of being grounded in a historical past, ethnic identity is never simply a given fact. Macanese community, therefore, was here presented as an ethnic project: that is, a collectivity in constant mutation, whose very continuity depends on the existence of agreement between its members concerning how to construct the future in terms of an inheritance that is constantly being reassessed, and in terms of desires that are constantly being renegotiated.

97This ethnic project, however much it is shared, is never univocal or fully consensual. It depends on a dynamic correlation of forces among the members of the group. This dynamic correlation, in turn, depends on an accounting of interests that each individual member unconsciously performs within him- or herself. His or her interests as member of this ethnic group are quite as present as other interests resulting from a highly diversified number of other types of personal and collective identifications. The ethnic project gets constructed, altered and refurbished according to the complex evolution of this process.

98In the case of the Macanese, the ethnic monopoly is essential for the survival of the community. But its survival depends on the existence of an informal structure of authority. The community constitutes and defines itself by reference to an elite nucleus. In this chapter, evidence has been provided concerning the processes of internal communication that allow for the transformation of individually conceived projects into a more or less coherent ethnic project.

99The change in interethnic relations that occurred in Macao during the 1970s created a situation in which it was not possible for the Macanese to maintain public arenas of community. Under the increasingly felt hand of a Chinese majority, these would have been read as exclusivist and would have become dangerous to the survival of the group. So other processes of communication and constitution of intersubjective experience were created that I called nodules of community. These explain how the Macanese managed to achieve the necessary coherence for reconstituting their ethnic monopoly in the face of considerable challenges.

100The nodules of community were identified as times/spaces that, remaining essentially private, nevertheless allow for the constituting of intersubjectivities and consensus, which then are reflected in the public actions of the Macanese. Two main types were specially explored: one, around families; the other, around the sociability of old school friends. There are also association-type entities that, while not formally having an ethnically exclusive character, wind up in practice functioning primarily as a means of systematizing the ethnic project. But these were not very strong or very numerous.

101The aim of this chapter was to show that, while this ethnic community has no formal positions of leadership to which anyone can succeed, the Macanese have managed to produce an elite and have managed to reproduce it in the face of an almost complete redrafting of their ethnic project.


1 The Portuguese-language original allows for a formulation that does not specify the gender of the subject in this passage. Even although the author is a woman, I have opted for a translation in the male gender, as to feminize the subject would have altered the author's original intentions even further.

2 Ceclia Jorge, O Clarim, 7/6/91, p. 18.

3 For a study of how this process functioned at the turn of the eighteenth to the nineteenth centuries, when the British attempt to take over Macao was countered by Chinese military resistance, cf. Guimarães 1996.

4 'The deficit of social citizenship resides in the areas of frustrated socio-juridical demand (namely the domains of housing and personal statute) as well as in the areas of social rights and labour rights, where social demands are supressed or merely emergent' (B. S. Santos 1991: 142.)

5 In The Politics of Elite Culture, he provides us with two definitions that are close but interestingly divergent: in the Preface, he defines elite as 'a collectivity of persons who occupy commanding positions in some important sphere of social life, and who share a variety of interests arising from similarities of training, experience, public duties, and way of life' (1981: xvi); whilst, in the Conclusion, the definition appears in altered form - 'a collectivity of people who occupy commanding positions in some sphere of social life, who do not overtly form a distinct group, cooperating and coordinating their strategies of action informally (1981: 233, my emphasis). 142.)

6 Cf. Callon and Latour, 1981: 279. I am grateful to João Arriscado Nunes for having called my attention to this concept.

7 With the exception of Hong Kong, of course.

8 The 1991 official census of the city estimated the population as 403,038 persons; all realistic indices point to a considerably higher figure.

9 'The self-regulation of community is dependent on dense, multiplex bonds' (Calhoun 1980: 115).

10 Thus we may attribute to these nodules the functional characteristics that Abner Cohen applies to his 'informal interest groups' (1974: 65ff.): the definition of distinctiveness; the communication of information; decision-making; the legitimation of authority and the production of leadership; the elaboration of ideologies; and the socialization conducive to a symbolically integrated collective action. I am grateful to Monica Chan for the suggestion of this term.

11 Cf. Jorge 1992, where she reports on the cuisine practised in the house of her grandfather - José Vicente Jorge, the locally famous sinologist and collector of Chinese ceramics.

12 Cf. Pina-Cabral 1997 for a discussion of this concept.

13 In Ponto Final, 30/7/93, p. 13.

14 Once again the example of the Creole elite of Sierra Leone studied by Abner Cohen is relevant: 'In Sierra Leone it is possible for a non-Creole to dress, worship, behave, eat, etc., like a Creole but he will not partake of the privileges of being a Creole unless he succeeds in grafting himself onto the Creole cousinhood network.' (1974: 124)

15 It should be further noticed that, in the cases where the mother was Chinese but the family adopted a Macanese identity, the connection to the matrilateral side of the family tended to vanish. For a number of reasons that have been identified elsewhere (cf. Pina-Cabral and Lourenço 1993, Ch. Ill and V), this tendency to cut links with Chinese matrilateral relatives is disappearing among the more recent interethnic marriages.

16 Family names pass along the agnatic line, cf. Pina-Cabral 1994.


(D.Phil. Oxford) is Senior Research Fellow and President of the Scientific Board of the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon. He was co-founder and Rector of the Universidade Atlântica (1996-1997). He was founding President of the Portuguese Association of Anthropology. He is an Honorary Member of the European Association of Social Anthropologists, having organized its first Conference (Coimbra 1990) and been its Secretary and Treasurer (1995-1996). His publications include Sorts of Adam, Daughters of Eve (Oxford, 1986), Os contextos da antropologia (Lisbon, 1991) and Em Terra de Tufões (Macao, Portuguese edn, 1993; Chinese edn, 1995). He was co-editor of Death in Portugal (Oxford, 1984) and Europe Observed (London, 1992). He has been Malinowski Memorial Lecturer (London School of Economics, 1992) and Distinguished Lecturer of the Society for the Anthropology of Europe (San Francisco, 1992).

© Etnográfica Press, 2000

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