This is the twelfth city newsletter.  We shall now take a break to research and write a book.
– Philip Dodd and Enrica Costamagna
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Speculation is rife whether China is in the earliest stages of a metamorphosis. Only time will tell. What is not in doubt is that Macau is in transition – wandering between two worlds, one dying, the other not yet born
, to twist a line or two from a sententious 19th century poem.
The old world is tied up with the gambling industry. As early as the 1850s when Macao was a Portuguese colony, gambling was legalised – and it has thrived ever after. But it changed out all recognition after 2002 when gambling licenses were liberalised and internationalised. (At the top of this page, an image of gambling now; above, in the 60s).
Before Covid, 80% of Macau’s government revenue, half the GDP, and over a fifth of jobs were indebted to the gambling industry; it made the Macanese 70% richer per capital than their peers in Hong Kong.
Covid restrictions have helped to diminish that world. Visitor numbers have slumped by 80% and gambling revenues dropped 68% year on year. But Covid isn’t the only explanation. Xi Jinping has stepped down hard on VIP junkets to Macau – which many thought were a form of money laundering. Alvin Chau (‘the king of junkets’) is in prison. Capital outflows from China, legal and illegal, are anathema to the government.
Perhaps the gambling numbers may improve – from this month, Mainland tour groups are allowed back into Macau. In other words, mass gambling is back on the table. But no one thinks that the old world of gambling is the future of Macau. Equally no one seems to know how the economy can diversify.
gambling on the future
The big gamble about the world-not-yet-born is the city’s place in the Greater Bay Area project. According to the South China Morning Post, this is ’the next big thing’ in China – a government initiative to connect 11 cities in China’s south including Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Macau, plus another 7. The ambition is to produce a single economic hub which already has a GDP equivalent to South Korea.  There is new infrastructure to help make the ambition real: the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, 55 kilometers long, opened in 2018 (see picture below). It is the longest sea crossing bridge in the world and binds Macau and Hong Kong together with the Mainland.
But the question remains: how will Macau benefit from such a constellation – and what is its role? There are GBA policy documents galore which imagine Macau to be an education hub, an engine for  Traditional Chinese Medicine, a world-class tourism and leisure centre, a commerce platform between China and Portuguese speaking countries and a place where Chinese culture and other cultures co-exist – a place for cultural exchange.
Yet talk to creative entrepreneurs in Macau, who after all have to be part of the turn to the cultural and creative – and one often meets melancholia. A designer tells us that clients in Macau were very restricted, even before Covid: largely, the government; the casinos; banks and insurance companies. After all, Macau is a small city of 670,000 people.
Attempts by Macau design companies to find clients in the Greater Bay Area have been complicated of course by Covid restrictions over travel. Even when travel is possible, Macau companies are then met with ferocious competition from equally hungry companies in cities such as Guangzhou and Shenzhen. So much government money is committed to Covid measures that a major client for creative businesses has much less money to spend.
For companies in Macau, the situation is only getting worse, month on month. A recent survey said the amount of money made by all creative businesses from 2020 to the second quarter of 2021 was 15% of what it had been in 2019. As one of them said to us, the government wants to drive down its revenue from gambling from 80% to 40% – the rest coming from education, sport, culture, tourism and TCM. But it is just a plan. The problem is, as the philosophers put it, how to move from is to ought.
Architects and interior designers used to be very busy in a city devoted to resorts, hotels and restaurants. But even they now are suffering the same fate as their graphic design colleagues – although in a rare optimistic moment, one of our interviewees did mention that young designers educated abroad are moving back to Macau.
The irony of the present situation is that if Macau is to become a place of cultural tourism and cultural exchange, one can bet one’s bottom dollar that the casinos and the resorts will have to provide some of the solutions.

the art move
The Venetian Macau
Integrated resorts are in effect a Singaporean invention. An integrated resort (IR) is a major resort property that includes a hotel with a casino, together with convention facilities, entertainment shows, theme parks, luxury retail and fine dining.
There are several of these in Macau, including the MGM which has a huge art exhibition. The art in casinos is very various and ranges from MGM’s exhibitions of Hsiao Chin [disclosure: we have curated a show of his work at the Mark Rothko Art Centre]; to The Venetian Macau with the omnipresent TeamLab; to Wynn Palace, which over the years has acquired four Buccleuch Vases and has staged a contemporary art exhibition of the ceramicist Zhu Legeng.  He is often seen as an arm of China’s softpower initiatives around the world.
The Buccleuch Vases in the Wynn Palace
Casino licenses are presently up for renewal – so diversification into art (as well as investment in other GBA projects) is on the agenda of the owners, not least because it is firmly on the government agenda.
In terms of traditional art venues in the city, there is of course a Macau Museum of Art – well respected – together with many smaller initiatives. But in terms of resources and scale, the casino resorts have to be part of the answer to the question of how Macau becomes a cultural destination. 
Before the West gets sniffy about such resorts as locations for art, it is worth remembering that galleries are migrating to places such as Palm Beach, St Moritz and Aspden – places where the rich go to play. Art as a luxury good has hardly been invented by Asian IRs.It is not surprising that next year’s Art Macau – the city’s major months long art event will use, among other venues, the IR exhibition spaces (the theme is, so it is rumoured, ‘Frankenstein’).
Some think Macau’s cultural future lies in performance (compare Las Vegas). But Cirque du Soleil, which was in Macau for several years, did not do well, or so we are told.

the taste of hybridity
An egg-tart, a Macanese typical delicacy
If Macau is to become a cultural destination, it will also need to exploit the hybrid identity that its history has bequeathed to it. 
Across its long history, Macau – and its human history stretches more than 4000 years – has been a place of comings and goings. In 1277 around 50,000 refugees fled the Mongol conquest of China and settled in the coastal area; and in 1557 it became a Portuguese colony, the first European one in Asia. Across its more recent history, it has been, again, a haven for refugees – whether in the two world wars, or during the Cultural Revolution; and in 1999 it moved masters – from Portugal to China – and became a Special Autonomous Region (SAR) following on from Hong Kong two years earlier.
But that re-absorption did not ossify Macau’s internationalisation. In 2002, the Chinese government internationalised the gambling industry after a four decade long monopoly by Stanley Ho. The US players came to town; and in 2020, Macau’s revenue from gambling was US $7.57 billion; more than twice that of Las Vegas.
Macau continues to try to bring the world to the city, offering diversity in its cultural experiences – some in commodified forms that are common to mass tourist resorts the world over. There is The Parisian Macau with a miniature Eiffel Tower and in 2021 The Londoner Macau was born out of the Sands Hotel – with designs by the celebrity footballer David Beckham no less and a fish and chip restaurant by the celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. (Has no one told the rest of the world that it is a long time since fish and chips was the national dish of the UK?)
A different sign of the-world-in-Macau was the accolade in 2017 of the UNESCO designation ‘Creative City of Gastronomy’. Celebrity chefs inevitably helped to give it such an award but it did highlight Macau’s food as an extraordinary blend of European and Chinese cuisine.Macau might be a good bellwether of how tolerant the central government of China is of cultural diversity and hybridity. In other Chinese cities, there are reliable stories doing the rounds that foreign museums are finding it difficult to secure approval for large bodies of contemporary works; and there are stories that Covid was the perfect excuse for pausing/closing down the well-regarded Macao International Film Festival. The reason – unease about what was shown. Even if not the case, the story does not help overseas confidence in Macao’s commitment to culture. Let us see if it does return and in what form.
This is undoubtedly a sensitive moment in China and there is much talk in China as well as elsewhere of ‘China versus the West’ –  which does not help to make officials risktakers. But if the Chinese government’s nationalist narrative which is suspicious of so much foreign culture continues to intensify, then what is the cultural future for cities such as Macau where cultural diversity and hybridity is in its bones? 
‘abroad’ in macau
Despite all the talk of international cultural exchange, the key question running below all others in Macau is what is its relationship to the Mainland (it is noteworthy how stable was Macau during the civil unrest in Hong Kong – and how quiet it appears to be during the present demonstrations against the Zero Covid policy).
One sign of the intimate relationship between the SAR and the Mainland might be the way the city is seen by Mainland middle-class parents wanting an international experience for their children.
With Covid and with the tension between China and the West, it appears that Macau counts as ‘abroad’ for Mainland university students (as does Hong Kong which has seen a large increase in the number of Mainland students studying there).
The number of Mainland students going to study in Macau higher education institutions has been noticeably growing. According to the 2021 ‘Report on Studying in Macau’, the total number of Mainland applicants in 2021 increased 16% compared with the previous year. 66% of the Mainland applicants  wanted Master programmes, around 30% bachelor degrees. Geographically speaking, 50% of the Mainland applicants are from the Greater Bay Area; 13% are from Beijing.
Art-related MA programmes are one of the most popular choices.
These figures might give some European higher education institution food for thought. Master degrees in arts in Europe have attracted many Chinese students; and when so many (too many) postgraduate courses in Europe are overfilled with Chinese students (Chinese students recognise this and are rightly unhappy), a common sense response from these students and their families may well be to go ‘abroad to Macau’. It is much cheaper, much safer and without the sense of exploitation that so many feel when entering European, and particularly British, universities.The new world of Macau may, then, not be quite as the GBA documents envisage. When one considers that more than 40% of Macau residents were born on the Mainland, it may be that the acceptable diversity/hybridity that Macau will develop will be between its culture, historically formed out of a marriage of Portuguese and Chinese culture, and contemporary Chinese Mainland culture. The rest may be just fish and chips.

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Additional research: Gao Jingyi and Zhang Huanzhi