Macau to preserve mixed culture

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 December, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 December, 1999, 12:00am

The Portuguese flag was lowered over Macau last night, ending nearly 450 years of Portuguese rule.

A few minutes later, a military band played The March of the Volunteers as the five-starred red flag of China was slowly raised.

The solemn ceremony - remi niscent of Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty two-and-a- half years ago - attracted worldwide media attention.

Giant television screens were set up throughout Macau, where enthusiastic crowds gathered to watch the proceedings. But if the Portuguese are gone, they are not yet forgotten.

'The end of Portuguese administration in Macau does not mean the end of a presence,' Jorge Rangel, the government undersecretary in charge of the proceedings, said last week.

Mr Rangel pointed to the new Portuguese Consulate-General - the largest in the world - as proof of Portugal's long-term commitment to the enclave.

He also said that the Portuguese School of Macau, set up last year, was proof that a Portuguese presence would be maintained.

Portuguese Minister of Education Guilherme d'Oliveira Martins said in Lisbon last month that the Portuguese Government would guarantee the school's continued operation after the transition to Chinese rule.

The school, with some 1,000 students and 70 teachers, is expected to play an important role in preserving a Portuguese cultural presence in what is now a special administrative region (SAR) of China.

Most students at the school were born in Macau and some are from Portugal. Many are the children of government employees and hold Portuguese passports.

The overwhelming majority of students in Macau - who are ethnic Chinese - attend either Chi nese- or English- medium schools, which adopt a similar curricu lum to Hong Kong's.

'We expect to play an important role by providing a Portuguese- based education within Chinese territory,' school principal Edith Silva said.

'We have no lack of students. Our major draws are teaching in the Portuguese and English languages,' she said.

Only a few years ago, there were several schools in Macau offering instruction in Portuguese - some run by the Government, others by the Catholic Church.

As the enclave's Portuguese presence started to decline in the run-up to the handover, the Government was forced to make a difficult decision - consolidate these schools into one campus or face the eventual demise of Portuguese language education in Macau.

It is estimated that fewer than two per cent of Macau's popula tion speaks Portuguese. Many believe that maintaining this linguistic and cultural presence, however, is important to the enclave's identity.

Macau's new Chief Executive, Edmund Ho Hau-wah, has pledged to support the continued teaching of Portuguese in Macau.

According to Mr Ho, a Portuguese language school was 'important to the life and work' of the enclave's mixed-race minority, which is thought to number between 10,000 and 20,000 people.

Mr Ho also said he would like to see Macau develop into a bridge between China and southern Europe as well as the Portuguese-speaking countries of Africa and Brazil.

'We should have a far-sighted approach,' he said.

'Macau SAR's investment in Portuguese-language education can be viewed as a far-reaching investment strategy in the future.'