Macau's loyalty evident without a hint of dissent

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 May, 2008, 12:00am

When it comes to patriotism, Hong Kong is not in the same league as Macau, the experience of the torch relay in the two cities shows.

Hong Kong police on Friday had to 'protect' demonstrators by removing them, after activists clashed with cheering crowds.

But not a sound of protest could be heard in the former Portuguese enclave when the flame passed heritage sites and glittering casinos on the 19km relay route. It was a festival of pride without a single disruption.

The 'journey of harmony' seems to have truly started in Macau, where most people feel close to the mainland and patriotic education has taken a firm hold.

While mainlanders did account for a large part of the thunderous cheers for China, thousands could be heard shouting patriotic slogans in perfect Cantonese.

Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah said at the starting ceremony that his government and people felt deeply proud that the flame was in Macau for the first time.

Resident Joseph Cheong, 29, laughed at the idea that people in the enclave would protest. 'We love China and love Macau and the relay is something we can only take pride in,' he said.

Even pupils at the city's only Portuguese school were moved by the passionate show and chimed in with cheers from their school windows. Anna Sofia Macedo, 11, said she felt excited when the torch-bearers ran by. 'I love China because I live here,' she said.

Maria Edith da Silva, president of the Macau Portuguese School, said the relay had been a great educational event.

Political commentator Larry So Man-yum said the mainland's cultural influence was deeply entrenched because Portugal had wanted to return Macau to China as early as the 1960s.

Patriotism in the enclave has been attributed to economic reliance on the mainland and the locals' lack of good feelings towards their former colonial ruler.

'Compared to what the British did in Hong Kong, the Portuguese rulers did little to preserve their influence in Macau,' Mr So said. Beijing's authority was revered by most people, he said, although the local government's popularity had fallen recently. There have been protests against graft and the wealth gap.

Many activists had stayed away from Thursday's Labour Day rally for fear of harming the relay.