Fireworks of art take centre stage for the Macau International Fireworks Display Contest
The Macau International Fireworks Display Contest pays tribute to a rich tradition
Fireworks have lit up Macau’s skyline every autumn since 1989 during the Macau International Fireworks Display Contest.
The sparkles are symbols of prosperity to many cosmopolitan cities. In Macau, they pay tribute to the city’s past.
Firecrackers were one of the three main handicraft industries and exports from Macau, alongside incense and matches in the 20th century.
“Fireworks [firecrackers] have always been an important part of the indigenous culture,” says Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes, director of the Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO). “Though fireworks [firecrackers] are no longer manufactured here, the Macau International Firework Display Contest preserves Macau’s fireworks tradition in a thrilling, world-renowned event.”
Little has been written about the city’s ties with firecrackers, so when Taipa inhabitant Albert Lai investigated, he spent years talking to people in the neighbourhood. He collated stories from more than 200 people.
“Everyone at my age grew up with firecrackers,” says Lai, 65. “It doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor – everyone helped out to earn extra money."
Lai says Dongguan, on the mainland, was one of the major centres of the firecrackers and fireworks manufacturing dating back to the 19th century. Businessmen used Macau as a port for exports and had trading agents in the city before they later began to build firecracker plants here.
“Firecracker plants were forced to relocate from the Peninsula to the less populous Taipa after a devastating explosion at Toi Shan in 1925. After that, major production stayed in Taipa and people on the Peninsula only helped out with less dangerous finishing work.” Lai says.
Kwong Hing Tai was the biggest of six firecracker manufacturers in Taipa. “The plant of Kwong Hing Tai occupied one-fifth of the total land area of Taipa back then,” Lai adds. “During its peak, it employed more than one-third of the total population in its plant and produced three million firecrackers a day. Together with all the outsourced work and related production, you can easily imagine how significant economically and socially the industry was to Macau.”
The booming firecracker scene was challenged by the rise of plastic and garment manufacturing in the 1960s. With the Chinese market opening up after US President Richard Nixon visited China in 1972, the firecracker industry in Macau failed to compete against other lower-priced rivals and withered away by the late 1970s.
While traces of the past remain at Estrada Coronel Nicolau de Mesquita and Rua Fernao Mendes Pinto, today the firecracker history is virtually unheard of among the younger generation, especially with the rise of the gaming industry. However, the tourism board turned to that history as an inspiration in the late 1980s when it attempted to strengthen Macau’s position as a travel destination.
“By that time, Macau already had the iconic Macau Grand Prix, and was looking for other high-impact events to raise its prestige and draw more visitors all year round.” Fernandes says.
So the annual Macau International Firework Showcase came to life. MGTO scheduled the huge event for September and October – a low season between the summer holidays and the Grand Prix – and launched it around the Macau Tower. The decision to run it as a contest was to “ensure higher quality displays, attract professional teams worldwide, and encourage more improvement and creativity,” Fernandes says.
Tam Kai-hon, founder of Foto Princesa camera store, has seen the contest grow in scale and reputation. He was the first-runner-up in the 1989 photo competition, and has photographed the contest every year since then.
“In the early days, fireworks were lit up manually on the muddy ground in front of the Macau Tower and they were lower in height and a single colour. Now fireworks are set off over Nam Van Lake by computer programmes, with more variations.” Tam says.
Tam, a fireworks fan who has been to Europe, Canada and Hong Kong for showcase events, likes the way the Macau event puts teams from different countries together to signify regional differences and test their story-telling capabilities.
Expanding the pool from five to 10 pyrotechnic companies since 1995, the showcase offers a sumptuous visual feast of 10 programmes over the space of five days. It has attracted teams from 20 countries and regions, such as China, Japan, Portugal, Spain, Germany and South Africa.
“Because different countries and pyrotechnic companies are invited, the presentation is vastly different every year,” says Li Wei-ii, a local photographer who won the photo competition last year.
“Every country has its own fireworks style: Fireworks from mainland China tend to be more colourful; Japanese fireworks are more animated, featuring cartoons like Doraemon, while European ones are likely to have distinctive patterns and shapes.” Li recalls seeing fireworks in the Chinese character “Fu” and smiling faces in previous years.
“Fireworks happen extremely fast. However in Macau, you always have a ‘second chance’ given the number of shows presented.” He adds.
The 28th edition again promises thrills and excitement and, among the 10 participating countries, the UK and Swiss teams plan a tribute to Bond, that's James Bond.
Join Macau as it celebrates its rich history and prosperous future with a bang!
Sep 10, 15, 24, Oct 1, 2016
Macau Tower, Largo da Torre de Macau, Macau
Sep 10 (Sat) United Kingdom (9pm) Switzerland (9:40pm)
Sep 15 (Thu) Japan (9pm) Korea (9:40pm)
Sep 24 (Sat) Italy (9pm) Canada (9:40pm)
Oct 1 (Sat) Romania (9pm) China (9:40pm)