Macaology:academic paradigm foregrounding cultural interaction

By Hao Yufan / 04-20-2014 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

 World heritage sites in Maucau—St. Dominic’s Church, the ruins of St. Pauls and Na Tcha Temple


Since the 1970s, international academia has begun to view human civilization from a global perspective, regarding its evolution as a process of continuous interaction. No culture or civilization could emerge in isolation from the rest of the world. Rather, every culture is the product of connections between countries, regions and civilizations. This academic paradigm foregrounds the interaction between civilizations and encourages historians to tie the local into the global, exploring how events that happened in one small place relate to the wider world. Among other fields of local study, this paradigm gave rise to Macaology.

A bridge connecting East and West
From the 16th to the 19th century, Macao played an important role in world civilization. The most prosperous port of transshipment in the Far East, it was a hub for merchants, missionaries and immigrants from Europe, Asia and the Americas, and a meeting place for Eastern and Western religions and cultures. In short, Macao was the bridge for Western knowledge heading eastward and Eastern knowledge heading westward. This unique role made it the cradle for many of the advances in modern Chinese culture. Through Macao, China rediscovered itself and became reacquainted with the external world. In turn, Macao was a window through which foreigners became familiar with China. People from all sorts of cultural backgrounds gathered in Macao, together molding this cosmopolitan crossroads.

Most importantly, the various on-going processes in the interaction between Eastern and Western civilization—a certain mutual attraction, co-existence and synthesis of the cultures involved—produced a completely new hybrid in Macao’s culture, and gave the world a new portal through which civilizations could engage one another. In this East-West cultural exchange, different ethnic groups, religions and cultures harmoniously interacted, fusing to give rise to something new. If we say that the main achievement in the first stage of Chinese cultural exchange with the outside world is Dunhuang Study, then Macaology represents the achievement of connection and interaction in the second stage. If we say that Dunhuang, from an academic perspective, is a significant cultural “fossil”, then Macao is a “living fossil”.

Early brainstorming on what would become Macaology began in the mid-1980s. Scholars from Macao and the Chinese mainland began a series of preliminary discussions on its concepts, content and methods. Focusing on history and culture, the field has made tremendous progress since Macao’s return to China in 1999. An unprecedented number of researchers studying Macao’s past and present have been able to take advantage of an unprecedented amount of research materials. Overall, more avenues are being pursued and more research is being published.

Today, the academic community has reached a consensus on how Macaology is defined. It is a comprehensive subject studying the history, culture and social life of Macao city through document archives and cultural relics, seeking to uncover the deeper idiosyncrasies and cultural attitudes unique to Macao. More concretely, Macaology studies the formation, change and development of Macao’s society from the perspective of material production, social structures, customs and religion. Through multi-disciplinary research, Macaologists interpret the social phenomena of Macao and derive the basic theory and underlying paradigms of this field. The emerging analytical system enables them to explain how Macao developed and what distinguishes its process from other cities, as well as what is unique about the ethos of its residents. Macaology, by definition, studies regional knowledge with an eye to its global importance.

Extensive worldwide research materials
Macao may be a small territory, but Macaologists actually have an incredibly extensive range of materials that might be applicable to their research. To begin with, the field covers anything cultural from the 16th century till now, so more than 400 years of materials are potential objects of research. Secondly, it not only covers what happened in Macao, but also all the cultural collisions and exchanges that happened via Macao, so all sorts of places in China and archival materials on several continents may be relevant to Macaologists. For both the periods from 1630-1833 and from 1834-1999, the Overseas Historical Archives in Portugal contain more than 100,000 documents pertaining to Macao. This is just one of many archives in Portugal that contain relevant documents. Other notable archives and libraries include the Institute of the National Archives (formerly the National Archive of Torre do Tombo), the library at the Lisbon Academy of Sciences, the Lisbon Geographic Society, the Historical Archives of the Portugese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ajuda Library and the Évora Public Library. In Macao there are many important collections as well, such as the library in the Leal Senado Building (the former seat of Macao’s government), the Luis de Camões Museum, the Holy House of Mercy and other major churches in Macao, the parish churches and even some Portuguese-language schools. Macaologists have also done archival research in the Netherlands, Britain, India, Thailand, Japan, Philippines, Spain, Italy, Vietnam and Brazil. The documents they have found cover a wide range of subject areas, from Macao’s politics, history, economics, law and geography, to its religion, literature, art, education, and science. The sheer breadth and the academic value of these materials are beyond measure.

Scattered throughout the world, the research materials conveying Macaology are vast and varied. In addition to all the extensive archival resources available, Macaologists also glean important information from Macao’s many physical structures and cultural relics, as well as cultural forms like folk customs and language. Both its tangible and intangible inheritance, from beautiful scenery to the troves of texts which document every facet of its society, providegreat possibilities for the sustainable development of Macaology.

'Stepping out of Macao to study Macao'
Macao's unique historical role endows Macaology with a very particular charm, not just in Sinophone academic circles but among the greater literature being generated on local studies world-wide. Its academic value has been accumulated by combing through 400 years of East-Western cultural history, a process that is very instrumental in reconsidering and rearticulating what we understand about modern Chinese history and the construction of world civilization. An embodiment of the rich heritage of modern Chinese history and the spectacular content of world history, Macao's value in modern world history and global cultural development cannot be ignored.

The practical significance of Macology is that it is based on an academic paradigm for examining how diverse cultures interact and integrate with each other. This paradigm provides valuable insight for how humanity manifested in different cultural forms can achieve mutual reflexive understanding and illuminates possible avenues forward for the development of human civilization. Most of the world’s regional conflicts today are caused by frictions between different ethnic groups, religions and cultures. The wisdom of Macaology imparts an important lesson: instead of seeking victory through conquest, pursue harmony through pluralism; rather than perishing from conflict, find common ground in diversity.

One of the most important methods for Macaologists to bear in mind is to examine Macao by “stepping out of Macao”. We need to explore the unique structural functions of Macao’s society, culture and economy and how they became imbued with independent connotations of value. Employing a framework that looks specifically at how cultural transmission perpetuates itself, we must analyze the unique status of Macao in the overall process through which world civilization was formed, and in the very rich body of knowledge and humanity shared today.

From a historical perspective, Macaologists not only study Macao’s past, but also touch upon its unique political and cultural forms. Overall, this approach makes Macaology of both historical value and contemporary practicality. From a geographic perspective, Macao connected China to the world for more than 400 years. As a point of contact between the East and the West, and where their respective cultural spheres mutually affected each other, Macao was the site where all sorts of valuable information on Chinese cultural diplomacy since Ming and Qing Dynasty was recorded. Macaology is therefore a field without boundaries. It belongs to both China and the world.

Hao Yufan is the dean of the Social Sciences School at the University of Macao.

The Chinese version appeared in Chinese Social Sciences Today, No. 574, March 21, 2014

Translated by Baile

Revised by Charles Horne