Macau’s legal identity


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Purpose: The Macau Special Administrative Region (MSAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has a unique identity. This study is based on a long period of research undertaken between 1995 and 2014. Permanent residents, the Chinese of Macau and all other MSAR residents constitute a body of model “citizens” which makes their legal identity understandable in the MSAR’s present social and economic context. Macau’s legal identity is based on centuries of trade and commerce. In Article 5 of the first chapter (I-5) of the MSAR’s Basic Law, the “way of life” in Macau’s society and economy are recognized as part of the MSAR’s legal framework. However, social change may play an important role in Macau’s development. The purpose of this paper is to look at the legal corpus as though it was a physical body with rights and duties, but also capabilities based on the nationality and residence statuses of its citizens, its companies and other entities (which will be studied more specifically in following articles). Design/methodology/approach: This study has used the combined approaches of fieldwork carried out between 2010 and 2015, interviews, and questionnaires. Findings: Way of life and the concept of One Country, Two Systems are key points that contribute to Macau’s contemporary identity. Way of life in the Basic Law constitutes a complex matrix formulation based on a series of particular facts and cultural traits, which leads to a better legal definition of important concepts such as nationality and residency in the particular case of Macau. The Basic Law is the constitutional law of the MSAR, but “Chineseness” still dominates the locals’ identity from day to day. More than 65 percent of the interviewees in the survey asserted their “Chineseness.” However, both Chinese and Portuguese, will continue to be official languages of Macau until 2049. The MSAR’s Chinese society speaks Cantonese and increasingly Putonghua, but it does not seem concerned by communicating using the Portuguese language. Clayton’s thesis emphasized the “unique cultural identity” of the MSAR and wrote that what made the Chinese of Macau “different from other Chinese, is the existence of a Portuguese state on Chinese soil.” Portuguese cultural tolerance is not mentioned, but it is a historical fact that has influenced Macau’s legal identity. The MSAR’s government has done its best to harmonize Macau’s multicultural society and it has particularly protected the Sino-Portuguese way of life in Macau. Practical implications: To apply the law and maintain the existing harmony in its society and economy, legal actions have had to be taken by the Macau government and courts. The courts of the MSAR are structured in three levels and have final powers of adjudication, except in very narrow political areas. The judicial system includes the following courts, from the highest to the lowest: the Court of Final Appeal, the Court of Second Instance and the Court of First Instance (Tribunal de Primeira Instância). Originality/value: This research is unique inasmuch as studies of legal identities focussed on large regions such as the MSAR of China are rare. Copyright © 2016 Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)342-354
JournalAsian Education and Development Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2016


Berlie, J. A. (2016). Macau’s legal identity. Asian Education and Development Studies, 5(3), 342-354.


  • Way of life
  • Basic law
  • Macau Civil Code
  • Spirit of the laws
  • One Country, Two Systems


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