Much has been written about perceptions of China in English and French literatures, but relatively little on Portuguese literature, in spite of Portugal's long association with the Far East and presence in Macau. While most of the existing scholarship has focused on the early period of Portuguese contact with China, Dr. Brookshaw's book concentrates specifically on the literature of the last one hundred years. The convulsive events of 11 September 2001 brought fears of a cataclysmic clash of civilizations, of races and of religions. The creeping homogenization of the global village, on Western socio-economic and cultural terms, often disadvantageous and disagreeable to the recipients, had provoked a major riposte, however brutally excessive it may be judged, that was identified as the response to centuries of hubris. As never before, the planet's denizens were forced into a serious confrontation with Otherness, appreciable numbers of them for the very first time. Meanwhile, some societies were (often clumsily) promoting multicultural and multi-ethnic values, whilst others raged in bloody pursuit of ethnic and religious cleansing.
Yet the world had much to learn from Macau, the former Portuguese enclave at the mouth of China's Pearl River estuary. Four and a half centuries ago, China and the Far East represented the most extreme form of the Other encountered by the West. It was the Portuguese who pioneered long-lasting contact with China by gaining, in 1557, a toehold on the tiny Macau peninsula and by their major contribution, till around 1610, to the Jesuit missions on the mainland of China. Macau, moreover, began as the entrepot between the two great oriental adversaries, China and Japan. Though steadily declining from its sixteenth-century commercial heyday, the city saw the emergence of the Macanese, the product of a multi-racial melting-pot in which the Chinese and the Portuguese (usually males) were the principal though not the only ingredients. To be Macanese embodied the possession of a tolerant psychocultural outlook that involved more than the successful blending of Portuguese and Chinese values: a new identity had evolved. Political and economic turmoil in twentieth-century China led to heavy Chinese migration into Macau, subjecting Macanese civilization to the danger of the gravest dilution.
The peninsular city and its two islands, Taipa and Coloane, were reintegrated into China on 20 December 1999, but with a Chinese undertaking to preserve Macau's distinct cultural status for at least fifty years. In Macau the Portuguese language, nevertheless, is imperilled, though the remnants of Portuguese architecture are more permanent physical reminders of the past. But a reference-point for all posterity is the late twentieth-century upsurge of a creative literature, flowing not only from the pens of Portuguese residents, but also, and most crucially, from the pens of native Macanese. In these works, as Border Gates emphatically reveals, the Macanese psyche and cultural ethos, both in the peninsula and in the diasporas, are revealed in all their facets and on a variety of time-scales. This writing, naturally, portrays humanity in its usual struggle with the problems brought by love and despair, by belief and change, by death and distance, but it also reveals how a hybridized society can be at relative ease with itself. It is probable that such literary expression will be the ark in which Macau's exemplary tolerance and cultural difference are to be preserved.
Border Gates offers a timely opportunity for the reader to judge.
Publisher: The Edwin Mellen Press Ltd