Macao – Organized Crime in China or Not

November 19, 2010

The Chicago Sun–Times published news that MGM picks reputed China crime family over N.J.

Most Westerns, specifically Americans, when he or she sees the word “China” in the Chicago Sun-Times headline will believe this is another example of China’s corruption and that impression will continue after reading the piece.

In fact, the headline should have read, “MGM picks reputed Macao crime family over N.J.”

Macao is not China even though it technically belongs of the People’s Republic. The World History Blog provides a short history of the former Portuguese colony, which is a Special Administrative Region in China today but has more in common with the Principality of Monaco or Las Vegas.

Macao’s location was first settled by members of the South Sung Dynasty escaping invading Mongols in 1277. Later, in 1516, Portuguese traders built a staging port there, the oldest European settlement in the Far East.

The Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1643) did not recognize that Portugal ruled over Macao and collected rent until 1849 when the Portuguese, taking advantage of China’s defeat during the first opium war with England and France, declared Macau’s independence from China.

Old Macau in 1960

Britannica tells us that Macao was returned to China in 1999. However, the transfer agreement allowed Macao to govern itself with a one-house legislature and a legal system based on Portuguese law — not China’s legal system.

Macao has a small security force to protect the 11.3 square mile (29.2 square kilometer) area, but defense is the responsibility of the central government in Beijing.

Since 2000, the gambling and tourist industry has been increasingly important to Macao’s economy and the city has become the playground of global tourists, nearby Hong Kong and wealthy mainland Chinese.

David Campion says, “As in Havana and Las Vegas, the gambling economy in Macau was first built up and its rules enforced by clever and well-organized gangsters, here called Triads. Once a date was set for the departure of the Portuguese, the Triads fought amongst each other viciously for greater control over the territory before the PRC was due to come in and rain on their parade (which it didn’t, as it turned out).”

Discover more about Organized Crime in China


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

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