Heritage and the Politics of Culture
Since the inscription of Macau’s historical centre on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2005, its iconic monuments have become the “official identity” of Macau as a place where “the East meets the West”. Neigbouring these heritage sites are equally iconic buildings like Casino Lisboa which were once the economic lifeline of the city’s population. This paper discusses Macau people’s diversified and ambiguous attitudes towards casinos and gambling culture in connection with the debate over conservation or re-development of Hotel Estoril, one of the first modern-style casino resorts, built in 1962 and abandoned in the 1990s. Hotel Estoril as an eyesore stands to remind Macau’s inglorious past and present – that Macau was and is developed with gambling money. Most of the urban planning and architectural professionals recommend demolishing the building as they do not see much artistic or historic value in the structure. However, the proposal of demolition faces strong opposition from some activists and, surprisingly, the silent public who came out to testify to the happy memories they had about Hotel Estoril where they had their first taste of modernity and a western life style. This claim can also be seen as a reaction towards the alienation locals experience having lost the historic centre to tourists. The debate over which part of the building should be conserved and what should be the future use of the space also reveals how the local community envisions ways of incorporating the inglorious past into the future of the city.