Macanese Culture

Ruins of St. Pauls Cathedral

Macanese Culture and Heritage: The Culture of Macau

Macanese Culture is a unique blend of Portuguese, European, and Chinese heritage blended together. This cultural fusion is a one-of-a-kind blend unique to the region. Here in Macau, due to it’s rich heritage and history as a pirate hub and merchant landing point, cultures of various nations have blended into a unique culture all it’s own.

The majority of the population is Chinese. Over the past four centuries Macau has been a Portuguese colony. This lends one to expect a total assimilation of the Portuguese culture but this is not the case. In Portuguese Goa and India, total cultural assimilation has occurred unlike Macau. Prior to 1974, Portugal had a permanent military station in Macau. Therefore, there were Portuguese military sent to Macau to complete compulsory military service up til that time. Many decided to stay and live in Macau after completion of their service.

Population and Language

The Macanese population largely consists of Han Chinese people. They compose roughly 95% of the population of Macau. Only 2% of the population here is made up of Portuguese people. The remaining 3% of the population consists of other minorities. Cantonese Chinese and Portuguese are the official languages of the region. However, most of the residents of Macau speak Cantonese. There is currently only one school in Macau where Portuguese is the language used in instruction.

The Macanese Language, generally known as Patua, is a distinctive form of Creole. It is still spoken by several dozen Macanese, an ethnic group consisting of mixed Chinese and Portuguese ancestry that makes up a very small portion of the population here.

Signs found in Macau are displayed both in Cantonese and Portuguese. Mainland China uses Simplified Chinese; Macau, Hong Kong, and Taiwan however, do not use Simplified Chinese Characters for the most part.

The majority of migrants to Macau are skilled workers from the Philippines. Hence, Tagalog is one of the most frequently heard foreign languages here. Masses are held in Tagalog at the Igreja de Santo Agostinho or St. Augustine’s Church. This is a region of Macau where many Philippine people reside.

Early Influences

When Italian explorer, Marco Polo first landed in Macau he brought with him all sorts of European influence. When the Portuguese arrived the same occurred, mixing with the existing Chinese cultural traditions and practices. Thus forming a culture that is distinct and exclusive to the region. This rich heritage is a part of what allows Macau to operate as it does today. Combined with its specific government presence with a much more formally open policy compared to the rest of China. Here in Macau you’ll discover excellent gourmet cuisine and street fare that you can only find here. There is a rich artistic tradition practiced only in Macau and regional styles of dress and traditions. This is truly a one of a kind region of the world in every sense – there is no other place quite like it!

Cultural Identity in Macau

The Macanese culture is largely Portuguese rather than Chinese. Portugal’s African provinces won independence, and Indonesia claimed Portuguese Timor in 1975. This nearly resulted in the Portuguese culture losing touch with Macau. Furthermore, the language spoken most in Macau is Cantonese, and Buddhism it’s main religion. Macanese culture has become an influence on it’s Portuguese counterpart. The global popularity of Chinese food and martial arts (Kung Fu and Wu Shu) have also become popular in Portugal.

In 1998, the first Festival da Lusofonia took place in Macau. This is a festival of Portuguese-Speaking communities in Macau. In November 2013 the 16th festival took place over the course of two and a half days. The festival included musical activities, children’s activities, traditional Portuguese games and cuisines from Portuguese speaking countries.

Mass media

A majority of the popular music heard on the channel TDM Teledifusao de Macau (est. 1982) is imported from Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea. There is a growing local music scene in Macau of music recorded by locals. Some Brazilian television stations are broadcast in Macau as well as local stations and Chinese stations.


Macanese cuisine is characterized by a blend of southern Chinese and Portuguese cuisines. There are significant influences from Southeast Asia and the Lusophone World. The most popular snack in the region is the Portuguese-style egg tart. This dish is widely popular in Southeast Asia, particularly in Taiwan and Hong Kong. The Most famous Macanese meal is the Galinha à portuguesa , which is served in numerous Macanese restaurants. This dish is served with pieces of chicken, potato and rice with a mild, coconut-based curry-like sauce. It is baked till golden and bears a distinct aroma.


The primary religion of Macau is Buddhism, due to it’s high Chinese population. Roman Catholicism has had a considerable influence in the region. It has played a part in education and social welfare throughout history in Macau. Despite it’s influence, only 6% of the population considers themselves Catholic. Protestantism is spreading quickly throughout the region, particularly with the younger demographic.

Chinese traditional medicine

The practice of using traditional Chinese medicine is a key aspect of culture in the sphere of medical education in the region. It is a very popular alternative choice of treatment for ailments in Macau. Over 90% of the population having Chinese ancestry, Macau has had a long history of using Chinese Medicine.

A forum and Exhibition for Traditional Chinese Medicine was held in Macau from June 21 to 23, 2005, intended to further Macau’s ambitions of becoming a means of access to Chinese traditional medicine to the international market.

Traditional Chinese medicine is heavily informed by modern medicinal research. However, it is built primarily on a foundation of more than 2,500 years of Chinese medical practice. This includes various forms of herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage (tui na), exercise (qigong), and dietary therapy.

Music and the Arts in Macau

The Macau International Music Festival is put on by the Cultural Affairs Bureau of the Macau SAR government annually in Autumn. in 2007, the 20th anniversary of the MIMF was celebrated. It featured Jazz, classical music, electronic dance music, Chinese folk-pop, rock and Fado in it’s many performances.

Other types of popular music in Macau include Samba, Bossa Nova, and Kizomba.

In 2005, the “Hush!! Full Band Festival” was established. This is a government-sponsored modern music festival featuring pop rock and hard rock bands from all over Asia, focusing particularly on Macanese bands. The festival has free admission and is holding it’s 12th edition this year.

Another form of music popular in Macau is Cantonese Opera. It’s particularly popular among elderly residents. The Cultural Institute of the Macau S.A.R. Government collaborated with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department of Hong Kong in 2003 to organize an exhibition. It was known as “Fong Yim Fun – The Life and Work of a Cantonese Opera Artiste”. Fong Yim Fun is a well-known actress and opera artiste in Canton, Hong Kong and Macau. She has performed more than 150 operas and films. The Museum of Macau exhibited some of her works at that time as well.

Cultural Centers

The Macau Cultural Center was established in 1999 to offer unique venues for art events, conferences and exhibits. This aimed to enhance cultural exchange and helped expand the cultural horizons among Macanese residents. Hundreds of programs and events took place there daily. These included Martial Arts performances, Chinese traditional music, foreign music, and various forms of dance, etc.

Cultural Sites and Museums

Macau has seen many cultural influences in its lifetime and existed as a Portuguese colony for centuries. As a result, there are many cultural sites and museums throughout Macau sharing the history of the city. Therefore, in 2005 the Historic Center of Macau was formed to attempt to highlight and preserve culturally relevant sites around Macau and consists of 22 sites of Historical value. To see a full list of the Cultural Sites and Museums of Macau follow the link. Alternatively, you can see a list of just the Museums of Macau by following that link.



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