Portuguese Colonial Momentum and Political Inertia
the Macao Inner Harbour Improvement Project Deadlock (1884-1919)
From 1884 to 1915, ten projects to update Macao harbour capacity and equipment were presented by Portuguese engineers, aiming to turn the province from a “silting backwater” serving a supporting role in regional trade into a prosperous colony of an internationally preponderant modern Empire. Portuguese central government had been striving to build the colonial edifice in old self-governing Macao since the 1850s by taking control, restructuring and expanding the urban territory. Unfortunately, the Empire’s finances didn’t match its ambition and, when it came to the Inner Harbour Improvement, project after project was denied funding until full shutdown in 1919. In this paper, studying these projects and the reasons they failed to materialize, we will discuss the paradox of turn-of-the-century Macao in which the colonial momentum, responsible for a notable urban renewal period in an initial “laissez-faire” stage, as well as the deployment of an array of progressive engineers, by being fundamentally at odds with the reality of the province’s part in regional geopolitics, later ended up stifling that same development dynamics, perhaps irreparably, by subjecting the improvement of Macao’s core infrastructure to Lisbon’s endemic political indecisions and lack of resources.