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Chronicle of demonstrations in Macao, China

After centuries of isolation, in recent years China has made a remarkable entrance onto the international stage. It is now unequivocally one of the countries shaping the economic/political direction of our planet’s future. Chinese leaders are openly proud of their economic success, yet they remain guarded when discussing the structure and rule of their governance. Few outsiders are party to the secrets of Beijing’s central government. Even for political scientists it is a puzzle. While journalists and essayists, whose role it is to give us the keys to understanding today’s world, appear to be out of their depth.

Still, it is very important for us global citizens to learn answers to critical questions. With a population of over 1.3 billion people, how do Chinese leaders maintain social progress while driving their country along the path of economic growth? And what of the challenges of maintaining a national identity in a country where 56 different ethnic groups reside alongside one another, and the majority seem capable of embracing both ancient traditions and digital innovations? How to create a social cohesion between deserted and impoverished countrysides and overcrowded and radicalized urban zones? How can the over 5,000-year-old traditions, beliefs and customs of the Middle Kingdom, pride of every Chinese citizen, be re-interpreted in the framework of a now irreversible globalization?

These are some of the vital issues that deserve discussion and analysis as China’s place on the global scene becomes more prominent. It doesn’t help that the country’s communication is opaque, even when not censored or manipulated. No wonder the observer is happy when he discovers a window, an insight, that helps to evaluate the social changes taking place currently in China. We know about Hong Kong’s recent protest movements under the umbrella symbol, but nothing is known, including in mainland China, about the demonstrations in the other “special region” of the new China: Macao. Our film, Hero or Rebel, offers a unique opportunity to step inside a corner of China about which we really know very little…

Macao was a Portuguese colony. It was returned to China on 20th December 1999, following the example of the former British colony Hong Kong. Macau is the undisputed Asian Queen of the Casino: it’s gambling and gaming activities generate a staggering annual turnover of 44.2 billion US dollars. Las
Vegas, by comparison, generated in 2013, 14.6 billion. Just under 600, 000 inhabitants now live in Macau, crammed as in Monte Carlo on a surface of just over 30 km2. Still, Macau has very swiftly become the El Dorado for the newly wealthy Chinese.Indeed, it attracts the wealthy from all over Asia.

But in May 2014, more than 20,000 young people are in the streets, defying bans and demanding change. Macao’s youth seems to dream of a different future to the ultra-capitalist one they are being offered. The demonstrations, none of which were reported in the international press, filmed over 18 months by a small team of young Macau filmmakers, volunteers and enthusiasts, is currently being edited in our Paris studio. ‘Hero or Rebel’ invites the viewer to witness these movements by shedding light on what happened and why. As we follow the events over time, three of the main players will allow us to get compelling insights behind the scene.

Few traces remain, almost two years after the first demonstrations took place: the youth now appear to be back in the ranks. Still our young filmmakers, and I, too, as producer, continue wanting to understand what happened, and why. And perhaps to observe that birth of Hope, to feel the passions in the protagonists’ hearts that could seed future social movements?

Without providing answers, our documentary observes the events and offers a very unique opportunity to see this area of China from the inside. It also looks at if and how China is embarking on a citizen-generated change. Or were these demonstrations just a Utopia? The question is important, since no one knows yet in China, whether questioning the established order is a beneficial or destructive civic act ….

I expect that delivery of the Documentary can take place some time in April or May this year.

Michel Noll