Multiple Roles

16 August 2013

Chinese Chamber of Commerce helps shape Macao history for a century

When the Chinese Chamber of Commerce (CCC) celebrated its 100th anniversary, it was appropriate that its president and guest of honour were sons of former presidents and members of two of the most prominent families of Macao.

The event was held at the Macao Tower on 8 January, 100 years to the day since the institution was founded by businessmen who wanted a body to represent their interests.

Since then, it has played an important role in the city’s history, as a bridge between the Chinese community and the colonial administration, a mouthpiece for its businesses and as a civic organisation promoting charity work and education. It was also a bridge between the central authorities in China and the colonial government.

Since World War II, two families – the Ho and the Ma – have dominated the leadership. Ho Yin was president from 1950 to 1983 and his son, Edmund Ho Hau Wah, the first Chief Executive after the 1999 handover, is honorary president of the CCC. He was Guest of Honour at the anniversary dinner.

Ma Man Kei became a director of the CCC in 1948 and succeeded Ho Yin as president in 1984. He remained one of its leaders until 2010, when he retired due to poor health. It is his son Ma Iao Lai who is now president and who chaired the anniversary event.

Also in attendance were Francis Tam Pak Yuen, Secretary of Economics and Finance, along with directors, members and friends. In his speech, Ma said 100 years was a short time in the history of the Yangtze river. “But, as a civil organisation, we have held our place through a century and moved forward in line with the development of the times. We have earned the respect of society and the public for our service and contributions in promoting the economy in many ways.”

In January, the Post Office issued a set of four stamps to commemorate the anniversary, with portraits of chairmen of the chamber.

Last year, Ma received the Golden Lotus Flower Honourable Medal on behalf of the Chamber from Chief Executive Fernando Chui Sai On in recognition of its services to the city.

Since the end of the Portuguese era, it has played a more political role, advising on the Basic Law that governs Macao after the handover and serving as an intermediary between its people and the central government.

Of the 12 Macao deputies in the National People’s Congress (NPC), five are from the chamber. Of the 35 in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, 20 are members of the chamber.

Founding the Chamber

Before 1911, the businessmen of Macao did not have an organisation of their own. When they needed to discuss matters of common concern, they gathered at Kiang Wu, the city’s first Chinese-funded hospital.

It was a period of revolutionary change, the last days of the Qing dynasty. Chinese people around the world were creating new institutions to make a better future for themselves and their country.

In 1911, a group of businessmen led by Shiu Ying Chau decided to set up an organisation to represent their interests. On 14 December 1912, it received the approval of the colonial government as the Macao Chamber of Commerce.

It was formally established on 8 January 1913, with Shiu as its first president and seven other directors; they opened a provisional office in the Tung Sin Tong, the city’s largest Chinese charity organisation.

The Department of Industry and Commerce of the Chinese government also approved its registration as the Macao Overseas Chinese General Chamber of Commerce. In 1916, it was officially renamed the Macao Chinese General Chamber of Commerce.

After several years, it moved its office to Number 4, Rua do Pagode, in an estate owned by the Hong Kung Temple Council.

In 1930, the members decided the office was too old and small; they agreed to raise funds and purchase premises at 18 Largo do Senado, a better location in the city centre. There they organised exhibitions to promote the products manufactured by their members.

Wartime relief

In 1941, the president was Kou Ho Ning, the city’s pawnshop king and one of the two men who held the gambling franchise. That year the chamber set up a commercial information department and commercial school; they lasted for one year.

After the fall of Hong Kong to the Japanese in December 1941, a flood of refugees came to Macao, from the British colony and the mainland. The population tripled to 450,000, a record level. While many were housed in schools, government buildings and private homes, thousands had no alternative but to live on the streets and in the parks. The price of rice soared from seven–eight patacas per 50 kg in 1941 to 400 patacas; it took 10 days’ wages for an ordinary worker to buy one jin (0.5 kg) of rice.

Families sold their children in exchange for food; there were cases of cannibalism.

In this critical situation, the Chamber of Commerce joined the Tung Sin Tong and other civic and religious organisations to provide rice, corn, potatoes, clothing and tents to the thousands of homeless people.

Ho Yin – the other Governor

In the spring of 1947, the Chamber established the Mandarin research class.

For 40 years, one man played a dominant role in the life of the Chamber – Ho Yin. He arrived in Macao in 1937 just before the fall of Hong Kong in December that year and became a manager of the Tai Fung Bank.

After World War II, he and his partners expanded the bank’s business and went into restaurants, cinemas, buses, taxis, aviation and water supply; they also obtained a licence from the government to import gold.

He became the most powerful businessman in Macao and expanded into politics and civil affairs. He was appointed a member of the standing committee of the NPC in Beijing and vice-chairman of the Macao Legislative Assembly.

From 1950 to 1983, Ho Yin was elected president of the board of directors of the CCC for 18 terms and became known as ‘the Chinese governor of Macao’, active as an intermediary in disputes.

In 1946, he helped to secure the release of Fu Tak Iong, one of the then owners of the gambling franchise, who had been kidnapped while resting at a temple. He also negotiated a resolution of an armed conflict between Chinese and Portuguese soldiers at the Border Gate in 1952.

On 8 May 1966, he survived an assassination attempt. After visiting the greyhound racing stadium with a friend, he was climbing into his vehicle in

the car park when an assailant threw a grenade. He was thrown wounded to the ground and rushed to the Kiang Wu hospital. At the scene, police found three fragments of the grenade – but, despite their best efforts, were unable to arrest the culprit.

Ho played an important role in solving civil unrest in December that year. Influenced by the Cultural Revolution and dissatisfaction with the colonial government, residents started demonstrations. On 3 December, they pulled down the statue of Vicente Nicolau de Mesquita, a famous Macanese soldier, in the city centre and burnt documents in the Leal Senado. In response, the security forces killed six people and injured more than 200; the government declared a curfew.

It was a critical moment in Macao’s history; its status and social stability hung in the balance.

Ho Yin led the representatives of the Chinese community to visit the wounded in hospital and negotiate with the Portuguese on behalf of Beijing. On 28 January 1967, the Portuguese government issued a formal apology. It was the start of de facto Chinese control of the colony.

Ho was able to broker an agreement and prevent further violence because of the high regard in which he was held by the two governments.

He saved his most dramatic moment for last. In 1983, when he was being treated for cancer in New York, rumours spread in Macao that the Tai Fung Bank which he had founded in 1942 was in financial difficulty. Depositors began to withdraw their money.

Ignoring the advice of doctors and family, Ho left his hospital bed, flew to Hong Kong and returned to Macao to take personal charge of the situation. With the aid of a large share purchase by the Bank of China in Beijing, he was able to avert the crisis and save the bank.

He died on 6 December that year, at the age of 75.

Ho was active in charity work in Macao and in his home town of Panyu, Guangdong province, contributing to schools, hospitals and other projects.

He directed the work of the chamber for 33 years and was president when he died of cancer, on 6 December 1983.

In 1948, he donated a reading room at Bajiaoting, Praia Grande, to the chamber, in memory of his late mother. This was officially opened on 1 November 1948; it has nearly 20,000 volumes and 90 foreign and domestic newspapers and magazines. The public use it today.

Ma succeeds Ho

Ma Man Kei succeeded Ho as president of the chamber in April 1984.

Born in Guangzhou in October 1919, he moved to Hong Kong after the city fell to the Japanese. He set up a trading company of which he was general manager.

After Hong Kong fell to the Japanese in 1941, he settled in Macao, where he founded trading companies and went into finance.

During his long career, he has held many posts in social, business and sporting organisations in the city, including the CCC. Photographs from December 1966 show him walking at the side of Ho Yin, visiting the wounded in hospital.

He played an active role in drafting the Basic Law for Macao and the negotiations over the handover. He was a vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference from 1993 to 2013.

Business and education

In spring 1949, the Chamber set up a commercial training class that included book-keeping, calculation by abacus and how to write letters.

In the 1950s, it established two schools. In 1951, it set up a school in Ilha Verde to teach reading and writing. This later expanded into the Ilha Verde Primary School, which in the 2012/2013 year has nearly 400 students in 18 classes.

The other, in 1954, was an evening secondary school. In 1983, this was expanded into a high school. In the 2012/2103 school year, it has nearly 300 pupils in 11 classes.

In the 1950s, the Chamber played an important role in helping Chinese firms get around the trade embargo imposed by the West after the country’s entry into the Korean War. It sold Chinese products in Macao and abroad.

It also helped to promote the Canton Trade Fair that was held twice a year from 1957, the most important shop window for Chinese goods after the foundation of the People’s Republic.

At the end of 1958, it worked with others to ask Guangdong province and Zhongshan county for their help in solving the problem of Macao’s drinking water. Through hard work, it achieved a solution.

It also helped those who wished to return to the mainland during the Ching Ming festival to sweep the graves of their ancestors. It assisted them in completing complicated visa procedures and sent a team to accompany them.

In 1973, Ho Yin proposed the demolition of its building and construction of a new one of 15 floors; the chamber would use some and rent out the rest. But the government considered it a protected building and refused.

Instead, in May 1987, the government provided over 1,000 square metres in the Zape area for the Macao Chamber of Commerce Building, with 19 floors. It was inaugurated on 28 July 1991 by the Governor of Macao, General Vasco Rocha Viera and the director of the Xinhua News Agency.

The old premises at Largo de Leal Senado were re-developed as China Commercial Building. An office building, it officially opened for use on 15 January 1996; the chamber owns four floors and rents them out.

In 2010, at its 68th general meeting, the Chamber elected Ma Iao Lei as president. It increased the leadership team from 21 to 32 and the number of directors from 110 to 153. By the end of 2012, the Chamber had 3,000 institutional and individual members, of whom 120 were institutions.

In an interview on the anniversary, Ma said that the chamber would do an even better job in helping to fulfil the objectives of the 12th Five-Year Plan and turn Macao into a world centre of tourism and leisure and a platform for trade and commerce between Macao and the Portuguese-speaking countries.

“We will also work hard to promote the economic development of Macao, improve the living standards of its people and its social stability. We will work closely with industry and commerce to present to the government their reasonable demands and opinions … and work for good relations between management and the labour force and promote a stable and harmonious society,” he said.