Skip to main content

Black History Month: Select Books 30% Off

Harvard University Press - home
Sovereignty at the Edge

Sovereignty at the Edge

Macau and the Question of Chineseness

Cathryn H. Clayton

ISBN 9780674035454

Publication date: 03/31/2010

How have conceptions and practices of sovereignty shaped how ­Chineseness is imagined? This ethnography addresses this question through the example of Macau, a southern Chinese city that was a Portuguese colony from the 1550s until 1999. As the Portuguese administration prepared to transfer Macau to Chinese control, it mounted a campaign to convince the city’s residents, 95 percent of whom identified as Chinese, that they possessed a “unique cultural identity” that made them different from other Chinese, and that resulted from the existence of a Portuguese state on Chinese soil.

This attempt sparked reflections on the meaning of Portuguese governance that challenged not only conventional definitions of sovereignty but also conventional notions of Chineseness as a subjectivity common to all Chinese people around the world. Various stories about sovereignty and Chineseness and their interrelationship were told in Macau in the 1990s. This book is about those stories and how they informed the lives of Macau residents in ways that allowed different relationships among sovereignty, subjectivity, and culture to become thinkable, while also providing a sense of why, at times, it may not be desirable to think them.


  • Anthropologist Clayton examines how identity manifested itself in Macau in the years leading up to its reversion to China in 1999, as the Portuguese administration attempted to foster a unique Sino-Western character...Clayton's account is highly anecdotal and personal--the first-person pronoun is used liberally--as well as thoughtful and nuanced.

    —R. E. Entenmann, Choice


  • 2010, Winner of the Francis L.K. Hsu Book Prize


  • Cathryn H. Clayton is Assistant Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii.

Book Details

  • 420 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center