The Bahá'í Faith in Macao (also spelled Macau) was established much later than in other parts of China due, most likely, to the unique conditions of Macao being a Portuguese colony until 1999 and it being somewhat in the shadow of Hong Kong and larger centers in mainland China like Shanghai. The Bahá'í Faith arrived in Shanghai in 1862 and Hong Kong in 1870 but not in Macao until 1953.
Beginnings and community growth
In 1953, along with other remaining parts of the globe where no Bahá'ís resided, Macao became a particular goal for expatriate Baha'is to locate. On October 20, 1953, Mrs. Frances Heller, a Bahá'í from California moved there to reside.
By 1954 there were four Bahá'ís in Macao – all expatriates – but they formed a cohesive group and became designated as a Bahá'í Group.
On July 15, 1954 the first resident of Macao declared his belief in Bahá'u'lláh after studying this system of belief for five months -- Mr. Harry P.F. Yim (Yen Pei-feng or Yim Pui Fung), a small-business proprietor from Canton (Guangzhou), China. In October 1954 the second Macanese, Mr. Paul Kao became a Bahá'í. In that year, Mr. Manuel Ferreira, became the first Portuguese to become a Bahá'í in Macao.
In the 1970s more pioneers arrived to continue to lay the foundation of the Bahá'í community in Macao and to expand its presence to the nearby islands of Taipa and Coloane. By 1973, there were eighteen believers spread out in three localities, Macao peninsular, Taipa and Coloane. Later the membership climbed to 32.
In March 1974, mainly due to teaching efforts of several pioneers and travel teachers from places such as Malaysia, the Bahá'í membership climbed to 36 adults with eleven youth. A few months later reports showed 47 adult Bahá'ís and twelve youth in the three areas of Macao. A later statistical report, indicated there were 68 Bahá'ís, including nineteen youth.
In the years since the formation of the National Spiritual Assembly of Macao in 1989, the Macao Bahá'í community continued to expand, and in the 2009 Macao Yearbook their numbers are listed as 2,500, with three Local Spiritual Assemblies.
Administratively, in the early 1950’s Macao was under the jurisdiction of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, but after the National Spiritual Assembly of North East Asia was elected in 1957 they were administered by that body.
In April 1974 the National Spiritual Assembly of Hong Kong was elected with Macao included in its jurisdiction. Two residents of Macao were elected to the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Hong Kong.
In 1982 the Local Spiritual Assembly of Macao (peninsular) was granted certification by the government which was equivalent to its recognition as an incorporated charitable body.
In 1989 the number of Bahá'ís in Macao was such that, together with its status as a distinct territory, The Universal House of Justice gave permission for Macao to elect its own National Spiritual Assembly. It was the third National Spiritual Assembly in Chinese territory. Taiwan was the first, in 1967, with Hong Kong the second.
Despite the agreement to transfer the sovereignty of Macao to the People's Republic of China in 1999 and its designation as a special administrative region (SAR) of China, the position of the Bahá'í Faith in Macao - its administration, membership and communities - in the context of local laws has remained unchanged. The "National" Spiritual Assembly is now referred to as the “Spiritual Assembly” or “Main Spiritual Assembly” in Chinese and still retains jurisdiction over the Local Spiritual Assemblies in Macao.
The Local Spiritual Assemblies of Macao Peninsular, Taipa and Coloane are elected respectively once a year. The nine members of each Local Spiritual Assembly are elected from the generality of Bahá'í residents of the community through secret votes in a form of non-partisan democracy. Electioneering of any sort, candidacy and other tactics common in most political elections is prohibited.
The [Main] Spiritual Assembly of Macao is elected in a two stage process. In the first stage, the entire Bahá'í population is divided into 19 electoral units, and each unit elects a delegate from the adult Bahá'ís residing within its electoral unit. The 19 delegates elect the nine members of the [Main] Spiritual Assembly at the annual National Convention.
Like numerous communities around the world, the Macao Bahá'í Community is heavily engaged in community-building activities in the Macao SAR: “meetings that strengthen the devotional character of the community; classes that nurture the tender hearts and minds of children; groups that channel the surging energies of junior youth; circles of study, open to all, that enable people of varied backgrounds to advance on equal footing and explore the application of the teachings to their individual and collective lives. “ [ Ref: Universal House of Justice, “To the Bahá'ís of the World” Ridvan 2010)
Bahá’ís all around the world as well as in Macao have adopted an education and training program which caters to the spiritual needs of its participants and is arranged for different age groups as follows:
- Ages 5 – 7: Children’s spiritual education classes Grade 1;
- Ages 8 – 11: Children’s spiritual education classes Grade 2;
- Ages 12 – 14: Junior youth spiritual empowerment program;
- Ages 15 and onwards: A sequence of 8 courses
The above systematic sequence of training courses is able to develop in participants a meaningful spiritual life and enable them, in various ways, to serve society. The above programs are usually delivered in the participants’ homes in small groups. An individual need not be a Bahá’í to take these courses.
In public articles and briefings the Bahá'í Faith is recognized as one of the five major religions of the Macao SAR and was included in religious delegations to mainland China.
Community relations initiatives
Since there is no administrative structure for the Bahá'í Faith in mainland China at present, the Macao Bahá'í Community, together with the Hong Kong Bahá'í Community, frequently act as liaison and contact points with the relevant government agencies of the People's Republic of China.
The Macao Bahá'í Community has been involved with exchanges, conferences and events with government, academics, and non-governmental organizations that explore and share the application of the Bahá'í teachings to the advancement of society.
Some examples of these activities include:
In 1993, China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) invited a delegation of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Macao to visit various government agencies in Beijing. This was the first time a Bahá’í institution carried out a formal exchange with the Chinese government in recent times.
In February 2005, the Director General of SARA, Mr. Ye Xiao Wen, led a delegation from SARA to visit the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Macao. In April the same year, he led another delegation to Israel, which included a visit to the Bahá'í World Centre.
In October 2005, a delegation of the Spiritual Assemblies of the Bahá’ís of Macao and Hong Kong visited Beijing and Shanghai at the invitation of SARA.
In August 2006, the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Macao and SARA organized an inter-religious seminar on ‘Building An Harmonious Society – Exploring the Roles of Religion’.
In October 2006 the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Macao and the Center for the Study of the Bahá’í Faith at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of World Religions held a seminar on ‘A New Educational Model Guided by Spiritual Perspective’.
In May 2007, the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Macao, The Institute for Global Civilization, The Shandong University Bahá’í Studies Institute, the Center for the Study of the Bahá’í Faith at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of World Religions and Qingdao University organized a seminar on ‘Seeking Inner Harmony’.
In August 2007, the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Macao made an exchange visit to the provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu. Their hosts were the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of these two provinces and exchanges were made with the Women Federation, Poverty Alleviation Department, and different religious groups.
In September 2007, the Center for the Study of the Bahá’í Faith at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of World Religions, the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Religious Studies, The Institute of Global Civilization, and the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Macao held an international academic seminar on ‘Science, Religion, and Social and Economic Development: Reflection on the Contribution by the Bahá’í Faith Towards an Harmonious Society’.
The Chairman of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Macao was invited, together with leaders from the other major religious groups in Macao, to attend the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
In October 2009, the Chairman of the Spiritual Assembly went to Beijing, together with other religious leaders, to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China.
In November 2009, the Director of the Policy and Regulations Department of SARA and the Vice-Chairman of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of Guangdong Province visited the office of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Macao.
In October 2009, the Spiritual Assembly of Macao and SARA jointly organized the 'Science, Religion and Development Forum. More than two hundred scholars, officials and researchers attended. The Macao government sponsored the event.
In April 2010, the Bahá’í community and the other four major religions in Macao jointly invited Mr. Wang Zuo’an, the new Director-General of SARA to Macau. He visited the office of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Macao.
In November 2010, Mr Zhang Lebin, the new Deputy Director-General of SARA also visited the Office of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Macao. SARA's Director for External Affairs accompanied Mr. Wang and Mr. Zhang on their visits.
In recent years, New Millennium Publications, based in Macau, was established and makes more and more literature on the Bahá’í Faith in Chinese available to Chinese readers.
In 1988, the School of the Nations - a Bahá'í-inspired school in the Taipa, Macao community - was established. It is owned by the Badi Foundation. As an international school, it provides an internationally oriented English-medium educational program to meet the needs of both expatriate and local families. Like many other initiatives around the world, both the Badi Foundation and the School of the Nations’ efforts are examples of endeavors to translate some of the ideals and concepts of the Bahá'í Faith into actions that are of benefit to society at large.
- Sims, Barbara R. (1991) “The Macau Bahá'í Community in the Early Years”, http://bahai-library.com/east-asia/macau/
- Macao Yearbook 2009. Government Information Bureau of the Macao Special Administrative Region, December 2009 http://yearbook.gcs.gov.mo/
- See Chinese Articles: 1. ycwb.com/xkb/2006-09/21/content_1221043.htm 2. www.jxmzj.gov.cn/2006-12/20061218115701.htm