Across the U.S., statues of Confederate generals and of those considered to be racists are being attacked, torn down or removed. In the U.K. too, in the city of Bristol an angry mob toppled the statue of slave trader Edward Colston and dumped it into the harbor. When symbols are smashed or defaced in frustration, it can be a harbinger of change to come.
Why does it scare the crap out of the people refusing to accept a new reality―to face their flawed sense of privilege? Because it’s often a precursor for regime change. Sure, we have seen plenty of examples of statue destruction after the fact, such as was the case of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s statue after the U.S. invasion, or of Cecil Rhodes in Zimbabwe after the African was granted independence by Britain in 1980. When statues are attacked, damage is often directed at the parts that would most hurt a human being―not only venting anger at the idea represented by it, but also a humiliation of the person as well; heads cut off, eyes gouged out, ears torn off, revenge meted out on the person as a symbol of tyranny.
54 years ago in Macau, on December 3rd of 1966, a statue of war hero Vicente Mesquita was toppled by rioters. It came after several months of turmoil in Macau. Protests by mainly Communist organizations came to a head on that December day. The Macau government responded by mobilizing army troops to suppress the demonstrators and riots that followed. It resulted in the deaths of 11 Chinese shot dead and 100 others injured. Macau’s leftist organizations rallied merchants to close their shops; China’s border checkpoints were closed, food and water supplies were cut. Macau was under siege and had no option but to kowtow to the leftists. From that day onward, until its reversion to China in 1999, Macau remained under China’s de facto control. The return Portugal’s last colony Macau to China, ended 442 years of Portuguese rule over the enclave.
Mesquita is best remembered as the man who helped bring China to its knees when he led a small force of Portuguese soldiers to attack and defeat a fort at Baishaling, China in 1849. However, for a long while, until it suited politicians to resurrect Mesquita as a hero of the Portuguese Empire, his memory was scorned. After his death in 1880, the governor denied his remains a military burial. The bishop forbade interment of his body in Macau’s consecrated ground. Nevertheless, at the start of the Second World War, he was resurrected. Portugal badly needed heroes. As a neutral state, the regime had grown wealthy by selling mineral resources to both ally and axis. It could well afford the erection of a few statues to bolster its image as a colonial power.
The Communists that attacked the statue resented it as a constant reminder of China’s national disgrace―one that began with outsiders camping on the empire’s periphery before eventually infiltrating its very heart and gnashing off chunks.
Anyone wishing to learn more about Vicente Mesquita can do so through my book ‘Mesquita’s Reflections’.