The Republic of the Philippines is unique in Asia in how well it’s assimilated it’s Chinese population. Chinese-Filipinos have served their country in every position from private to President of the Republic, and nobody seriously questions their Filipino-ness. As a result, for all their communal solidarity Chinese-Filipinos consider themselves Filipino first, Chinese-Filipino a rather distant second, and Chinese-Chinese not at all. (I have a sneaking suspiscion that future Chinese governments will find themselves unpleasantly surprised by that fact.) This didn’t happen in Burma or Thailand or Vietnam or Malaysia or Indonesia.
So why did it happen in the Philippines, and what does any of this have to do with the madre patria?
Amma and I were in Sevilla because I was looking for tax and budget data on the Spanish Philippines. The first place to look for that is the Archivo de Indias. You can see the main building behind the beautiful woman in the above photo. The reading room is across the street behind the main building: look for the sand-colored edifice to the right of this group of typical Sevillano pedestrians.
In 1864, Madrid decided to modernize the Philippines’ tax system. Since specific taxes laid on Chinese generated about 7 percent of the islands’ revenue, the Crown commissioned some fascinating reports before deciding on the specifics of the reform. Extracts below the fold:
Administración Depositaria de Hacienda Pública de la Provincia de Manila, no. 226, 30 June 1864. AGI, Ultramar, box no. 629. “Contestación a la tercera serie del interrogatorio general sobre la inmigración china.”
Chinese immigration has aumented considerably since 1862. The largest barriers are: the taxes and contributions that the Chinese have to pay before and after moving to this country, the paperwork and formalities that they need to carry out, the “letter of guarantee” that they need to submit, and the residence permit that they need to obtain after one year.
Several advantages, however, attract them. First is the opportunity to explore commercial advantages, wherever they may be. Second, the ease by which they can obtain the credit needed to purchase articles for later sale and acquire a little capital.
The Chinese ability to take advantage of these opportunities makes them believe that they are superior to the Spanish and the natives, at least with respect to trade. The Chinese see in the former people who exercise neither circumspection nor prevision in their dealings, entering businesses in which they cannot find even the possibility of a good result. They see in the latter indolence, apathy, and other defects inherently opposed to the social and mercantile life, the instinct for which predominates among the sons of the Celestial Empire.
The Chinese could be considered Masonic, because money is their only religion ... from the moment they arrive in the islands they don’t have and don’t want any other intimate relationships other than with their countrymen ... Language, however, does not separate them. They rapidly learn and speak both Tagalog and Spanish, but for their own benefit, not to convenience the indigene or the European. Their faults, defects, vices and condition are only known to themselves; they tolerate them, repress them, and punish them within their own community. (I am not talking about obstensible actions that the authorities should know about!)
The Chinese protect and defend themselves in an original manner. They put their interests at the disposition of their community leaders: mandarins or influential countrymen who come to the islands with the aim of defending their community’s interests.
There is a cynicism, or perhaps indifferentism, among the Chinese that is so great as to cause them to ignore all limits to usury, and they assume the bad faith of others. This means that neither the Spaniard nor the Indian (but particularly the former) can compete with the Chinese in commerce. The Chinese find protection from their compatriots, and enjoy an unlimited confidence when trading overseas, based on the security that their countrymen will never abandon them in any event.
Few dedicate themselves to agriculture, because they find more profit in industry or commerce ... The Chinese agriculturalists around Manila are more gardeners than farmers. In this activity they show ability but produce little profit.
The Chinese tend to work after coming to this country in an industry or profession already occupied by a known relative or countrymen ... In general, once they acquire some capital they open stores vulgarly called ‘chucherías’ ... They are naturally good mechanics, and work as carpenters, cobblers, smiths, and other like jobs. The advantages that they bring to these jobs are the same as the ones mentioned above.
The author talked half-admiringly and half-irritatedly about high Chinese savings rates and how much Chinese capital went back to China. He also admired greatly how much they smoked and drank, because that meant that the Chinese generated even more in indirect tax revenue than they paid in special head taxes and “license fees.”
The Spanish and other foreigners ... work in the wholesale export of the country’s colonial products, like sugar, hemp, rice, and cotton, and imports from Europe ... but it is the Chinese that open the international commerce of the country for retail trade. They make up 75 percent of the immigrants to Manila, although 30 percent of them go home within six years. They preserve their race and customs, and it is very rare that one will come to identify with the country. Maybe two out of every thousand do so.
Ominous, and confusing considering what the future actually brought. But then the report ended with:
Chinese immigration with their families is rare. There are very few Chinese women in [Manila] province ... ten percent of the Chinese marry natives or mestizas.
As a good historian, I have to point out once the Philippines passed into American hands, the insular government was very positively inclined towards Chinese-Filipinos. (In contrast, of course, to Washington’s attitudes towards Chinese-Americans.) Nevertheless, something provided fertile soil for progressivism to take root in a country that by all rights should have been expected to go the way of Rwanda. (Or at least Indonesia.)
Intermarriage and Tagalog-language skills as early as the 1860s might have been that something.
Does anyone know more?