The Chinese Mestizo in Philippine History

The Chinese Mestizo in Philippine History

The Journal of Southeast Asian History
Volume 5, Number 1 (March 1964)
pages 62-100
DOI: 10.1017/S0217781100002222

Edgar Wickberg (1927-2008), Professor Emeritus of History
University of British Columbia

Our knowledge is still insufficient to allow us to assess the overall significance of the mestizo in Philippine history. But on the basis of what we now know we can make some generalizations and some hypotheses for future study. It is clear, in the first place, that the activities I have described are those of Chinese mestizos – not Spanish mestizos. While the Chinese mestizo population in the Philippines exceeded 200,000 by the late nineteenth century, the Spanish mestizo population was probably never more than 35,000. Furthermore, those who commented at all on the Spanish mestizo noted that he was interested in military matters or the “practical arts” – never in commerce. The aptitudes and attitudes of the Chinese mestizo were in sharp contrast to this.

Secondly, the Chinese mestizo rose to prominence between 1741 and 1898, primarily as a landholder and a middleman wholesaler of local produce and foreign imports, although there were also mestizos in the professions. The rise of the mestizos implies the existence of social change during the Spanish period, a condition that has been ignored or implicitly denied by many who have written about the Philippines. It needs to be emphasized that the mestizo impact was greatest in Central Luzon, Cebu, and Iloilo. We cannot as yet generalize about other areas.

Third, the renewal of Chinese immigration to the Philippines resulted in diversion of mestizo energies away from commerce, so that the mestizos lost their change to become a native middle class, a position then taken over by the Chinese.

Fourth, the Chinese mestizos in the Philippines possessed a unique combination of cultural characteristics. Lovers of ostentation, ardent devotees of Spanish Catholicism – they seemed almost more Spanish than the Spanish, more Catholic than the Catholics. Yet with those characteristics they combined a financial acumen that seemed out of place. Rejecters of their Chinese heritage, they were not completely at home with their indio heritage. The nearest approximation to them was the urbanized, heavily-hispanized indio. Only when hispanization had reached a high level in the nineteenth century urban areas could the mestizo find a basis of rapport with the indio. Thus, during the late nineteenth century, because of cultural, economic, and social changes, the mestizos increasingly identified themselves with the indios. in a new kind of “Filipino” cultural and national consensus.

Those are my conclusions. Here are some hypotheses, which I hope will stimulate further study:

  1. That today’s Filipino elite is made up mostly of the descendants of indios and mestizos who rose to prominence on the basis of commercial agriculture in the lattetf part of the Spanish period. That in some respects the latter part of the Spanish period was a time of greater social change, in terms of the formation of contemporary Philippine society, than the period since 1898 has been.
  2. That in the process of social change late in the Spanish period it was the mestizo, as a marginal element, not closely tied to a village or town, who acted as a kind of catalytic agent. In this would be included the penetration of money economy into parts of the Philippines. There were areas where the only persons with money were the provincial governors and the mestizos.
  3. That the Chinese mestizo was an active agent of hispanization and the leading force in creating a Filipino culture characteristic now of Manila and the larger towns.
  4. That much of the background explanation of the Philippine Revolution may be found by investigating the relationships between landowning religious orders, mestizo inquilinos, and indio kasamahan laborers.

It is my hope that these hypotheses may stimulate investigation into this important topic which can tell us so much about economic, social, and cultural change during- the Spanish period of Philippine history.

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