Gems of History

The first Chinatown: Miton

The Chinatown in Manila is said to be the first Chinatown in the world. But it’s apparently not the present Chinatown that is synonymous to the famous Ongpin Street. The street, formerly Calle Sacristia, only got its name in 1915 in honor of Roman Ongpin, the famous Chinese-Filipino financier of the Philippine revolution.
To be the first in the world, the Chinatown in Manila must refer to the first parian, the exclusive settlement for the Chinese set up by Governor-General Gonzalo Ronquillo in 1581. The first parian of Manila in 1581 is a candidate for being the earliest Chinatown in the world.
Nevertheless, our recent research revealed that even before the 1581 parian, there was another Chinatown settlement in Manila – to be exact, in Tondo.
In Domingo de Salazar, OP (UST, 2001), the first bishop of Manila now under Spain’s rule, author Lucio Gutierrez, OP, wrote:
“The Augustinians, before the arrival of Salazar, in agreement with the governor Don Gonzalo Ronquillo, invited some of the Chinese from Tondo to transfer to a place by themselves, on the right side of Pasig River, within the view of the city of Manila (Intramuros). A few of them accepted the invitation and settled down in a place called Miton. Two Augustinians were assigned to work with the Chinese in the new town of Miton.”
The source of information is Aguirre’s letter to King Philip II. This was found in Archivo General de Indias, AGI, or the General Archive of the Indias in Seville, specifically from the book Historia, volume XV, pp. 61-64.
So, even before the 1581 parian of Manila, there was another “Chinatown” in Manila – Miton. The Miton “Chinatown” can be considered as the real first Chinatown in the world. Alas, it didn’t last long.
Unfortunately as well, we are still unable to locate where precisely this Miton town is.