Gems of History

Parian in Cebu (2)

This is a continuation of my last Gems of History column on “Parian in Cebu” to complete the story of what happened to the Chinese in Cebu at the turn of the 20th century. Our narration will again be based mainly on National Artist Resil B. Mojares’ Casa Gerordo in Cebu.
From 1850 onwards, the Chinese immigrant population in Cebu grew considerably, thanks to the opening of the Philippine economy to world trade. They were mostly men from southern China who by 1891 made up seven percent of Cebu City’s 14,099 people.
Mojares writes: “The Chinese came to be a dynamic group in the new port economy. They formed cabecillas, a system in which they dealt directly with foreign commercial houses, accepted cash advances to collect goods from the countryside for delivery to the firms, and in turn loaned money to planters and petty merchants. Other Chinese acted as agents for Manila-based cabecillas and operated retail tiendas de sari-sari in market towns – stores that were open all the time, a departure from the more traditional, periodic markets (tianqui) held in towns or barrios once or twice a week.”
Note that without the foreign commercial houses and cash advances, or capital funds, collected through the cabecilla system, the Chinese in Cebu would not have been able to assume an important role in Cebu’s economy at the time.
Mojares names some of the wealthy Chinese during that era. “(T)he prominent Chinese cabecilla, Lucio Herrera Uy Mayan (黃馬元) had as many as 45 employees, some at work in Cebu City, others in the towns of the province.”
Herrera, Nicasio Ching Veloso and other rich Chinese “were successfully integrated into the local community,” according to the book.
Beyond their wealth, the practice of Chinese immigrants taking on a prominent local resident (usually Spanish) as padrino (sponsor) at their baptism and then assuming the latter’s name also hastened their integration.
“This resulted in Chinese and Spanish branches of such prominent Cebu families as the Veloso, Roa and Vaño families,” Mojares writes.
What is worth pointing out is that these prominent Chinese and their heirs became so well integrated into mainstream society that many people these days outside of these families and history buffs do not know about their Chinese ancestry.
Mojares’ book also shares a less known historical fact.
“The large majority of Chinese immigrants, however, mainly laborers (jornaleros) who constituted close to 90 percent of the Chinese immigrant population in the 1880s, remained on the cultural and social fringe of Cebuano society,” it said.
Imagine, nine in 10 Chinese in Cebu in the 1880s were laborers. This important and interesting point shatters the stereotype that Chinese are born merchants and the Chinese in the Philippines are all businessmen.
At the start of 20th century, 793 Chinese were living in Cebu, outnumbering the 322 other foreign nationals – including 126 Americans and 105 Spaniards – in an urban population of about 20,000. They formed the largest concentration of Chinese in the country after Manila and Iloilo.
Finally, let me quote passages about the Chinese mestizos, without which the story/history of the Chinese in Cebu would be incomplete: “At the start of the 20th century, the urban area had expanded… Economic changes led to the development of an urban ‘mestizo culture’ as inter-ethnic relations increased and ethnic distinction became blurred. The Chinese mestizo as a separate group began to disappear in the 19th century:

By the 1820s, Chinese mestizos not only shared a common religion with the Cebuanos but also a common language. According to the bishop of Cebu, the mestizos spoke Cebuano as their mother tongue and no longer knew how to speak Chinese. By the early 1830s, the mestizos from Cebu City had been culturally assimilated to a considerable extent into an urban and hispanized Cebuano society.

“The Chinese who began to return to Cebu in large numbers after 1850s no longer settled in the heavily populated parian but in Lutao-Ermita areas (present-day M.C. Briones, Magallanes, Plaridel, F. Gonzales and Lincoln streets). The residence of Chinese mestizos like Doña Benigna Cui and Doñ Fausta Regis were to be found in the Lutao area while those of the Chinese Don Nicasio Ching Veloso and Chinese mestizo Don Marcellino Sotto were located in the Spanish ciudad. The Spaniards Enrique Carratala and Francisco Matheu and the Chinese Lucio Herrera took up residence in San Nicolas. Carratala’s daughter, Concepcion, who had married Luis Sidebottom, son of Englishman John N. Sidebottom of Smith, Bell & Co., resided in the Parian. Though something of the old ethnic divisions remained, the residential deconcentration was already underway in the mid-19th century.”
In fact, the last parian in Cebu was abolished in 1869 and its church demolished in the mid-1870s. The history of the Chinese and the parian in Cebu City illustrates how Chinese immigrants eventually integrated into the mainstream society economically, culturally, socially as well as residentially.
We are thankful that Mojares has provided us with so much information and materials on the Chinese and parian in Cebu. If this were only so for other parians outside Manila.