The Chinese in Bataan

We are fond of collecting and looking into books on Philippine local history. Almost without exception, we find materials or information on the ethnic Chinese in these books, whether they are about history, description of localities in a province, a city or municipality.

Moreover, those materials or information about the Chinese in local history are precious in the sense that they are seldom mentioned in the general history of the Philippines and likewise not known to even researchers in Philippine Chinese studies. But above all, they show that the Chinese were indeed everywhere in Philippine localities as integral parts of Philippine society.

The first chapter of Dr. Cornelio Bascara’s book, A History of Bataan (1587-1900): Scanning its geographic, social, political and economic terrain (2010) has two sections about the Chinese: “The Chinese of Bataan” and “The Sangleys.”

Bascara theorized that: The Chinese fled from the threats of massacres in Manila during the 17th century, and which led them to seek refuge in the province such as Pampanga and possibly in neighboring Bataan was a plausible reason. But this has to be established first. Then, there was a strong likelihood that Bataan offered its doors to the Chinese when the Spanish government allowed them to stay in the Philippines on the condition that they embrace Christianity. And for better protection against harassment, they married local women for convenience.

But in Bataan, although the Chinese had been coming, up to well, the twilight of 19th century, their number remained consistently small. “In 1884, there were 52 Chinese residents only,” it rose to an “all-time high between 160-180, according to census taken by the government in 1886. Then, on Oct. 5, 1894, the provincial government reported the 136 Chinese residents of the province.”

What is more interesting is Bascara’s analysis of the reason why there was only a small number of Chinese in Bataan.

He said: The lack of economic opportunities in the province explains the numerical inferiority of the Chinese. In the first place, they were quarrymen, day laborers, storekeepers, factory workers and domestic helpers, and these were occupations not needed in a highly agricultural province such as Bataan. And even if the Chinese were agriculturist, the chance to claim decent wages was remote due to the extremely limited agricultural lands; and second, while there were some Chinese traders and businessmen, there was no room for them in commerce and industry, not only because the province was poor, but business was, especially during the second-half of the 19th century, largely controlled by the mestizos de Sangley, who were the progeny of mixed Filipino-Chinese parents.

Citing Father Pablo Fernandez, Bascara offered another view. According to him, many of the Chinese did not stay long in the province because many of them were only itinerant workers who left for China once they had saved money, or for Manila where opportunities were found. The rest stayed after marrying local women and raised their families. Furthermore, the Chinese felt they were not welcome in the province because they often became victims of ambushes, assaults, robberies and murders, even in their own houses and stores. In brief, the natives did not like them probably for being ‘thriftier, more active, and more industrious.’ This jealousy could be another reason why the Chinese remained few in the province.

We consider the narration given by Bascara a good analysis of the objective condition in Bataan on why the Chinese there didn’t prosper, even in terms of their number. We always believe the objective condition of the environment of a certain place is the main or more important factor as far as the development of the Chinese in that locality is concerned.

It is also noteworthy that the occupations of most Chinese mentioned by Bascara were quarrymen, lay labrorers, storekeepers, factory workers even domestic helpers, only some of them were traders and businessmen.

In fact, Bascara also stated in the book that: As for the Chinese, they too remained few in number since the middle of the 18th century. Distributed in the sugar towns of Abucay, Balanga and Orani, they excelled in commerce but failed to control it. Some of them were engaged in very small-scale industries such as the manufacture of rum and wine, which were sold very cheaply for local consumption.

Although the number of Chinese in Bataan was small, their progenies, the Filipino-Chinese mestizos, increased slowly but steadily “since the third quarter of the 18th century, when the population was placed at 649. During the second-half of the 19th century, in 1853, the total number of tribute-paying Chinese mestizos was recorded at 1,486 and rose to 1,531 four years after in 1857…”

Bascara added that: The trend, which continued until 1861 when the population of the tribute-paying mestizos was recorded at 1,650 in 1862, an all-time record of Chinese mestizos tribute-payers was placed at 3,323…

According to Bascara, the increase of Chinese mestizos in the province could be due to the phenomenal rise of the sugar industry during the second-half of the 19th century. But in 1884, a tremendous decrease of Chinese mestizos was recorded, at only 563.

Bascara wrote that “some factors, which included deaths due to cholera epidemics or exodus due to the collapse of the sugar industry in the province, could explain it.”

Again, the effect of objective condition is also very clear in the case of population of Chinese mestizos. Now, the most interesting and valuable part: Bascara was able to identify and locate the prominent Chinese mestizos in different towns of Bataan.

To quote: Take for instance the following Chinese mestizos of Samal whose family name was very typical of the town: Jose Baluyot, Luis Pascual, Benedicto Aquino, Antonio de Padua and Jose Magtanong. However, some Chinese mestizos, probably proud of their Chinese and Filipino ancestry, took new family names as it had become the practice elsewhere, by retaining their Chinese given names and combined them with -zon, -son or -co which were probably Chinese titles of respect, the following principales of Samal bore such modified Chinese names such as Agustin Lamzon, Nicolas Tuazon, Miguel Hizon and Nicolas Sayzon. Other modified names included Banzon and Tuazon (Balanga); Ganzon and Hizon (Abucay); Longzon (Orani); Tongco (Orani); Tiangco (Balanga and Pilar); and Limcangco (Abucay). Other inhabitants of Chinese ancestry, based on the sound of their names, included names such as Tengociang (Abucay), Yapendon (Matatang and Consunji) (Samal).

So now you can easily identify who are Chinese mestizos in the towns of Bataan and realize how close a relation the Chinese had in Bataan despite their small number during the Spanish time. — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 29, no. 3 (July 5-18, 2016): 5.