Gems of History

In the same nest

There is a Chinese saying, “In a nest that falls, there are no eggs left unbroken (傾窼之下無完卵).”

And when we say we are the same people in one country – mother Philippines – we always say we are in the same boat, and share the same fate.

For Chinese in the Philippines, we always emphasize we – Chinese and Filipino people – belong to the same nation. We suffer and prosper together.

With the experience of the 2008 financial crisis in the United States still fresh in our collective memories – the crisis is not yet over, its effects still linger and the economy has not yet fully recovered – it is timely to revisit a few paragraphs of the 1929 US Depression, from A Matter of Trust, The China Bank Story by Raul Rodrigo.

“By 1930, the Philippines began to feel the effects of the Depression. The condition of the US economy caused a contraction in the demand for Philippine exports. The value of Philippine exports to the US dropped 17.82 percent in 1930, 20.7 percent in 1931, and 14 percent in 1932. Employers cut jobs and wages, particularly in the agricultural sector.”

Its implication on the Chinese in the Philippines was harsh: “As the severe economic conditions began to bite, even some major Chinese firms in Manila went out of business, such as the trading firm Ty Camco Sobrino, run by Ty Hoan Chay, a major China Bank shareholder. China Bank family director Go Joco, a textile magnate who had diversified into oil processing rice sack production and fertilizers, ran into severe business reverses during the Depression. Another China Bank founding director, Guillermo Cu Unjieng, lost almost P2 million speculating on sugar and foreign exchange during the period.”

Those were the effects on prominent Chinese businessmen, but what of ordinary Chinese?

“Overall, some 10,000 Chinese sojourners in the Philippines were put out of work. In 1931 alone, 4,532 Chinese left the Philippines and went back to China, overcome by the hard times. Several hundreds of them were so hard up that they had to ask for free tickets for the voyage home from the Philippine Chinese Charity Association (Shanju Gongsuo 善舉公所).”

That was the reality. Chinese rich or poor faced ruin and suffered. Those in poverty suffered beyond imagination, begging for passage home, to leave behind the land that had promised opportunity. The Philippine nest fell due to the Great American Depression. Sharing the same nest, the Chinese here were also hit hard.

That is a page from history, a truth that we should never forget. — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 26, no. 4 (July 23-Aug. 5, 2013): 5.