Chinese in American-era Cebu: Some trivia

By: Jobers R. Bersales February 14,2018 - 10:26 PM
Jobers Bersales

Jobers Bersales

Kiong Hee Huat Tsai! Gong Xi Fa Cai! Kong Hei Fat Choi! However you say it, whether in Hokkien, Mandarin or Cantonese, respectively, it means one and the same.

Tomorrow the entire Chinese community all over the world will mark the start of another year, some even observing the weeklong-rituals associated with the ancient Chinese lunar calendar in order to usher in prosperity.

To mark the occasion, let me give you dear readers a peek at my chapter in an upcoming book on the Chinese in Cebu and the Southern Philippines (yes there is a big book of Chinese history and heritage coming soon!).

Two of my co-authors, Dr. Resil Mojares and Dr. Mike Cullinane, cover Chinese identity and the Chinese in Spanish period Cebu; thus, I shall not steal the show from them.

Let me tell you, instead, some things about about the “lan-lang,” the pure unadulterated Chinese (not the mestizo or “chusizi”) kind that bloomed during the American period.

For starters, how many Chinese were there in Cebu? We have three censuses that tell us a close approximation.

In the census of 1903, which used the derogatory term “Yellow Race” to mean either Chinese or Japanese, there were 1,067 of them in the entire province, of which 734 were in Cebu City.

And they were almost all male, only three were females! By the 1918 census, the population, this time identified under the category “Chinese Citizens” had reached 1,589 in the province, with 1,228 of them in Cebu City.

And out of this were a minuscule Chinese female population of 553, most probably daughters and not just incoming female migrants from China. In the 1939 census, the last one before the war, the Chinese population reached 6,107, with 4,307 males and 1,807 females.

One must note that the Chinese in these three censuses did not even reach beyond a mere one percent of the total population of Cebu province.

So what were they doing in Cebu? In the three censuses, there is no doubt that the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1902 (or the Chinese Registration Act of 1903) created a unique situation in the Philippines that cannot compare with those of say Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand or Indonesia, which had no such discriminatory laws.

By excluding categories of unskilled Chinese laborers or coolies and only Chinese merchants/traders (returning or otherwise first-timers to the colony), teachers and students, the law resulted in the influx Chinese retail and wholesale merchants to the colony, which soon spread all over the archipelago as long as they had registration papers.

Of course, the Chinese availed of loopholes in the law, which account for discrepancies between the censuses and the actual number of landing certificates issued by the immigration authorities.

However, since for centuries most Chinese traders in the Philippines came from either Fujian (Hokkien/Amoy) or Guangdong (Canton), the southern Chinese coastal provinces, most of the Chinese “lan-lang” that came here largely spoke Amoy or Hokkien if not Cantonese.

This is so unlike Thailand or Singapore or even Indonesia, for example, where you find virtually a cacophony of Chinese languages and cultures not necessarily from Fujian or Guangdong only because they had no such exclusion or discriminatory laws.

During the first decade of the American colonial rule, who were the wealthiest Chinese merchants in Cebu? Let me name at least 10, most of whom were also the wealthiest at the end of the Spanish period: Lucio Herrera Uy Chijon, the honorary or vice-consul of the Qing Imperial government (and later the Republic government after 1912); Pedro Singson Go Tiaoco, Antonio Cosin Uy Tiaoco/Chaoco (Joaquin Castro); Diao Contino (Liao Liecco); Antonio Sy Joco; Tomas Liao Lamco; Mariano Isabelo Cang Suco; Benito Tan Unchuan; Lorenzo Logarta Quim Suy and Ramon Parrado Sy Yeng Chay. That they already carry Christian names indicate that they were already Christianized as compared to many more that didn’t.

Their names will suffice for now but in the upcoming book I provide more details about these merchants and who replaced them in the 1920s (if they did not survive) up to the early postwar.

Here are a few more trivia. When Sun Yat-Sen made a call to raise funds for the beleaguered southern provinces rebelling against Pres.

Yuan Shi-kai in 1913 after it became clear that he was no republican and was only interested in making himself king, did Cebu’s Chinese merchants respond? They answered with a resounding 26,500 pesos whereas Manila merchants, which were about eight times more in number than those of Cebu, raised just 24,000 pesos.

Liu Chien Hsiang, a wage earner in Cebu, even donated his entire savings of 1,000 pesos, a year’s salary at the time, a sacrifice commended by Dr. Sun Yat-sen in a letter he personally wrote to him.

Moreover, if you think Cebu’s Chinese community was not interested at all in what was going on with their home country, consider this: In 1913, the Republic of China awarded Lucio Herrera Uy Chijon and Uy Suy Cum with the Order Chia Ho (Golden Grain) for outstanding services they rendered in the establishment of the republic, at a time when the former was actually the honorary representative of the Imperial Qing government in Cebu.

This indicates that they must have led campaigns in Cebu against the Qing government at a time when spies were sent from China to punish the relatives back home of those who were involved in anti-Qing activities here.

There are many more that I would want to share here but space will no longer allow, it is but sufficient for the moment to tell you all that the history and legacy of the Chinese or “Insik” in Cebu is a very colorful one and writing about them has been a much rewarding exercise for me.

I shall, of course, announce in due time when the book, edited with an introduction by no less than Mayen Angbetic Tan, is out.

Happy Chinese New Year!

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TAGS: American, American-era, Cebu‬, Chinese, some, trivia

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