PAST FORWARD: Prominent Names in the 1904 Chinese Petition

By: Jobers Reynes Bersales February 11,2019 - 09:53 AM



For the Chinese, the Lunar New Year is a time not just to welcome the year ahead but also to revere one’s ancestry and even visit, I think on the third day, their tombs.

But I bet you many great grandchildren of the original teenage Chinese males who arrived in Cebu at the turn of the 20th century or even earlier, can no longer recognize nor recall who they were much less speak their original language, either Hokkien (Amoy) or Cantonese fluently.

In 1905, a petition against the Chinese Exclusion Act—passed originally by the U.S. Congress in 1894, and extended to her new colony, the Philippines—was signed by 276 merchants in Cebu. At this time, there were 1,171 Chinese citizens in the entire province of Cebu, with 818 of them living in the city, according to the1903 Census.

This document, a digital copy of which I obtained from the U.S. National Archives, gives us a picture of the number of ethnic Chinese who had already been doing business in the island by then. By signing their names, one can assume that these men must have attained some level of economic success enough for them to come out in the open to oppose what they perceived as an onerous law.

One is immediately struck by two family names that stand out: Go and Uy, with 37 names for the former and 31, the latter. The two names are followed by Tan (24) and Lim (21).

Perhaps the most prominent merchants on this list are Diao Contino, Cang Suco, Cang Bompit, Sy Joco and Uy Chaoco/Tiaoco and Francisco M. Yaptico. These men were already well-established traders even before the 1898 Tres de Abril revolt in Cebu. They are, however, joined by newcomers or second-generation Chinese merchants on the same list that include Yap Anton, Benito Tan Unchuan, Tan Unjo, Lim Bonfing, Go Occo, and Tomas Liao Lamco. Seemingly absent on the list is Pedro Singson Gotiaoco (or Go Bon Tio) and his son, Manuel Gotianuy. But a sibling who co-manages the Gotiaoco y Hermanos firm, Go Quiaoco, is present. Ah, but there is, intriguingly a Go Bon Chiu on this list and this may well be Gotiaoco himself.

Space will not allow me to delve in detail on all of these men but let me provide some glimpses on some of them, starting with Diao Contino.  He is perhaps the most senior on this list, owner of a well-established firm already advertising in the Hong Kong-based “Directory of China, Japan and the Philippines” by 1889. The Diao Contino firm dealt in the large-scale trading of rice, copra, sugar and hemp located at 27 Norte America Street (now D. Jakosalem St.). Its manager was Liao Seng Wan, also a signatory in the petition as did its bookkeeper, Go Tayco.

Cang Suco comes next whose firm at 40 Carmelo Street was also a large importer and exporter of rice, hemp, sugar, and copra. His son, Cang Bunpit (also known as Bonpit or Bompit), also a signatory in the petition, would partner with another petitioner, Tan Unjo, in different businesses a decade later.

The late-Spanish period trader Uy Chiaoco, who apparently took on the name Antonio Cosin Uy Chiaoco, founded a trading company called Antonio Cosin y Hermanos (also known by Chinese name Kin Sun Cheong Company) at 9 Norte America (today D. Jakosalem) Street. His son, Antonio Uy Chulay, took over the company a few years after the 1904 petition. Uy Chulay came to the Philippines as a 13-year-old in 1890 to join his father as a shopkeeper. Chulay changed the firm’s name to Joaquin Castro & Co. after he took over in the early 1900s. By 1914, the firm was listed as a large exporter of hemp, copra, and sugar while importing rice and flour. It also sold general merchandise from Hong Kong and China and was a commission and shipping agent for the steamship R. Melliza. Other than his bothers Uy Chuy and Uy Jingten, assisting him was his brother-in-law, Alfonso SyCip, son of Manila-based Chinese trader Jose Zarate SyCip and brother of Albino SyCip, who would later help establish China Banking Corporation in Manila.

While we know very little about Sy Joco, we know that his son Sy Jong Chuy was born in 1875 in Xiamen and came to Manila in 1888 at the age of 13. He worked for a time in Mindanao at a store owned by an unnamed uncle in Dapitan, Zamboanga before moving to Cebu three years later where he eventually became manager of his father’s firm, Sy Joco and Co. In 1918, Jong Chuy joined Manuel Gotianuy in the newly-established shipbuilding and ship repair firm Hoa Hin & Co., Inc. as manager and one of its principal stockholders, aside from owning shares in Leyte Navigation, and much later in Lim Tian Teng & Co., and the Ormoc Sugar Central in Ormoc, Leyte.

Strangely, although the Yaptico firm had its main office in Iloilo, its owner nevertheless signed the petition in Cebu where a branch was found on 44 F. Gonzales Street. Paulino Uy Dina headed the Cebu branch with Uy Golon as second manager; Tan Chuanco, cashier; Chuan Janchion, bookkeeper; and Lo Dioco, clerk.

Perhaps it is no wonder that, due to the provisions of the Chinese Exclusion Act, we often joke that there is no Chinatown in Cebu because Cebu is one big Chinatown already. The Chinese Exclusion Act had a far-reaching impact than was originally intended when it excluded poor Chinese laborers from entering the Philippines and limiting entry only to those who could do business or were already in business in the colony.

The result was the spread of Chinese mercantile traders all over the archipelago. Thus explains why one finds there is a tradition of rickshaw pullers in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore today, whose British or Dutch colonial masters did not pass laws to prevent Chinese migrant laborers from entering their shores.

Belated Chinese New Year’s Greetings to all Tsinoys!


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