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Xavier University- Ateneo de Cagayan

The Chinese Displacement in Philippines

A partial fulfillment of the requirement for

English 309: Afro- Asian Literature

Master of Arts in Education
Teaching Communication Arts in English

April 2015

In the Philippine history, various countries colonized the country. From Spaniards
to the Japanese colony, varying languages could be heard specifically in Manila. There
were Spanish, American, Japanese, and Tagalog. Aside from those countries
mentioned, the Chinese settled in the Philippines not for colonization but migration
because they wanted to seek better opportunities.
Charlson Ongs Banyaga: A Song of War describes the life of poor Chinese
migrants in the Philippines. The novel started with five Chinese boys, ages 8-11 years
old, who have sworn brotherhood on a Chinese ship going to Manila for various reasons
such as meeting a parent, helping their uncle in business ventures and being sold to
someone. As the story progresses, the boys tried to fit in to the people and the country.
Due to being strangers, the lives of these boys show the marginalization by the Filipino
people to the Chinese in the Philippines by labeling them as people
Even the Chinese lived in the Philippines since the twelfth century, Filipinos still
tend to think of the Chinese as aliens and as Ong call them, the banyaga. Banyaga is a
foreigner, alien or stranger that is illustrated by the boys in the novel that they are
outcasts of the land that theyre living in. These boys wanted to get out of the margins
and enter the mainstream society by participating in the economic and political matters
of the country. However, the Chinese host society still treat them as outsiders not just
because of their appearance, interest of trade and commerce but also because of their
culture and language.

During the colonization of the Spaniards in the Philippines, the Chinese citizens
who are living in the country were proclaimed aliens by the Spanish governors and were
questioned to severe taxation and massacres. While in the rule of the Americans, they
either call the people as Filipino or non-Filipino alien. When the nationalism of the
Philippines developed during the 1940s, it resulted to xenophobia or being fearful to the
foreigners and in this case, the Chinese (Tan 3). The Chinese have been branded as
outcasts of the country since then.
Because of the historical facts mentioned that the Chinese are considered
foreign, alien, outcast or stranger, theyve been treated as low individuals that made
them part of the margins in the society no matter how they participate in the normal lives
of the people and the country.

The Chinese Presence- Absence during the Philippine Colonization

When the Spaniards arrived in the Philippines, there were 150 Chinese settled in
the country because of the relationship between Luzon and the Ming dynasty. During
the Spanish regime, the Chinese are considered aliens by law. However, there were still
a number of Chinese who converted to Catholicism. Also, the protagonists of the novel
were baptized to Christianity. Some Chinese migrants before even married to
indigenous Filipinas because there were only a few of the Chinese women who
migrated in the country. During this time, the Chinese were known as traders,
landowners and moneylenders. Later on, as the American colonization came by, the
time period when Ongs novel started, there is already a settlement of 40, 000 Chinese
in the country. Even the Americans branded the Chinese as non-Filipino aliens. While

the Chinese still call themselves as Chinese. When the Chinese Exclusion Act was
approved in America, it was also put into effect in the Philippines. However, some
Chinese still settled in the Philippines with the help of the Filipino-Chinese in the
country. When the Qing dynasty began to fall due to war in 1895, a massive amount of
Chinese citizens went to the Philippines to avoid poverty. As the Philippines had
nationalism, the Filipinos became very fearful to the foreigners, thus, created the AntiChinese law (Tan 4). By then, the Chinese built a Chinese community for them to be in
their own and they do not have to deal with others During the Japanese occupation in
the Philippines, Chinese soldiers and guerillas joined in the war against the Japanese.
After the war, there is a new- found unity between the Chinese migrants and indigenous
Filipinos just because of their common enemy, the Japanese. By then, the FilipinoChinese community started to view the Philippines as their home.
Chinese Marginalization
Marginalization has always been present of todays society especially in the
developing countries. The short story, Karma by Khushwant Singh who came from India
illustrates the placement of one nationality in the margins of the society. The similarity
between the Chinese and Indians is related with each other for both nationalities are
victims of being inferior due to colonization. The protagonist of the story believes that
the Westerners ways are higher than those of the natives even though he is an Indian
himself. In spite of the fact that his wife symbolizes the traditional ways of their nation,
the protagonist showed disgust in his ways to her for being uncivilized just like him. This
act by the protagonist who embodies an Englishmans practices places his wifes native
ways in the margins or an inferior one.

The Chinese in the Philippines have been part of the margins since the Spanish
rule. Chu and Wickberg (24-25) cited possible reasons why the Chinese are
marginalized. First is the economic dominance of the Chinese. The Filipino common
perception of them is that they are rich businessmen because of their cheap labor and
business enterprises. Even one of the characters of the novel is a business tycoon. Two
of the characters started with business when they arrived in the country. One of them
began from selling scraps until he became an owner of the mall. The Chinese could be
believed as a threat of the society because of their skill in business which is only rare for
the Filipinos. Second is the difference of the Chinese to the mainstream society in
terms of racial and cultural aspects. In the novel, Banyaga, during All Saints day, Lan
Ping and the remaining four boys offered a dumpling to the grave site of Siu Lan which
is still a sign of reverence based from their belief that the dead may have a continued
existence and may have the ability to influence the fortune of the living (Tand-Duffy 16).
This practice is different from the ways of the Filipinos in which food offering to the dead
is not present. Additionally, the reason why Ong used the word banyaga instead of
dayuhan which also means stranger and foreign is because banyaga doesnt point out
the foreignness of a person but also a foreign thing, culture, language, appearance and
etc while dayuhan is only meant for a foreign person. Therefore, the title itself
immediately attacks the foreign nature of the Chinese in the Philippines in terms of their
practices, beliefs and appearance. Third reason is their linkage to two nations: China
and Philippines, making them suspect for political allegiance. A character of the novel
participated in the political matters of the country and has a good position in it. Lastly,
their cross-border practice such as migration disregards the fixed group identity of the

natives in the land. As Tan (4) pointed out, the native people in the Philippines are
strongly against the foreigners before the Japanese Occupation since the natives are
the ones who resisted the influence of its colonizers and they dislike to be mixed with
another blood. It might not be the will of the Chinese to migrate to other countries but
they need it for them to have better opportunities in their lives. In addition, Chan
gathered a data about the Chinese migration that almost a third of the people travel
from the borders of their own country, moving away from their home and villages just to
find work. When Mao Zedong or Mao Tse- tsung died in 1976, who was the communist
leader of the country and made the country the most powerful in the world, it resulted to
the countrys poverty. While the people, having no means to find work in the country,
need to look for work to other countries. Even in Edwin Thumboos Ulysses by the
Merlion, gave an idea that people travel from to time to search for a center but still kept
some memory of their race. The literary piece depicted the authors character for he
travels from one country to another just to look for his destination, a place where he
belongs. The Chinese in the Philippines might have the similar reason as Thumboo in
which they wanted to look for a place where they could have better opportunities for
their families and a place that they could call their second home.
Seeking for National Identity
Because of marginalization, the sworn brothers did some ways just for them to
be part of the mainstream society or the normal lives of the Filipino and ways to be
noticed to achieve national identity. Just like changing their names to Hispanized names
such as Ah Puy was later named Hilario Ong; Ah Beng became Antonio Limpoco; Ah
Sun became Samuel Lee; and Ah Tin became Fernando de Lolariaga.

By the time that the boys arrived in Manila, they either live with their family or
adoptive parents. Ah Beng (Antonio Limpoco) started with his father who neglects him
but still, gave him shelter to stay, became the inheritor of his fathers store, expands the
store and opens more stores which became a mall. Ah Puy (Hilario Ong) together with
Ah Kaw (who was later on died in an accident), were first sold to a Chinese candlemaker and Ah Puy was later on adopted by a junk trader. Ah Puy left his adoptive
parents and went into a trading business. Ah Sun (Samuel Lee) lived and worked with
his uncle, became the inheritor of his uncles dye- making business, expanded it to
textile manufacturing and shifted to import- export business. And Ah Tin (Fernando de
Loliaraga) was brought as a houseboy to a Spanish couple and was later on adopted,
became a successful painter but deserted it along the way, went into politics and was
elected as congressman. The boys were from poor Chinese migrants to successful
citizens of the country. They somehow managed to help the country and at the same
time, engage in the mainstream society. Sometimes, for a person to be accepted,
he/she must also accept them.
Through the years, as Gonzales (9-10) pointed out, the Filipino-Chinese citizens
have managed to be included in the mainstream society. Some of them are still wellknown in the economy, trade and business. Some are even into politics while some of
them are engaged in showbiz industry. In the current time, the Filipino- Chinese citizens
are already accepted in the Filipino community. Yes, there might be some gossips
regarding their appearance, language and culture since those will never be scraped off
from them. They are not only Chinese and most definitely not a Filipino. They are proud

to call themselves Filipino- Chinese or in the modern times, Tsinoy. But it is good
enough that they are no longer part of marginalization.
Because of the death of the Chinese leader, Mao Tse-tsung, it resulted to the
Chinese migration to Asian countries and some settled in the Philippines. This is to seek
better opportunities or work for them not to suffer poverty and famine in their country.
Even if they had to cross the boarders of the country, they need to, for the sake of their
The Chinese migration and settlement in the Philippines granted them business
works but that was not the only thing that they gained from the country. When the
Spaniards colonized the Philippines during 1521, the Chinese citizens were branded as
aliens by the government of Spain. While during the American regime in 1898, the
Chinese migrants are called non- Filipino Aliens and Chinese Exclusion Act was put
into effect. The Filipino people, who were under the ruling of its colonizers, need to obey
the rules. When Philippines achieved nationalism during 1940s, its people became
fearful of the foreigners. Thus, it resulted to the effect of the Anti- Chinese Law. But still,
the Chinese still lived in the country. This, however, including the colonization times,
created Chinese marginalization. But all of this somehow, had a twist, because during
the Japanese Occupation in 1942, the Chinese joined in the military and the guerilla
movement to fight alongside with the Filipinos the Japanese colonizers. This created
unity by the Chinese and Filipino.

Moreover, Banyaga as a title is quite appropriate for the story because those
Chinese boys as migrants never had the sense of belongingness in the country just
because of being foreign, alien, stranger or outsider. And the word, banyaga, doesnt
only refer to the people but as well as their language, culture and appearance that are
also some of the reasons why theyre part of the margins in the Philippine society. Also,
the Chinese migrants still think of Philippines as foreign and strange since that is the
first time that they step foot on. Just as mentioned in the first chapter of the novel in
which one of the sworn brothers called Philippines as a strange land.
Since the boys grew up in Philippines, by and by, they were able to belong in the
country. Not just because of being baptized into Christianity and changing their names
to Hispanized names but also, because of their help in the country. They became
successful businessmen and politician which made them beneficial for the growing
economy of the Philippine society.

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(2014, December).
Thumboo, Edwin. Ulysses by the Merlion. Singapore.
Gonzales, G. . The Chinese Filipino as Alien and Citizen (p. 58). Southeast
Asian Studies UC Riverside. (2013)
Ong, Charlson. Banyaga. Philippines
Singh, Khushwant. Karma. India.
The Impact of Chinese Migration. (2012, February 25). Retrieved from Accident
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