Chinese heritage of Iloilo City and the Philippines. Anyone interested in this subject should rush to obtain a copy of Edgar Wickberg’s most enjoyable “The Chinese in Philippine Life 1850-1898”. This is the classic, a highly readable, well foot-noted standard work originally published by Yale University Press, which fortunately has been reprinted by the Ateneo de Manila Press. If you live in the Philippines they’ll ship it to you. You may also buy it from Amazon using this link Chinese in Philippine Life, 1850-1898
Chinese settlement in the Philippines almost always followed Spanish settlements. In the vicinity of their settlements, the Spanish provided the Chinese with commercial opportunities and some level of security of person and property. The Chinese were generally not interested in agriculture and that was the predominant enterprise of the provinces, except near the Spanish settlements. Accordingly, the vast majority of Chinese settled in Manila. Until 1850 the Spanish restricted Chinese enterprises in the provinces.
The Church generally opposed Chinese immigration to the provinces because the friars feared the Chinese would interfere with their mission to the “indios” or take advantage of their charges. However these restrictions did not apply to Catholic mestizos. In the early years, almost all Chinese immigrants to the Philippines were men. Typically they married local “indio” women and became Catholics. Even if the husband did not become a Catholic, his children under the supervision of the Catholic indio wife certainly would. There were strong commercial incentives to convert. Chinese Catholic mestizos were free to travel and live where they pleased. In some communities they prospered. In the Visayas, Cebu and Molo, Iloilo developed a highly successful mestizo elite. Generally the mestizos were loyal Catholics and supporters of Spanish rule. They were also major contributors to the Church.
Iloilo began its period of real prosperity when in 1855-60 the Spanish allowed foreign ships to call at ports other than Manila. Formerly, foreign ships were limited to Manila. As residency and trade restrictions on the Chinese were relaxed, Chinese immigrants began to compete with and displace the mestizo elite of Molo who previously controlled imports and exports from Panay Island. Many of the mestizo elite of Iloilo refocused their energies toward the establishment of sugar plantations on Negros and became fabulously wealthy in doing so.
One curious indicator of Chinese presence in Iloilo is that in 1890s Iloilo had 100 government authorized opium dens. Forty-four of the dens were public. The remaining 66 dens were the private dens of well-to-do Chinese who did not wish to visit public dens. Only the Chinese were allowed to use opium. Opium growing and use was authorized by the Spanish authorities and administered as a revenue-raising government monopoly, much as the British did in China. Opium use was barred when the United States occupied the Philippines.
Below are a few snapshots of Chinese cuture in present day Iloilo. They remind us of the role the Chinese played and continue to play in the life of the city.
For more on the Iloilo Chinese Temple see /chinese-taoist-temple-iloilo-city/