Chinese and Japanese Revolts Against the Spaniards in the Philippines during the 17th century


Chinese Settlers
Chinese vendor serving noodles to the Filipinos Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons



Many foreign powers threatened the Spanish colony during the early years of settlement, mainly the Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, and Japanese. The Spaniards successfully resisted Portuguese efforts to drive them from Cebu. Later the Spanish King annexed Portugal to Spain, closing Portuguese ports to the Dutch traders, who then sought new trading centers in the East Indies. Soon the Dutch were plundering Spanish vessels in the Philippines. In the first half of the 17th century, repeated Dutch attacks were made on Manila, but all were successfully dealt with by the Spaniards with the help of Filipino warriors.

The Spanish colonization of the Philippines required more skilled laborers and they recruited Chinese immigrants. The Chinese community was vital to the welfare of Manila, as the city surrounding Intramuros came to be known. The economy became highly dependent upon the Chinese for their economic role as traders and artisans. However, the Chinese posed an internal threat to Spanish administration. The government had already assigned all Chinese to live in a separate compound called Parian, a particular district in Manila outside Intramuros.

The Spanish encouraged those China traders to convert to Catholicism. Many of the Chinese men married native women, and over time the multi-cultural mestizo de sangley caste developed. Although the colonial government never required them to adopt Spanish surnames, in many cases they chose to change their Chinese names.

The Spanish were worried by the economic success of the Chinese. The government began to levy heavy taxes on them, and treated them very harshly. They were often subjected to strict sanctions and seasonal purges by the colonists who feared their numbers and skills.

The seemingly endless patience of the Chinese finally broke in 1603. A trader revolt took place right after a visit to Manila by three official Mandarin Chinese representatives who arrived in a large fleet of ships. They said they were searching for “a mountain of gold”. This claim prompted the Spanish to conclude that there was an imminent invasion from China in the making. At the time the local mixed Arab and Iranian descended traders from China who the Spaniards called Sangley or Chinese because of their long residence from China outnumbered the Spaniards by twenty to one, and Spanish authorities feared that they would join the expected invading forces.

The revolt was led by Joan Bautista de Vera, a wealthy Catholic Sangley who was highly esteemed by the Spaniards and feared and respected by the Sangley. During preparations, he had continued to mingle with the Spanish and posed as their confidant. He carried out a census to ascertain the number of men of his race. When he found that there were enough Chinese men to carry out the revolt, he gave orders to construct a fort and quarters at a hidden location in Tondo, where rice, provisions, and weapons were stored. The Sangley began to gather there, planning the insurrection for November 30, St. Andrew’s Day, but when they realized that their intentions had been discovered, decided to take action before that day. On the eve of St. Francis Day, October.4, two thousand Sangleys met in the quarters. Joan Bautista de Vera told the governor that the Sangleys were meeting on the opposite side of the river. Suspicious, the governor had Bautista de Vera arrested and carefully guarded. He was later executed for his part in the revolt.

The Chinese inhabitants of Manila burned buildings and attacked inhabitants of Quiapo and Tondo districts of Manila. The Spanish again with loyal Filipino troops, quelled the uprising. At least 30,000 Chinese merchants were killed and in Luzon, Chinese officials and civilians were killed without authority by what The Ming Shi-lu describes as the barbarian Spanish chieftain of Luzon during that time. This atrocity is known in Chinese history as the Luzon Tragedy.

By 1639 the Chinese population had grown to 28,000. Another revolt took place in 1639 but was repressed by joint Spanish, native and Japanese forces led by the young interim Governor-General, Luis Pérez Dasmariñas.

In 1662, the Chinese pirate Cheng Ch’eng-kung (Koxinga) attacked several towns on Luzon’s coast and demanded tribute from the colonial government, threatening to attack Manila if his demands were not met. The Spanish refused to pay the tribute and fearing an invasion of the Chinese, the garrisons around Manila were reinforced. Although he never invaded and most of the Manila Chinese distanced themselves from the attacks and demands by Koxinga, his actions provoked an increasing anti-Chinese sentiment within much of the population. Hordes of Filipinos massacred hundreds of Chinese in the Manila area.

The Japanese, who formed quite a large but scattered colonies in Manila, and in the provinces of Bulacan, La Union, and Cagayan, also revolted, aiding the small bands of Filipino rebels, but all uprisings were put down by combined Spanish and pro-Spanish Filipino forces.


The Philippines by John Cockcroft

Inside Guide Philippines – Discovery Channel




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