Maritime trade between the Chinese and the Filipino natives had existed long before the archipelago was a nation. But it wasn’t until during the later years of Spanish colonization in the Philippines that the Chinese began migrating to the country in larger numbers. Unfortunately, the Spanish authorities were wary of them as business competitors and implemented strict policies to control them.
These policies include segregation, expulsion and conversion. Before the 1850s most Chinese migrants were only allowed to work in the provinces and were limited to agricultural businesses.
In order to defend themselves, the Chinese learned to adapt to hispanized Philippine culture and developed business strategies, some of which are still existent today.
One of these strategies is conversion. In order for the Chinese to gain favor from the Spanish authorities and have access to freer trade most of them converted to Catholicism. Those who became Catholics gained higher social status and were segregated from non-converts.
Having been converted the Chinese migrants was given Catholic names, but most of them still used their Chinese names when doing business. This technique allowed them to evade tax and debt collectors. They were known to switch between their Chinese name and hispanized name whenever it benefitted them.
After the end of the Galleon Trade the Philippines opened itself to world trade, resulting to agricultural development with the investments in cash crops. The Chinese merchants had easier access to the provinces and it made them formidable competition. The Chinese were involved in sugar, tobacco, abaca and other miscellaneous industries such as distillery which increased Chinese economic share between 1850 and 1898.
The Chinese strategy was to act as a middleman between the foreign businessmen and the local merchants. This way they didn’t need large capitals and had lesser risk of losing money.
This economic development had led to the immigration of kin. The families of successful Chinese merchants migrated to the Philippines and this resulted to the expansion of Filipino-Chinese settlements. The downfall of the Spanish colonizers and the arrival of new migrants paved the way to Chinese marriages being an exclusive affair from within their communities.
The tradition was known as a way to preserve family wealth and form business connections. This practice is still prevalent in Philippine society.
The resilience of the Chinese diasporic communities is truly outstanding and had led to their contribution in the economic development of the Philippines through the years.