Jose Rizal's Animosity Towards The Chinese
Rizal is one of those national heroes we like to know more about. In fact, we could say he was followed like a big-time celebrity today, but for a good reason. He was an important figure during our struggle for national independence back then. His works and books opened our eyes to the abuses of the Spanish colonizers, at the same time teaches us a lesson about our own shortcomings as Filipinos. Yes, he met a bitter end in the rifles of the firing squad, but his death was never seen as senseless.
But as much as we revere him as a hero, Rizal is just an everyday guy just like any of us. He had all the weaknesses of a normal youth. We knew that he gets drunk like any of us (remember that picture of his drunken friends), gets in a fight like any regular guy, and fall in love like the rest of us.
And you would be surprised that Rizal harbors a dislike towards the Chinese.
We knew how Rizal spoke against the Spanish and was not afraid to criticize the Catholic church. But Rizal also dislike the Chinese, up to a point where he refused to buy their products. In fact, we could say that he hated them more than the Spanish colonizers and the Catholic church.
Rizal’s Chinese Ancestry
José Protacio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda, or simply Jose P. Rizal has a well-known Chinese ancestry. Rizal’s family roots came from the Shang Guo village, or known as Jinjiang City in Fujian province in southern China today. His great-great grandfather was Domingo Lam-co, or Ke Yinan and he was a part of the Ke clan. In the mid-18th century, he settled in Laguna where he married a Chinese mestiza Ines de la Rosa. Being a professional merchant, he changed his name to Mercado, which means market.
Now, you are probably wondering how the Rizal name came to be. The name came when Francisco Mercado, Domingo Lam-co’s great grandson petitioned a name change. Governor-General Narciso Claveria back then sent out an order to use only family names from approved list. In short, you must have Spanish name for census purpose. Remember how Francisco Balagtas became Francisco Baltazar? Though they already got the Spanish Mercado name, they added “Rizal” to suit a farming business. The name Rizal was derived from the Spanish racial, meaning green pastures.
Again, it was clear that Rizal got Chinese blood, which he inherited from his paternal great-great grandfather. But that does not stop him from expressing his dislike on the Chinese, as was expressed in his works, or even noted by his peers.
Rizal's Expressions of Dislikes
And Rizal never shied away from telling everyone how he disliked the Chinese.
He wrote to his mother Teodora Alonzo in October 22, 1895 that he would never buy anything from the Chinese again, even though he was running out of dishes and tumblers. Rizal’s books Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo are known for criticizing Spanish colonial rule and the Catholic church. But it also contained some snide remarks about the Chinese.
Remember that cemetery scene in Noli Me Tangere? Crisostomo Ibarra was angered when he learned that his father was exhumed and transferred to a Chinese cemetery. And the gravedigger even mentioned that it is better to drown than be buried with the Chinese.
And who could forget his character Quiroga in El Filibusterismo? Quiroga was portrayed as a successful Chinese merchant, who owns several businesses in Manila. But Rizal used the character to warn his countryman of the dangers of bringing in crafty Chinese businessman. Rizal described how these businessmen will bribe their way with gifts to gain favor from influential people, and how they will raise the price of their goods to gain back what they lost from such gifts. And during the feast he held, Quiroga was shown with an artificial manner. He encircled the guests and giving handshakes while showing distrust. In one case, he will give a shrewd look as if saying that they only came here for the food and not for him. In short, he only threw a party to make a name for himself among influential people. His treatment of his Indio wife (being locked away, a reference to how Chinese traditionally treated their wives) was not flattering either
Later, we will know where Quiroga’s character came from, but up to the end Rizal tried to deny his Chinese heritage when he refused to sign a document prior to his execution in 1896. He was referenced in the document as a “Chinese Mestizo”, though Rizal always claimed that he was a pure Filipino.
Some Reasons Why He Hated Them
For a man who fought for equality, one might wonder why Rizal harbored such as a dislike for them. Firstly, there is the fact that Chinese businessmen back then tend to exploit the locals. Austrian scholar Ferdinand Blumintritt once described how Rizal tried to empower local traders against the Chinese in his exile in Dapitan, so they may be less exploited. And going back to his character Quiroga, the fictional Chinese businessman was based on a real-life figure going by the name Carlos Palanca. Historically, Palanca was a wealthy tycoon and a gobernadorcillo of Binondo, but also involved in other shady businesses like drugs and gambling. And among Spanish and Filipinos, he was viewed as shrewd and power hungry, willing to resort to any means to get what he wants.
Hence Rizal might have viewed the Chinese as exploitative traders based on how he knew Carlos Palanca and the rest.
Yet Rizal’s dislike was also shaped by his education, his class and racial attitude of that time. As Dr. Caroline Hau of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University pointed out. Being anti-Chinese is common and may have influenced Rizal’s treatment on them.
So, is that means Rizal was being racist? Not exactly as what Ms. Teresita Ang-See (expert on Philippine-Chinese studies) suggested.
Rizal the Ilustrado
Like his peers the Luna brothers, Del Pillar and many others, Rizal was an Ilustrado (the enlightened ones). They were the educated classes in the Philippines, the young intellectuals of the period. As what Ang-See explained, the Ilustrados were developing a national identity of that time. They are no longer the people from various provinces but now as a Filipino coming from one nation. And as Ang-See mentioned, "Rizal's spurning the Chinese should be seen in that context.” Rizal wanted to be a full Filipino, not a Filipino-Chinese.
Then there was his nationalism
Going back to his actions in Dapitan against the Chinese businessman, his nationalism could be a driving point to rally the locals against what he perceived as exploitations by the Chinese.
Anti-foreign sentiments at that time also ran high, and the Chinese were caught in the hostilities.
And lastly, since the Chinese were lower-class workers, Rizal’s treatment of them were more as a class treatment rather than racism.
Yes, Rizal was not so fond of the Chinese. In fact, there are stronger chances that he will rather accept Spanish colonization if the natives are treated more equally, or even convert back to the Catholicism than to do businesses with one. Yet his dislike, as people suggest was not based on racism, but more on several factors influencing his views on them.
Social classes could have affected his relationship with the Chinese. Then there is his nationalism brought by his education that led to anti-foreign sentiments that added to his animosity.
But the Chinese businessmen, with their shrewd business models and their tendencies to exploit the natives also helped much to paint a negative image for Rizal. In fact, we could say that Rizal’s views on the Chinese back then are the same how modern Filipinos see the Communist China, when they occupied the West Philippine Sea.
1. Ang, Alfonso.(14-18 February 2005) "Rizal's Chinese Overcoat."
2. Figueroa, Carlo (17 June 2012). "National Hero not a Fan of China". VERA FIles.