The world’s biggest Rizal Park is located in China
- Wilson Lee Flores () - February 2, 2003 - 12:00am
QUANZHOU CITY, FUJIAN PROVINCE, China – What was a high-level and diverse 60-member Philippine delegation doing in this rural province of south China two weeks before the Chinese Lunar New Year? Were they retracing the footsteps of Italian traveler Marco Polo, or following the examples of an ancient Sultan of Sulu or the Jesuit leader St. Francis Xavier and his disciples? Why did the nationalistic leaders of China allow the unprecedented and unique construction of the world’s biggest Rizal Park outside the Philippines in their sovereign land, a rare honor for a foreign citizen?

On January 23, a Philippine delegation representing diverse sectors visited the ancestral roots of national hero Dr. Jose Rizal in Siongque Village, which is located in the Loshan District of Jinjiang City, and helped strengthen the ancient friendship between the Philippines and China. The delegation held a wreath-laying ceremony in the new five-hectare Rizal Park in front of the 18.61-meter-high Rizal monument in the morning of January 23 to officially celebrate this new symbol of Philippine-China friendship and historic ties. The delegation also visited Siongque (also called "Zhang-guo" in Mandarin), to burn joss sticks inside the ancestral home of immigrant Don Domingo Lamco, whose direct male descendant was Dr. Jose Rizal and the Mercado-Rizal clan of Laguna. It was a coincidence that leading the Rizal clan members was Tarlac City Mayor Genaro Mendoza, for the immigrant Lamco’s son Francisco Mercado and grandson Juan Mercado became Mayors of Biñan, Laguna.

Incidentally, the Philippine STAR was the first media outfit to publicly suggest that a Rizal monument should be built in the land of the hero’s ancestral roots, when this writer wrote the April 12, 1999 article "Seven Reasons Why China should build a Rizal Monument." This essay was the result of the two-year efforts (1998 to 1999) of a group of amateur history enthusiasts who helped verify the Philippine and south China genealogical records of Dr. Jose Rizal. They also helped Rizal clan members to retrace their roots and assiduously lobbied for China to allow the construction of a Rizal Park that honors both the national hero and Philippine history. This group is led by philanthropist Manuel Chua of Tulay Foundation, Chinese Commercial News columnist Melanio Cua Fernando and his publisher Rizal Yuyitung (that the latter’s first name is the same as the national hero’s is an amazing coincidence) and this writer.
The Once Sleepy And Agricultural ‘Barrio’ Of Siongque
This village had been literally "invaded" at least three times by important Philippine delegations who had arrived to pay their respects and retrace the roots of Rizal. The first time was in the summer of 1999 with an initial batch of five Rizal clan members and 200 Cua-Chua clan members from all over Asia invited by the Tulay Foundation. The second was on May 19, 2000 with then President Joseph Estrada, government officials and the country’s top business leaders heading a convoy of 100 limousines and tourist buses for the groundbreaking ceremony of the park. And the most recent was two weeks ago with a delegate led by Speaker Joe de Venecia and his wife Gina to celebrate the completion of the Rizal Park.

Since the 1998 efforts to verify Philippine and south China records, and to drum up interest in the national hero’s ancestral roots, Siongque Village has never been the same. The local government has since cemented many of the village roads, beautified the whole environment and rushed the completion of numerous infrastructure projects in the nearby region as part of the overall economic development plans.

This once farming village now has limitless potentials as an important tourist destination and cultural place. The purchase of lands and construction cost for the five-hectare park and the Rizal monument (made from the famous Jinjiang rocks) reached P84 million. The local city government of Jinjiang (also known as "Chingkang") spent P70 million, the Filipino-Chinese community donated P7 million, and Philippine Airlines (PAL) chairman Lucio C. Tan donated P7 million. The next construction project here is a grand Rizal Museum.

At the park, the delegation marveled at the Rizal monument, which measures 18.61 meters high to commemorate the hero’s 1861 year of birth. Speaker Joe de Venecia told Congressman Roque Ablan Jr. and Tulay Foundation, Inc. chairman Manuel Chua: "I didn’t expect this place to be so huge and modern. I had expected a smaller rural place similar to Rizal’s hometown of Calamba in Laguna. This impressive Rizal Park is a source of pride for the Philippines and China, and a fitting symbol of the 1,000-year-old friendship between our two nations. This project will definitely secure the place of our national hero Dr. Jose Rizal as one of the foremost heroes of all Asia."

Apart from Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., his wife Gina Vera-Perez de Venecia, who heads the Congressional Spouses Foundation, others in the 60-member delegation included National Historical Institute (NHI) chairman Lamberto "Ambeth" Ocampo, Consul General Corazon Bajin (whose native Sulu province has the distinction of having an ancient Sultan honored with a mausoleum and temple in the Shantung province of China, done by his friend, the Ming Dynasty emperor), 10 Rizal clan members led by Tarlac City Mayor Genaro Mendoza and his mother Natividad Malvar Mendoza (making her family the descendants of both Rizal and revolutionary General Miguel Malvar), Knights of Rizal officials led by Rogelio Quiambao, Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII) officials led by vice president Francis Chua, Tulay Foundation chairman and event coordinator Manuel Chua and his son Dorian, Tarlac Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce officials led by Cindy’s hamburger chain founder Benigno Chua, Siongque Village Association of the Philippines officials led by real estate entrepreneur Willy Cua, and others.
Churches, Heroes, SM, Bench, Penshoppe In Xiamen, Quanzhou, Jinjiang
For three days, the Philippine delegation explored the fascinating sights, culinary delights and cultural centers of three progressive cities in the southern part of the rugged Fujian province – Xiamen (once spelled "Amoy" by the British), Quanzhou (pronounced as "Chuanchow") and Jinjiang (also known as "Chingkang" in the local Hokkien or south Fujian dialect). The 12-course Chinese banquets were sublime, highlighting the cuisine as an expression of the local governments’ hospitality. In Jinjiang City, the group toured the new nature park, Century Park, which covers 25 hectares of land and has the most breathtaking sceneries and man-made waterfalls. Quanzhou City was once the starting point of the Maritime Silk Road, the final port visited by Marco Polo on his way home to Europe. In Quanzhou City’s ancient Kai-Yuan Buddhist Temple, the Philippine delegation saw its famed East-West twin pagodas and the world’s oldest living mulberry tree.

These three places represented the heartland of Min or south Fujian, the ancestral land of numerous people all over Southeast Asia. The vast majority of Taiwanese people trace their roots to south Fujian. In fact, their Taiwanese dialect is similar with the Hokkien dialect widely spoken in Manila, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and south Fujian.

Incidentally, several tycoons told us to clarify that the popular Lunar New Year greeting of Kung Hei Fat Choy, used by many Philippine ad agencies, is from the Cantonese dialect of Hong Kong, which is not widely used in the Philippines. The Hokkien greeting is Kiong Hi Huat Chay; in Mandarin, it’s Gong His Fa Chai.

The starting point and final stop of our journey to south Fujian was the beautiful seaside Xiamen City, which is famous for its economic vitality, pleasant climate, and the unique Gulangyu isle (where historian Ambeth Ocampo was impressed by its museum of 200 antique pianos, one of which he coveted to buy). The Nanputuo Buddhist Temple is not only well-known as a pilgrimage site and repository of history, but as a gourmet’s haven, thanks to its famous vegetarian restaurant which serves the most delicious dishes with exotic names like "Half Moon Sinking Down the River," "Treasures Hidden in Scented Clay," "Golden Lotus in the South Sea" or "Two Mushrooms Competing for Beauty."

Xiamen also has Catholic churches and the oldest Protestant church called "Xinjie Church," formed in 1843 during the Opium War of the Western imperialists who forced open Xiamen to foreign trade. However, the Philippine delegation seemed more interested in visiting the city’s newest temple to capitalism built by Fujian immigrant and "rags-to-riches" taipan Henry Sy – the massive SM City shopping mall where successful tenants include Philippine stores such as Bench and Penshoppe, alongside America’s giant Walmart and other foreign brands. Local officials say that taipan John Gokongwei Jr. also plans to develop a major property across Malaysian taipan Robert Kuok’s Shangri-La Hotel project. The Philippine delegation also toured Filipino-Chinese tycoon Joseph Lim’s Amoysonic Electronics, which has grown since its humble beginnings in 1981 to an industrial complex of 40 hectares with multi-billion peso sales of cell phones. His wife is Philippine business leader Elena Sen Lim of Solid Group.

Two of the most famous heroes of Xiamen are remembered not only in south Fujian, but throughout Asia: the world’s pre-war "Rubber King" Tan Kah-Kee of Singapore who donated the bulk of his wealth to build the Xiamen University, the Jimei Schools and Overseas Chinese Museum, and legendary warrior General Zheng Cheng-Gong (also called "Koxinga" by the Europeans) who in 1662 defeated the Dutch colonizers in Taiwan with his fleet of 25,000 men. Ambeth Ocampo said the Spanish colonizers in the Philippines feared Zheng Cheng-Gong and were relieved that he died young at age 38, allegedly of poisoning. For years, every ship entering the majestic Xiamen Harbor was greeted by the sight of a gigantic and inspiring statue of General Zheng Cheng-Gong, who is today admired all over Asia even in Japan.

Today, the Philippines feels proud to have her son and national hero Dr. Jose Rizal welcomed in Fujian province – as its own son and as a universal hero for all of Asia.
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Thank you very much for your interesting messages. Please continue to send comments or suggestions to Wilson_lee_flores@yahoo.com or Wilson_lee_flores@hotmail.com or P.O. Box 14277, Ortigas Center, Pasig City, Metro Manila.

CHINA CITY DELEGATION DR. JOSE RIZAL FUJIAN PARK PHILIPPINE RIZAL RIZAL PARK SOUTH
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