Freeman Cebu Lifestyle

The Chinese Heritage in Cebu

Carlo Rivera - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines - There's no question about the big influence of the Chinese in the Filipino way of life. Many of the present Filipino practices and beliefs can be traced to the Chinese. And the Chinese are very much around in Philippine society now than ever before.

Cited in the website www.quizlet.com are the use of blouses and loose trousers, respect for elders, parental agreement or arrangement for children's marriage, use of white clothing for mourning, use of fireworks during celebrations and close family ties as among the common examples of customs and traits from the Chinese.

The Filipino cuisine is also heavily laced with Chinese flavor, so to speak, both in ingredients and in ways of cooking. The use of the wok has been introduced, and so have siopao, pancit and siomai. Chinese soups have also become hot favorites.

Yet perhaps the biggest Chinese contribution to the Filipino way of life is in trade and commerce. In Cebu, for example, the mark of the Chinese is everywhere. The Cebu Chinese community is even credited for the rise of the once farming and fishing village to become the "Queen City of the South."

In a previous article in The Freeman, Althea Maye Ragpala pointed out that the city itself, established in 1594, was one big Chinatown. Aside from the Chinese being among the biggest traders in Cebu, they have contributed so much not only in the economic growth but also in the city's culture and heritage, dating back to the time long before the Spanish occupation.                                                       

According to Ragpala, before Ferdinand Magellan arrived in Cebu, the Chinese have already been trading with the Cebuanos. The Cebuanos traded products such as cotton, gold, pearl, coconut, abaca, tortoise shell, beeswax, and betel nut, among many others. The Chinese brought silk, porcelain, copper, iron, needle, plow, glass mirror, assorted glass beads, and uta cloth.

Chinese vessels carrying wares and goods would drop anchor at the main port area, and then penetrate the city using small boats, or "cascos," in navigating the Parian Creek. The mode of trade at the time was barter, simply an exchange of goods or services. Money was not yet in circulation at that time.

During the Spanish rule, Ragpala stated, when Cebu participated in the galleon trade, the city's Parian district became the first Chinese settlement in Cebu. Around 1590, the Chinese put up stores in the area, mostly at the ground floor of their two-storey residences. Moneyed and socially active, the Chinese - many of whom had intermarried with the Spaniards - soon had their own parish church established in Parian.

There is popular contention that the reason why Miguel Lopez de Legazpi built the city's Colon Street close and parallel to Parian Creek was to establish a trading district that allowed for the easy ingress and egress of goods. To this day, despite the emergence of giant shopping malls in other city districts, Colon is still a bustling business destination, where the best bargains can be found.

As the city grew, Chinese businesses spread to the other areas, particularly around the Ermita-Lutao district, near where the present Carbon Public Market is located. Remnants of these businesses still stand today. One example is the Gotiaoco Building across the Cebu City Hall. The building is currently being transformed into the Cebu Chinese Heritage Museum, to contain other mementos of the Chinese role in the building of the city. (FREEMAN)

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