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Ambition and Identity

Chinese Merchant Elites in Colonial Manila, 1880–1916

Andrew Wilson

Publication Year: 2004

What binds overseas Chinese communities together? Traditionally scholars have stressed the interplay of external factors (discrimination, local hostility) and internal forces (shared language, native-place ties, family) to account for the cohesion and "Chineseness" of these overseas groups. Andrew Wilson challenges this Manichean explanation of identity by introducing a third factor: the ambitions of the Chinese merchant elite, which played an equal, if not greater, role in the formation of ethnic identity among the Chinese in colonial Manila. Drawing on Chinese, Spanish, and American sources and applying a broad range of historiographical approaches, this volume dissects the structures of authority and identity within Manila’s Chinese community over a period of dramatic socioeconomic change and political upheaval. It reveals the ways in which wealthy Chinese merchants dealt in not only goods and services, but also political influence and the movement of human talent from China to the Philippines. Their influence and status extended across the physical and political divide between China and the Philippines, from the villages of southern China to the streets of Manila, making them a truly transnational elite. Control of community institutions and especially migration networks accounts for the cohesiveness of Manila’s Chinese enclave, argues Wilson, and the most successful members of the elite self-consciously chose to identify themselves and their protégés as Chinese.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

In my first year of graduate school, I took a course on the history of United States–East Asia relations with Akira Iriye. In our discussion of the Spanish-American War, I asked a question about China’s response to the American annexation of the Philippines. Professor Iriye admitted that he did not know how Beijing had responded and that the topic might be worthy of a research paper. The...

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pp. 1-26

On May 9, 1912, the Manila Times reported that the Manila Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, the leading voice of the local Chinese community, had formally recognized the new Republic of China and had received official greetings from China’s new president, Yuan Shikai. Many in Manila’s Chinese community responded enthusiastically to the overthrow of the moribund Qing dynasty by a...

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1. Origins and Evolution of the Manila-Chinese Community, 1571–1898

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pp. 27-61

Two main factors conditioned the evolution of the Manila-Chinese community between 1571 and 1898. First, the nature of Spanish colonial rule was well suited to certain forms of Chinese social and economic organization prevalent in the migrants’ place of origin, namely, the commercially sophisticated southern Fujian prefectures of Zhangzhou and Quanzhou.1 The preadaptation to a...

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2. Patterns of Chinese Elite Dominance in Spanish Manila

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pp. 62-89

In their concluding remarks to Chinese Local Elites and Patterns of Dominance, Joseph Esherick and Mary Rankin raised the following challenge: “By examining elites in their local contexts, we can work from the bottom up to identify the resources and strategies they employed to maintain their dominance. To understand this flexible elite repertoire we must look more closely at the nature of the...

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3. China and the Philippines,1571–1889

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pp. 90-109

The southern Chinese have lived and traded in the Philippine Islands for more than a thousand years. Consequently, the Philippines and the Manila Chinese have periodically played a central role in Chinese history. During the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), that role arose predominantly from the material consequences of Sino-Philippine trade. Mexican silver, New World crops, and the...

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4. Carlos Palanca Chen Qianshan: Elite Activism in the Manila-Chinese Community, 1896–1901

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pp. 110-139

At century’s end, Manila’s Chinese community faced myriad crises and opportunities. In one sense, the world they knew as Chinese and as migrants was coming to an end. Within a few years the associations that had defined their community and had negotiated their relations with the “outside world” would be replaced by new institutions. Within the enclave, greater regional diversity...

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5. Institutional Change in the Manila-Chinese Community, 1899–1916

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pp. 140-185

The transfer of the Philippines from Spanish to American rule altered the balance of power in East Asia, sparked a major political conflict in the United States, and created both dangers and opportunities for the residents of the archipelago, be they native or expatriate.1 Crisis, opportunity, a new colonial administration, and...

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6. Benevolent Merchants or Malevolent Highbinders?: The Deportation of Agapito Uy Tongco et al., August 1909

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pp. 186-217

On the afternoon of Friday, August 20, 1909, officers of the Manila police department and the United States Secret Service, acting under orders from their respective chiefs, took into custody twelve reputed members of two Chinese societies, the Ban Siong Tong (Minshangtang) and the Gee Hock Tong (Yifutang). The...

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pp. 219-228

The purpose of this book has been to offer a nuanced understanding of the Chinese in colonial Manila that is free from the biases of nationcentric historiography, be it Philippine or Chinese, and to see the Chinese merchant elite in colonial Manila as masters of a liminal place, a place whose history cannot be confined within a...


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pp. 229-264

Select Glossary of Chinese Terms and Names

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pp. 265-266

Select Bibliography

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pp. 267-294


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pp. 295-304

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861407
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824826505

Publication Year: 2004