chapter  2
26 Pages

Manila and the Creation of a New Chinese Identity 1570-1830

The Spanish expedition which arrived at Manila in 1570 found four Chinese junks in the harbour. Manila, the Spaniards reported, 'was large and carried on an extensive trade. In the town lived forty married Chinese and twenty Japanese'.l They discovered that the Philippines was part of the easterly route of the Chinese junk trading system, the junks passing through the western part of the Philippines archipelago on the way from South China's Fujian province to Sulu, Borneo and the Moluccas. As direct commercial connections with China were soon found to be fraught with difficulty, the Spanish, after establishing their headquarters in Manila Bay in 1571, made every effort to attract Chinese junks. Initially the goods the junks brought were inferior to the ones destined for the Indies because the Chinese considered the Spaniards had little to offer in return.2 This problem was quickly resolved by the shipment of American silver from Acapulco. Thus began the Manila galleon trade, which was the lifeblood of the colony at least until the end of the seventeenth century and which tied Manila and her overwhelmingly Chinese inhabitants not merely to Mexico but to the commercial world of the Atlantic and the Christian expansionism of Seville}

The Fujian junk trade, largely originating in Amoy, was everything the Spaniards had hoped for. By the 1580s some 20 to 30 junks were arriving each year; 48 came in 1588 and the

total between 1571 and 1601 was 630. Their highly prized merchandise was satin, damask, taffeta and fine silk and cotton cloths in addition to items of daily use such as furnishings, ironware, foodstuffs, wooden goods and crockery.4 With the exception of members of Spanish religious orders, Spaniards who came to the Philippines gravitated to Manila as the Asian hub of trans-Pacific commerce. There they could obtain loans from Chinese junk traders to cover the cost of the merchandise they wished to ship on to Acapulco as part of this lucrative economic venture. Antonio de Morga reported in his Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas of 1609 that Spaniards had given up all other forms of economic endeavour for the galleon trade;5 the entire Spanish community in the Philippines came to depend for its sustenance on profits from the galleons.6