Early Trade Relations of the Philippines with China

Early Trade Relations of the Philippines with China

By Apolinario Villalobos

While Spain was resolute in her desire to colonize islands with the use of the cross, China was more reclusive, as her rulers were even discouraging the voyages of their people. Nevertheless, the Chinese traders were stubborn in carrying out their occupation to the point of risking their lives in crossing oceans. According to archaeological findings, the natives of the Philippine archipelago had their first contact with the Chinese traders during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907), based on the discovered pot shards which are now at the National Museum.

The hectic trading activity was recorded during the 13th century. Chinese traders coveted the Filipino products such as, corals, gold, cotton, hard wood, edible nuts, gums, resins, rattan, pearls, and many others. In the course of their trading, the Chinese traders intermarried with native women, while establishing commercial centers, a wise move which checked the entry of other trading nationalities. The first mention of the trading activity in the Philippines by the Chinese was in 982, when merchandise from Ma-I (Mindoro), where brought to Canton.

A clear account of how the trading was conducted was mentioned by Chao-Ju-Kua in 1225, in which he said that as soon as the ships of the Chinese traders dropped anchor where the local official was located, they were boarded for checking, after which the natives were already free to ply their trade with the foreign merchants. A converging place was assigned for this commercial activity.

Trading Chinese vessels were also said to have sailed to “Sanhsi” (three islands), which could have been the reference for central Visayas,  also to “Pu-li-lu” (Polilio), and “Tung-Liu-sin” which could be eastern Luzon.

According to the Ming Annals, embassies from Luzon visited China in 1372 and 1408, and brought with them gifts for the emperor, such as small but strong horses. In return, the emperor gave them silk, copper, cash and other valuable things. There is also an account about Chinese traders bringing gifts to the “King of Luzon”.

Natives of Pangasinan had their share of trading with the Chinese as early as 1406 during the Ming Dynasty. Pangasinan was mentioned in the book of Kiyoshi, published by Toyo Gakubo, where it was referred to by the Chinese traders as “Ping-chia-shih-lan”.

When the Spaniards arrived, they found a Chinese settlement of traders along the Pasig River. This settlement was known then, as “Parian”, and later evolved into what is now known as the Manila Chinatown, the oldest in the world. Among the locals, though, it is more popularly called “Ongpin”.