The Philippines’ Early Commercial Intercourse with China
By Apolinario Villalobos
The early recorded commercial intercourse between the Philippines and China was dated 982 A.D. when a certain Sung-Shih (History of the Sung) mentioned about traders from Mo-yi or May-I, referring to the Philippines and sometimes the island of Mindoro, and who came to the southern coast of China. But even much earlier than the said date, according to a noted historian Berthold Laufer in his “Relations of Chinese to the Philippines”, and Austin Craig in his “A Thousand Years of Philippine History Before the Coming of the Spaniards”, among the goods from the Philippines were birds, pearls and tortoise shell, to which, another historian, Chao Ju-Kua added, yellow wax, cotton, medicinal betel nuts and “yu-la” cloth. Proof of the early trade relations between the two countries are the archaeological sites that date back to the T’ang dynasty, in Babuyan islands, coastal areas of Ilocos and Pangasinan, Manila, Bohol, Mindoro, Cebu, Jolo and Cagayan de Sulu, and Mindanao.
Accordingly, Chinese junks would leave the southern coast of China for the Philippines during the month of March and their travel would take about 15 to 20 days. The same junks would prepare for the return trip during the month of June. Trading was done with haste, usually three to four days at one convergence point along a safe coast, then, they would move to other traditionally appointed place, as some natives proved to be hostile.
The commercial intercourse brought about cultural enhancement on both trading parties. On the part of the Philippines, according to Filipino anthropologist, E. Arsenio Manuel, about 522 words in the vocabulary of Pilipino language are of Chinese origin. Among them are, bihon, miki, miswa, mami, kuchay, tokwa, kinchay, lumpia, lome, kimto, goto, batsoy, tsa, liyempo, kamto, biko, bitsu, hopia, petsay/pechay, bakya, jusi, siyansi, ate, kuya, diko, ditse, sangko, siko, and siyaho.
As mentioned among the pages of “Ming History”, traders from Fukien of southern China flocked to Luzon to establish trading colonies, so that when the Spaniards came, they found well-entrenched Chinese communities along the Pasig River and the coastal areas of Pangasinan and Ilocos. While the Philippines was under the administration the Spaniards, there was a time when the Chinese were expelled. Upon realizing, however, the need for the business acumen of the Chinese, they were encouraged by the colonizers to return but made to dwell in settlements outside the Walled City or Intramuros, which was called “Parian”. That is how the Manila Chinatown, the oldest in the whole world came to be.
Historically, the Chinese were never interested in politically colonizing any of the islands of the archipelago, unlike the Spaniards who came to the Philippines purely for this purpose. It is for this reason that when the Hispanic administration of Manila took effect, there was no resistance from the Chinese community. If the dynasties of the mainland that saw the growth of trading with the archipelago had any intension of annexing it to their kingdom, they should have done it long before the Spaniards came. But Chinese traders came and went, instead of even a single Chinese soldier. It is for this reason that China can never site history to attest her rights over a major part of the South China Sea or Philippine Sea. Their trading ancestors could have named some islands and bodies of water in and around the archipelago but only for their convenient reference and nothing else.