Guillermo A. Cu Unjieng 邱允衡 was one of the most prominent Chinese business figures in the Philippines in the first three decades of the 20th century. His business achievements included being the moving force behind the founding of the first Chinese Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines, and acting as its first president; founding the first domestically organized insurance company in the Philippines, and being one of the founders of the first locally-owned Chinese banks in the Philippines.
From a poor fishing family of at least six children, Guillermo A. Cu Unjieng was only 11 years old when his father passed away. Cu Unjieng was the first of his immediate family to leave his village to go overseas and seek his fortune. He made the journey to the Philippines in his mid-teens, accompanied by an older male cousin. They arrived in Manila probably in 1882, during the high tide of Chinese immigration to the Philippines.
In the beginning, Cu Unjieng took on whatever work he could find. Eventually, thanks to the fact that he was literate, Cu Unjieng managed to obtain a position as a clerk in a Chinese textile firm, the Hap Hin Dry Goods Store, which was also engaged in direct importation. In 10 years, Cu Unjieng moved from clerk to bookkeeper to salaried employee to manager, who turned the firm into one of the largest of its kind in Manila. In the process, he gained a reputation as one of Manila’s youngest and most competent managers.
Using money he had saved plus capital contributions from some friends, Cu Unjieng and Company (大興有限公司) began operations on Rosario Street. In another partnership, Cu Unjieng partly owned and fully managed Siuliong and Company (炳記行). The business engaged in importing and exporting, semi-banking operations for the Chinese community (mainly the handling of remittances from Chinese in the Philippines to their families in China), extending crop loans, and underwriting the trips of merchant ships traveling to and from China.
During the period of the Philippine revolution (1896-1898) and the Spanish-American War, the Huaqiao Shanju Gongsuo (華僑善舉公所) known in Spanish as the “Communidad de Chinos,” encountered difficulties keeping its operations going, as many of the shop owners and businessmen upon whom the organization relied for donations temporarily suspended their activities. Cu Unjieng’s timely donation and fund raising efforts allowed it to continue operations.
This action helped propel Cu Unjieng from a rising member of the Chinese elite in the Philippines to the very top ranks of that community. It was during the first three decades of the American occupation of the Philippines that he reached the peak of his influence and career.