The Spanish Period


When the Spaniards settled in the islands, more Chinese came, and served as the backbone of the Spanish colonial economy. Because of their growing numbers, the Spaniards both needed and feared them, which led to the persecution and harassment including large-scale massacres. The Chinese, or Sangley as the Spaniards called them, were separated into quarters called the Parian where they lived, worked, and made better lives for themselves as laborers, merchants and artisans.




Spanish colonial culture is intimately linked with the spread of Christianity. The Sangleys contributed largely in the building of churches, carving religious icons often decorating them with Chinese motifs, printing religious books and cathechisms. The first three books in the Philippines were printed by Keng Yong of Binondo in 1593. Many Chinese in the Philippines also practiced religious syncretism, the unique product of Catholic and Buddhist intermarriage. Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint, was born in Binondo to a Chinese father and a Filipino mother. He was canonized in October 1987 in Rome. Mother Ignacia del Espiritu Santo was also a Chinese mestiza.




For the Chinese, this was a time of opportunity, innovation, and adaptation. Spain’s decision to develop the Philippines economically, its liberalized immigration policies, and the deteriorating economic and political situation in Fujian and elsewhere in South China encouraged a much greater overseas migration flow of Chinese than before.

A Chinese population of 5,000 to 6,000 in the early 19th centur y Philippines quickly expanded from the 1850s onward to around 100,000. A law in 1839 lifted the travel ban and allowed the Chinese to reside anywhere in the Philippines regardless of occupation. The Chinese thus created a network that linked international trade with local enterprise.

Major Chinese import-export merchants in Manila (and later in key trading cities like Iloilo and Cebu) were linked to their agents at various sites around the country. The major merchant, known at the time as a cabecilla, provided imported or other goods to his agents around the country. The agents distributed these regionally to local retailers, the sari-sari store.

Also known as the Bahay na Bato, the typical mestizo house – the area’s storekeeper keeps his sari-sari store and tool shed on the ground floor, and the family residence on the upper floor.


Variety stores sell everything from produce to thread. Once closed at around 11pm, wake up the store owner by pulling a string hanging from his window above the store. He will entertain your purchase.



At the end of the 19th century, life became more difficult because of Spanish harassment and distrust. Hence, the Chinese started to form institutions for self-protection – school, hospital, cemetery, business groups. Pioneer businesses like China Bank, Destileria Limtuaco, Yutivo, Ma Mon Luk started to appear.