Was Jose Rizal anti-Chinese?

The Filipino-Chinese community takes it as a great pride whenever they say that the Philippine national hero, Jose Rizal is their most important and most significant contribution to the Philippines and to the peoples of Southeast Asia. So passionate to institutionalize their Tsinoy (Tagalog for Filipino-Chinese) pride that the Filipino-Chinese community raised a huge amount of money and surprisingly convinced the Chinese government to allow them to jointly build a 12-meter high Rizal monument (taller than the one in Luneta) and a five-hectare Rizal Shrine in Fujian province, Rizal’s ancestors’ hometown. But is the Filipino-Chinese community’s claim of Jose Rizal as a proud Tsinoy and a symbol of Filipino and Chinese friendship built on historical truth? Was Rizal an authentic Tsinoy?

Reading through some Rizal historical documents in preparation for a [email protected] related article for PH.CN/ProPinoy, I came across some interesting documents and a scholarly paper entitled “Rizal’s Chinese Overcoat” written by Mr. Alfonso O. Ang pointing to an inconvenient historical truth that many Tsinoys might not want to hear – Jose Rizal disliked to be called a Chinese mestizo or a Tsinoy. In words and in deeds Rizal had shown his anti-Chinese sentiments and had disassociated himself with anything Chinese. Ang observed that there are many historical evidences that points out Rizal’s ill thinking and feelings towards Chinese. I’d like to share to my readers several of these historical evidences.

In 1968 the Oxford University Press published Rizal: Philippine Nationalist and Martyr, possibly the most widely read biography of Rizal. The author, Austin Coates, an American, was acquainted with the family of Rizal’s sister Narcisa; as such, the details he reported in his book have a greater degree of credibility. On page 311 of his book, Coates recounts the protest made by Rizal before his execution—a protest which obviously will not be to the liking of Chinese-Filipinos: “When the document was shown him, he drew attention to the fact that he was incorrectly described as a Chinese mestizo (one of the aims of Spanish governmental publicity on the subject was to pretend that he was not even a real Filipino).”

There is yet another Rizal biography, entitled The First Filipino, which won the first prize in the 1961 Rizal biography writing competition sponsored by the Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission. The author was Filipino lawyer and diplomat León Ma. Guerrero. This book records an even more scathing rebuttal from Rizal on his being labeled as a person of Chinese descent when he was in Europe: “I do not agree. This is unjust! Here it says that I am a half-breed, and it isn’t true! I am a pure Filipino!” Rizal had always taken pride in being a Malay native, and had never identified with the Chinese.

Rizal’s novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo exposed the ineptitude and corruption of the Spanish rulers, denounced the ruthless oppression of the people, and ridiculed the hypocrisy and overbearing attitude of the Catholic friars. Although Rizal was personally against violent revolution, his novels fanned the flames of the people’s fury and sparked the eventual people’s revolt. Unfortunately, his novels are also replete with insults and scorn for the Chinese immigrants in the Philippines.

Quiroga, the subject of Chapter 16 of the El Filibusterismo , “The Tribulations of a Chinaman,” was none other than Carlos Palanca (Tan Quien Sien) who was then the leader of the Chinese community. Artificial in manner, hypocritical, cunning, a bootlicker of government officials, engaging in business speculations, intent on nothing but profit—such was Rizal’s portrayal of Quiroga. It should be noted that Rizal’s derision of this man who became the first Chinese consul to the Philippines was not entirely without basis, because history clearly records Palanca’s involvement in disreputable businesses like opium importation and the monopoly on cockfighting arenas (sabungan).

If Rizal had limited his attacks to heartless Chinese merchants, we could even praise him for being impartial, since he exposed the evils even of those of his own kind. Unfortunately, Rizal generalized his observations to Chinese of all classes.

Mr. Rizal Yuyitung wrote in his introduction to the first published Chinese translation of the El Filibusterismo: “…towards the Chinese immigrants, [Rizal] applied defamation and ridicule to the utmost degree. We can understand his dislike for the “overseas Chinese community leader” Quiroga, but when he pokes fun at small-time vendors and Chinese restaurants, we certainly have to take exception. We cannot believe that he was not able to find a single good Chinese immigrant or person of Chinese descent to serve as a symbol of Chinese contribution to Philippine agriculture, arts and crafts, and commerce. As a person of Chinese descent living in the presentday Philippines, one should especially be alerted by the fact that the author [Rizal] had never even once mentioned the enterprising spirit, diligence, and endurance of the Chinese. Have we never succeeded with our diplomacy? Have we not yet nullified the schemes of the Spanish rulers aimed at fomenting dissension between Chinese and Filipinos?”

It appears then that Rizal was truly anti-Chinese in both word and deed. In a letter to his mother while he was in exile in Dapitan, he had written: “I had a lawsuit with the Chinese and I vowed not to buy any more from them, so that sometimes I find myself very hard up. Now we have almost neither dishes nor tumblers.” Rizal was filled with righteous indignation at the exploitation of the natives by the Chinese traders, and appealed to the local residents to boycott the Chinese shops. He also opened a small sari-sari store (general merchandise store) to compete against the Chinese.

Even the most popular Filipino historian Prof. Ambeth Ocampo does not deny that Rizal was anti-Chinese. Ocampo noted in article for the Philippine Daily Inquirer that: “Despite his Chinese ancestry, the continental Rizal harbored anti-Chinese feelings because of a Chinese sari-sari store owner in Dapitan.”

Mr. Nick Joaquin, the late Philippine cultural icon, even praised Rizal’s actions: “And because Chinese financiers had a stranglehold on native agriculture, Rizal set up the Cooperative Association of Dapitan Farmers, a pioneer in economic nationalism. Those who now dismiss Rizal as a bourgeois champion of bourgeois interests should here note how he ignored even his ethnic roots to champion Filipinism (Filipino Nationalism), the small traders, the peasants.”

To state it simply, Rizal’s anti-Chinese feelings were clearly expressed in his writings, in his correspondence with family and friends, and in deeds. The historical truth says to us loud and clear that Jose Rizal had no special affection with the Chinese and Tsinoys or even to China. He could have had what may be considered a special relationship with China by virtue of his lineage, but he did not acknowledge his ancestry, and so it could not be termed a special relationship. Hence, the Rizal pride of the Tsinoys are built on shaky foundation.

The construction of a Jose Rizal Shrine in China (the biggest Rizal shrine outside the Philippines) has no strong historical basis. Some pundits say that the reason why Rizal Shrine was built in China was not really for Jose Rizal per se it but for the Tsinoys to have guanxi or good relations with emerging global superpower. Another reason why it was allowed to build by the Chinese government despite the weak historical connection of Rizal to China is for the Chinese government to show “how great, influential, and far-reaching Chinese civilization is” and to have leverage on Philippine affairs by playing the Tsinoy card.

I haven’t heard any Filipino-Chinese community leader answering these observations and arguments by Alfonso O. Ang and other Rizalistas who are questioning the “Tsinoynization” of Jose Rizal. I wonder how Pepe would react to the “Rizal Tsinoynization” project of Filipino-Chinese community leaders and businessmen. Perhaps Rizal would tell these Tsinoys that you are either Filipino or Chinese. There is no such thing as Tsinoy, Filam, Filbrit, Filwhatever for Rizal. For in Pepe’s vocabulary there was only a Filipino regardless of where your ancestors or parents may have come from.

Is Jose Rizal’s anti-Chinese words and deeds makes him less of a hero? I don’t think so. Rizal was a nationalist, a patriot par excellence. I can forgive Rizal for his anti-Chinese sentiments which I think are just exuberant and healthy expressions of his love and devotion to our motherland. Yes, Rizal did and wrote and said things that were offensive to the Chinese and Tsinoys, but it was just the real Rizal. Not that kind of divine-like Rizal that Rizalista fanatics and historians would like to portray.

Mabuhay po ang kabayanihan ni Jose Rizal sa ating paggunita sa kanyang ika-150 kaarawan!


Image credit: Wikipedia

J. Sun E.

Sun, a Filipino based in China, writes PH.CN on ProPinoy, a weekly column on Philippines-China relations, politics, history, and current events. He studied Political Science, History, and Foreign Languages in Philippines and China. Follow him on Twitter @phdotcn

  • juantamarin

    “I can forgive Rizal for his anti-Chinese sentiments” Who the fck are you to forgive Rizal? He never asked to be forgiven, not even to save his life. Again, who the FCK are you?

  • J_ag

    It is wonderfully refreshing to note that Rizal was also a man subject to his own biases based on the historical system and structure of the political economy of the times.

    His main and only contribution to Philippine society across the ages was and continues to be the germ of the idea of self determination for all Indios.

    He may have been unaware of the consequences of his written words then.

    Words do have consequences….