Friday, July 27, 2012, 00:00
The link of trade and friendship
Chinese ships had been sailing to the Philippines even before the Spanish conquest of the Ilocos region in 1572. They came in peace, to establish contacts and to trade. Their aim was to seek a fortune and take it back to China. The region was known as Samtoy at that time and famed for its rich gold mines. Some of the Chinese merchants opted to stay and settle down in ancient Vigan. Despite the fact that they were not fairly treated by the Spanish when the latter came to power, the Chinese remained, worked hard, plied their craft and intermarried with the Ilocanos.
Essentially we are very close to China, geographically and otherwise, says Roland G. Simbulan, a professor in development studies and public management at the University of the Philippines. Chinese people have been integrated into the Philippine society centuries ago. There is inter-dependency between our two countries between Philippines and China. Here, unlike in Indonesia, the Chinese business community is very integrated. Highly regarded and well educated, it is playing a positive role.
The Chinese initially produced and traded in goods like burnay (jars), abel (woven textile), and basi (local wine). Their tenacity and hard work, combined with Ilocano practices of frugality, contributed to a new economic wholesale retail system, stimulating the slowly emerging middle class.
Burnay making was introduced by the Chinese immigrants. Their descendants have contributed to sustaining and preserving the craft in the country. It is said that there are only three burnay factories in the whole country and all of them are in Vigan.
When it comes to architecture, the Chinese influence is evident in many of the Vigan villas and houses, religious structures and also public buildings.
Before the arrival of the Spaniards, the houses in Vigan were made from lightweight materials such as bamboo, wood and leaves and grass. Then they learned from the Spaniards how to make bricks, to quarry, to prepare stones for building materials. The buildings that they constructed were better for withstanding typhoons and fire-resistant. However, they were still prone to earthquakes. The Biguenos then combined the local construction methods with the Spaniards by retaining their interlocking wooden column and beam system, then using mortared bricks and stones for the walls on the first floors, and wood on the second floors.
Another Chinese influence is the use of the ground floors as shops and storage areas and second floors as residences.
It is said that the villas in Vigan were built by Chinese taipans businessmen who made fortunes from trading. The villas were usually built on large plots with massive bricks and red tiled roofs, big doorways, grand staircases, and sliding windows.
In religious buildings, the Chinese influence can be seen, for example, in the cathedral, also known as St Pauls Metropolitan Cathedral. The baroque-style building has been modified by Ilocanos to strengthen it against earthquakes. It also has a pair of fu dog (lion dog) carvings on the outside doors, China-forged brass communion handrails and an octagonal bell tower that is separate from the church. The bell towers shape is said to follow the Chinese feng-shui method.
There has always been a notion in the Middle Kingdom that this area is part of Chinas sphere of influence, concludes Teresa Tadem, a professor at the department of political science, College of Science and Philosophy at the University of the Philippines. But China never came here as a colonizer. The Chinese came and integrated with the locals.
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