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The Philippines and World History


Violence and Imagination: Conquering the Chinese and Creating the Philippines, 1574–16031

Ethan Hawkley


     On October 11, 1603, a Chinese man stood on the gallows in Manila. His presence there marked the climax of two stories. In one, the Government's story, he had organized an army of Chinese followers, declared himself king of the Philippines, and attempted to overthrow the Spanish colonial government. The story he was telling, however, was very different. He affirmed under extreme duress that he had been falsely accused—that he was in fact a loyal colonial subject and a faithful Catholic. In the first story he was a traitor, in the second he was a victim. But the contradictory images of who he was could no longer coexist. The colony was forced to choose to believe one or the other.

     Storytelling, even about actual events, is an act of imagination; and violence always involves storytelling. We tell stories to prepare for battle, we tell them during conflicts, and we tell them when the fight is over. Imagination and violence thus work together to first construct images of the world and then to imprint those images onto our aspirations, lived experience, and memories. Indeed, stories about violence do more to shape our perceptions of reality than any other narrative type. They tell us who we are, who we can trust, and who the enemy is. The genre is powerful because the stakes could not be higher. Violent stories mold our circumstances into morally charged imperatives to separate "us" from "them." Through imagination, our minds construct possibilities and interpretations. Violence or threats of violence then determine which of those will become meaningful realities. The Chinese man on the gallows was at the moment of decision, and his was not the only life at stake.

     Manila was also home to another twenty thousand Chinese immigrants (known then in the Philippines as "Sangleys"), and like him the entire Sangley population had been the subject of stories and rumors for more than thirty years. All were similarly subject to two clashing images. The first was an inclusive image, one that promised to bring the Chinese fully into Spanish colonial society. The Spanish sometimes thought of them as "clever and intelligent," "respectable and wealthy," "virtuous, modest, and reserved," easy to Christianize and Hispanicize.2 The second image was exclusive. The Spaniards also called the Chinese "deceitful," "barbarous," "avaricious and greedy," and "lustful,"3 even "a very Sodom,"4 a people who could never be fully trusted. How could the same people be imagined in such contradictory terms?

     To answer that, we must first recognize that this double vision isn't all that unique. Perceptions are often inconsistent and contradictory. The West's image of "the Orient" has long included both exotic and ordered beauty, as well as irrational and effeminate decadence; and the flip side of the "wild" savage is the "noble" one. These contradictions exist because encounters with others are often the source both of great hope and of great fear. New contacts have the potential to become cooperative and rewarding relationships, or they can turn into chaotic and conflicted rivalries. Hope usually emphasizes the positive, while fear reinforces the negative. Contradictory possibilities create contradictory images. Actions, especially violence, can then embed those images into powerful emotions about identity and loyalty. And finally, stories can keep those images and feelings alive for future use.

     Through this process, the Spaniards' clashing perceptions of Chinese people played a central role in the making of the early Philippines. In more than one sense, the colonizing Spaniards felt the need to conquer the Chinese, and their dual perception sprang up like a two-headed monster out of that need. On the one hand, the Spanish wanted to assimilate China into their expanding Catholic culture; on the other, they saw the Sangleys as a threat to their survival. With the colonial focus alternating from one image to the other and back, violence stamped these contradictory perceptions onto some of the most important decisions, relationships, and events in early Philippine history. In 1603, the colonial gaze was fixed squarely on the man on the gallows.

     His Chinese name was Eng Kang, and he was born in Fujian province. A mountainous coastal region, Fujian is short on arable land, so historically its inhabitants have long turned to fishing or overseas trade for their livelihood. When Eng Kang was born, Ming coastal policy was creating economic complications and hardship in Fujian. Due to the failure of paper currency more than a century before, the growing Ming economy relied on silver as a substitute, and demand for it increased further when the government mandated that taxes be paid in the white metal. Meanwhile, lucrative silver mines had been discovered and opened in Japan, and the Japanese, like everyone else in the world, were hungry for fine Chinese goods, particularly silk and porcelain. Exchange could have been fairly straight forward, were it not for the Chinese tributary system. The tributary system mandated that foreign trade be limited to sanctioned diplomatic missions from other countries who were in good standing with China—and Japan was not in good standing with China. The Ming even specifically outlawed trade with Japan along with all other private overseas trade.

     But the forces of supply and demand could not be stopped. China's need for silver and Japan's desire for silk and porcelain led to widespread smuggling along the coast, and since the Ming government could not mandate another way for the Fujianese to make their living, the province's coastal people became actively engaged in black-market exchanges. Beginning in the 1520s, illegal smuggling broadened into widespread piracy, and sea lords gathered large armies of merchant-pirates along the coast. Specializing in illegal trade and coastal raiding, these sea lords terrorized the Chinese coast. Though they were called Japanese pirates (wokou) by Ming authorities, most were in fact Chinese, and many were from Fujian. After failing to eradicate piracy through military means, the Ming reluctantly legalized overseas trade in 1567. For a few more years, some sea lords continued to smuggle and pillage along the coast, but in ever decreasing numbers. Many turned to legal trade. Eng Kang ended up joining the last large pirate fleet of his era. He enlisted with a sea lord named Limahong (aka Lin-Feng).

     Eng Kang was probably an adolescent when he joined Limahong's crew, apprenticed to him as a "little brother." We know this because the Spanish sources tell us that the two were involved in a sexual relationship.5 In the sixteenth century, Fujianese families often sought to increase their status by entering their boys into sworn brotherhoods with rich and powerful merchant-pirates. The elder brother, in this case Limahong, was responsible for managing the younger's future employment and marriage prospects, while the younger loyally served his elder. Though it was only meant to be temporary, it was a contractual obligation almost as serious as marriage. Since women were not allowed at sea, the younger brother was the elder's sexual partner, and when the elder entered the home of his little brother's parents they treated him "as a son-in-law."6

     Meanwhile in 1565, the Spanish formed their first permanent settlement at Cebu, and they later made Manila their colonial capital in 1571. Like the Japanese, the Spaniards had recently begun to mine silver, only their deposits were much larger and in the Americas. Also like the Japanese, they too hungered for Chinese merchandise, especially silk. As soon as they arrived in the Philippines, the Spanish started trading silver for Chinese products, and the volume increased once they settled in Manila. Within a few decades the Philippine galleons were traversing the Pacific each year, carrying on average 2–4 million pesos worth of American silver (55–110 metric tons) from Acapulco to Manila and an equally large quantity Chinese goods back to colonial Mexico.7 This silk for silver exchange established Spain's permanent presence in the Philippines while also laying the foundation for the early Philippine economy.

     Limahong heard about the beginnings of this trade and made a plan. He would conquer the Spaniards, take their silver, and set himself up as the ruler of "Luzon," which is what the Chinese called Manila and its surrounding area. In 1574, he directed what would become the most symbolically important battle in the three-hundred-year history of the Spanish colonial Philippines. On November 30th, his sixty two ships attacked Manila.8 Their arrival prompted a local revolt, and the Spanish found themselves trapped with their remaining Philippine allies between Chinese invaders from the sea and various disgruntled and only recently colonized indigenous peoples on land. Manila was burned to the ground, but the Spaniards and their local allies were nevertheless able to repel both threats. Limahong sailed away and the local revolt was subdued. The fledgling colony somehow survived.

     But Limahong didn't go far. He took his fleet north along the coast of Luzon to present-day Pangasinan, where he allied with a group of anti-Spanish Filipino (perhaps Pangkalatok) chieftains. From there, he retaliated with imagination. He started telling stories. Limahong spread a rumor that he had defeated the Spanish, leaving the Spaniards to fear that  

their allies and vassals throughout all those islands, placing credence in the pirate's assertion, might rise against them, and kill them with ease, because of the great number of the natives and the fewness of the Spaniards, who until the present had sustained themselves solely by the report of their invincibility.9

In short, the colonizers could not afford to lose control of the story. They knew that their lives depended not only on their ability to win battles but also on their ability to spread authority-affirming stories about battles. They needed these stories to embed their supremacy into the imagination of their new subjects, and Limahong was challenging them on that front.

     There was only one thing to do. The Philippine colony gathered an army of 250 Spaniards with 1,500 Filipinos (mainly Tagalog and Kapampangan), and together they launched a surprise attack on Limahong's Pangasinan base. The sea lord, caught off guard, lost several ships and men. But he and many of his followers were able to escape to a newly built fort nearby. The colonial army then laid siege to Limahong, who inside his base constructed a few small boats. One night, the sea lord slipped unnoticed past the blockade and safely back to sea. Eng Kang, either as a war captive or of his own free will, stayed behind with the Spaniards. He was one of the very few Sangleys who settled at that time in the Philippines.

     These events had immediate and long-lasting consequences. November 30th, the day Limahong arrived, was also the day of San Andres (Saint Andrew). The Spaniards therefore attributed their miraculous survival to the saint's intercession. San Andres became the patron saint of Manila; his annual festival was celebrated as the "day in which these islands were won;"10 and it was decreed that laborers throughout the colony have the day off.11 It should be noted that the original Spanish conquest of Manila was not so prominently remembered. It was rather Limahong's defeat that they commemorated as the capital's founding anniversary, and the saint's divine intercession was remembered by Spaniards and Filipinos alike well into the 19th century.12 Like the fourth of July, the yearly celebration reaffirmed a sense of "us," only in the Philippines it was against a Chinese "them."

     Beyond providing Manila's founding moment, the Limahong incident also gave rise to the Spaniards' conflicted dual perception of the Chinese. Their positive image was promoted most effectively by the Augustinian missionary Martin de Rada. Rada arrived in the Philippines in 1565 with the original company of colonizers, and he had been hoping to someday open a mission in China.13 Ming law, however, made this impossible. Foreigners were not allowed in the "Middle Kingdom," and Rada couldn't find any way around that. By 1574, he had already tried gifts, bribery, and even selling himself into slavery. Nothing worked. Then came Limahong, the violence, and the way.

     During the three-month siege of Limahong's Pangasinan fort, Ming ships arrived at Manila looking for the sea lord. The Spaniards told them what had happened, which changed the relationship between China and the new Philippine colony. Before this, the Ming had thought of the Spaniards as no better than the other ruffians disturbing their coasts. But the Philippine fight against Limahong put the two on the same side of the story. Violence constructed a sort of political bridge between China and the Philippines. They were connected by their opposition against Limahong. Rada spoke with the Ming captain and was able to secure legal passage for himself and a few others to China. To him at least, Limahong's attack was a nothing short of divine intervention.

     In 1575, the missionary spent several months in the Middle Kingdom, which gave him an unshakeable sense of destiny. He was to be an instrument in the hand of God to convert the Chinese people. In his account of the trip, he portrayed the Chinese as civilized, moral, and divinely prepared for a pioneering wave of Christian preachers. He told of how interested the Chinese governor of Fujian was in the cross and in learning Catholic prayers; he talked about the Chinese crewmen on his vessel abandoning their old pagan rituals during an intense storm and petitioning the one true God for help; and he described the seemingly inspired Chinese fascination with the Spanish visitors and their religion. People thronged the streets where the Spaniards were lodging; they entered their houses uninvited just to be near them; and when they were forced out, they would even climb up the walls to catch a glimpse of the visitors. To the enthusiastic missionary, they were innocent children eager to drink up the holy word.14

     But things had changed when he got back to Manila. Rada and others had hoped that delivering Limahong over to the Ming would solidify the relationship between China and the Philippines, perhaps even open up diplomatic relations. Now Limahong had slipped away, and what was worse, a new Spanish governor, Francisco de Sande, had arrived. As Rada put it, "I believe it would have been a very great help in this case if there had not been a change in government." 15 The Ming captain accompanying Rada had a good relationship with Guido de Lavezaris, the man that Sande was replacing. But Sande had his own plans.

     Unlike Rada, Sande didn't care much about China's spiritual conquest. He wanted a military one, and in pursuit of that objective he described the Chinese very differently. When he later wrote to the king of Spain requesting an army, he called the Chinese "idolaters, sodomites, robbers, and pirates." To drive the point home, he spoke of Sangleys unashamedly volunteering to pay the colony's fine for sodomy (and one of these could have even been Eng Kang). In his mind, China's wickedness justified an invasion, and the Limahong affair had shown that the Chinese were also "a cowardly people," easily subdued by a much smaller contingent of Spanish troops. He estimated that all of China could be conquered by four to seven thousand well trained Spaniards.16 With Sande in control, the temporary bridge between China and the Philippines crumbled into nothing.

     Rada and Sande became rivals, even though they were seeking the same result. Both wanted to conquer China, only in different ways. Rada hoped for conquest through preaching, while Sande envisioned a future of fighting. Importantly, neither based their image of the Chinese on complete fabrications. Rada certainly met many curious Chinese people during his expedition, and Sande didn't make up his reports of homosexuality and other objectionable (to him) behavior. In both men, raw sensory information funneled through their opposing aspirations to create completely incompatible interpretations. The spiritual conquest depended on the idea of a people prepared for Catholicism, and the military invasion was justified by the image of a population in need of punishment and reformation.

     Ultimately, neither man got what he wanted. The Ming didn't allow Rada to return to China, and the king refused to send an army for Sande's desired conquest. The violence of the Limahong affair provided the early Philippine colonial community with its celebrated founding moment, and it also gave the Spaniards more experience with the Chinese. But it did not settle the question of who the Chinese were. Instead, the increased exposure deepened Spanish desires in both directions and therefore also reinforced their double vision. They wanted to make China part of their larger imperial "us," but they couldn't agree on how. The options were preaching or violence. The Chinese were either good or they were bad.

     Over the next decade, the pendulum would swing decisively to one side. In 1577, one of missionaries who had accompanied Rada to China, Jeronimo Marin, arrived in Spain. He had already reported about the China expedition to leadership in colonial Mexico, and now he was delivering Rada's account to Philip II. He then went out seeking missionaries in Europe who wanted to go back with him. In 1580, he was part of a group that Philip hoped would open up diplomatic relations and possibly a mission.17 A year later the group was in colonial Mexico, but they never made it past that point. The king cancelled their expedition.

     But that didn't necessarily change what they thought of themselves or of the Chinese. At least one of them, for instance, continued to frame his life's purpose and meaning around the story of China's eventual conversion. In 1585, one of his companions, Juan Gonzalez de Mendoza, published his Historia de las cosas mas notables, ritos y costumbres del gran Reyno de la China (The History of the great and mighty kingdom of China), and this book continued to propagate Rada's vision of a Chinese population eagerly awaiting the gospel. It went through forty-six editions in seven European languages before 1600, and it remained Europe's most authoritative source on China for nearly a century.18

     Others similarly cast themselves into the story of China's miraculous conversion, and through them, the image of civilized, intelligent, and pious Chinese people continued to influence the Philippines. Many aspiring apostles came to the archipelago hoping to smuggle themselves into China. When they were then caught by Ming authorities, they would be deported to Portuguese Macau, thus causing tension between the Ming, the Portuguese, and the Philippines. By 1582, this repeated pattern was causing serious problems for the Philippines, and the governor prohibited anyone from leaving the colony for China without his permission. Violators, and those who aided them, would be treated as rebels and traitors—all of their property would be confiscated and they would be brought before the law.19

     Still, the pull of the unfulfilled story remained more powerful than colonial decrees. Four years later, in 1586, a new generation of colonial leadership, led by Governor Santiago de Vera, met to discuss the colony's many pressing issues. Soldiers and missionaries weren't getting paid; churches were in disrepair; defenses were weak; and local Philippine peoples were being mistreated by Spanish overseers. And then there was also the ongoing problem of missionaries and their image of China and the Chinese. The religious were declaring, "as soon as they have arrived here, that they do not come for the islands but for China," and they therefore refused to study Philippine dialects or work with Philippine peoples. When they snuck away, the colony would lose them for good. The Crown was footing the bill to get them to the Philippines, but they weren't helping the colonization effort. Blinded by the vision of easy Chinese converts, the council concluded that the missionaries were in fact being deceived by the devil himself.20

     Philippine colonial leadership knew that this last problem went well beyond their own jurisdiction. The issue was the "settled opinion" "formed in [colonial Mexico], Spain, and Rome" that China would easily convert. Vera's council begged the Crown inform Mexico and Europe that, as a result of disobedient religious who escaped from the Philippines, China was "more tightly closed than ever."21 With the publication of Mendoza's book, there wasn't much Philip could do to stop the wave of excitement. Mendoza's bestseller praised some of the very missionaries who had disobeyed the governor's orders to stay in Manila. Despite repeated failures, Rada's positive image of easy Chinese converts continued to fuel the dream of a dramatic spiritual conquest.

     Ironically, after criticizing these missionaries for having "all thought…centered on China,"22 the council showed that they were no different. The Middle Kingdom was their aspiration too. After describing their many problems to the king, they proposed their own wildly ambitious solution. The Philippines should conquer China. It was a resurrection of Sande's previous proposal, only with more detail and urgency. Vera and the council requested ten to twelve thousand European soldiers, whom they would join with five to six thousand Japanese allies and another five to six thousand indigenous Filipino fighters, twenty-four thousand in all.23 The council believed that the "mere presence" of this multiethnic army and "a demonstration [of force]" would "cause the Chinese to submit, with no great bloodshed."24

     There was, however, a fundamental difference between Vera's plan and the one proposed by Sande a generation before. Vera and the council embraced Rada's positive image of the Chinese. They promised the king that when China was defeated, there would be "no difficulty in pacifying and converting [Chinese] peasants, countrymen, and villagers" and "an infinite multitude of souls [would]…come to the knowledge and adoration of their Creator."25 With these words they were not only combining the sentiments of Rada and Sande, they were also echoing an earlier cycle of violence and imagination.

     Less than seventy years before, Cortes had launched an invasion from a small collection of islands that were, like the Philippines, just off the coast of a powerful mainland empire. He conquered the Mexica/Aztec Empire, and then Pizarro conquered the Inca. These earlier conquests sparked waves of excitement through Europe. There was a sense of Christian destiny. Missionaries volunteered in droves to go to the New World, where they imagined that they might create a utopian Catholic civilization among the "indios." By 1586, however, the early enthusiasm for the Americas had waned. Utopia wasn't as easy as originally imagined.

     Vera's council resurrected this enthusiasm and explained why their accomplishment would surpass even Cortes. They attributed Spanish failings in the Americas to the nature of the Amerindians. The indios, they explained, were "so barbarous and brutal, so ugly, vile, and poor" that it was difficult to build a homogenous and elevated Christian civilization with them. Interracial marriages, they complained, bore bad fruit in the Americas. The women of China, on the other hand, were "exceedingly virtuous, modest, reserved," "faithful," "humble and submissive," "wealthy and of good standing," "even more beautiful and discreet than…the women of Spain." These women would happily wed the Spanish, and their unions would produce clever and intelligent children, children who could then be educated in newly founded Christian schools throughout Spanish China. Everything, they imagined, would be "united and fraternal, and Christian."26 The conquest was no longer about punishing the wicked Chinese. It was about elevating a people who were already on the cusp of Catholic enlightenment.

     The council was so set on this conquest that they began preparations even before hearing back from Spain, and Manila's Sangley population started helping them. The colony, so far from the Americas, could not supply most of its needs through the Spanish Empire, and it therefore relied heavily on the Ming economy. Food, clothing, and many other necessary resources had to be imported from China through the Sangleys, and the Sangleys also provided a wide range of other services including construction work, cooking, tailoring, blacksmithing, and giving haircuts. In short, they fulfilled many of the colony's basic needs and performed most of its skilled labor. By 1586, there were some four thousand Sangleys living in Manila, and the Philippines could not prepare to invade China without their support. Colonial leaders contracted with them to bring copper, saltpeter, powder, and ammunition from China for the war effort.27

     Eng Kang was probably one of those who agreed to supply these materials. Since 1574, he had become one of the Spaniards' most trusted associates, and he and Governor de Vera had an especially good relationship. Sometime during Vera's tenure in Manila (1584–1590), Eng Kang was baptized and christened Juan Baptista de Vera. The governor thus became Eng Kang's Christian namesake and his godfather.28 The man who had once been in a semi familial relationship with the merchant-pirate Limahong—based then on a Fujianese custom—now had a new spiritual kinship bond with the leader of the Philippines, one based on Spanish norms. Eng Kang's baptism fed into the Spaniards' positive image of the Chinese. Juan Baptista de Vera was a living symbol, proof in the flesh, of what the Spaniards hoped to achieve through their conquest of China.

     The relationship between the Spanish governor and his Chinese godson show a more down-to-earth side of the positive image. Profitable economic relationships depend, of course, on supply and demand, but they also require trust. Visions of grand conversions and conquests generated hyperbolic descriptions about Chinese virtue that inspired Spaniards to migrate to the other side of the world. But it was the everyday transactions based on trust between these peoples that kept things going in the meantime. Struggling to keep the colony afloat, Philippine leaders embraced a positive image of the Chinese as justification for a dramatic conquest. What they may have overlooked is that the positive image was already building the colony by creating the trust necessary to maintain and grow the galleon trade.

     Several developments nevertheless swung the pendulum back during the 1590s. Early in the decade, the colony confronted an image-shattering episode of violence.  In 1593, the Spanish Governor, Gomez Perez das Mariñas, put together an expedition to conquer the Maluku Spice Islands, and he forcefully conscripted a few hundred Sangleys to come along as rowers, the least desirable job in the Philippines at the time. They were assigned to the governor's own vessel, and one night, shortly after the expedition left Manila, these Sangley rowers rose up and killed the governor and the other Spaniards onboard. Then they fled the Philippines and disappeared into Vietnam. The expedition was cancelled, and the story left a lasting imprint on Spanish perceptions of the Chinese. It was concrete proof of betrayal. The Sangleys could turn on them in an instant.

     Another contributing factor was the dramatic increase in Sangley immigration. By 1600, there were as many as twenty thousand Chinese immigrants living in the Manila area, a four-fold increase since 1589 and almost twenty times the number of Spaniards.29 Anxieties prompted the king to try limiting the Sangley population in the Philippines to no more than six thousand, and at one point the colony even deported thirteen thousand. Yet, the population continued to grow. And very few of these immigrants converted to Catholicism. With this increased exposure to real Chinese people, the great wave of enthusiasm for easy Christian conversions was dashed against the rocks of reality. Juan Baptista de Vera and a few others had been baptized, but the Chinese reaction to the gospel fell well short of the Spaniards' millenarian expectations.

     The greed accompanying great profits also seems to have increased tensions. One indigenous Filipino described Spaniards "quarreling with the Chinese every day." They "would threaten them with violence, and kick and slap them and grab them by the neck, and call them queers, cuckolds, thieves, traitors, dogs, Moros, and other names."30 A petition written by Manila's Chinese immigrants to the king of Spain likewise complained that they were being forced to trade at unfair prices, mistreated in colonial courts, and even robbed by the Spaniards.31 Meanwhile, the Spanish increasingly described the Sangleys as cunning and greedy, and they also resurrected Sande's condemnation of homosexuality. Though the era of piracy had ended, sexual brotherhoods continued, and the rumor spread that at a certain age all Chinese boys "from the sons of the great mandarins down to the lowest class, are guilty of [this] one vile and abominable sin…even their king himself."32

     Despite all of this, bonds of trust remained strong enough to keep the galleon trade going. The Spaniards continued, for instance, to rely on Juan Baptista de Vera. With the influx of Chinese immigrants, they set up a blended system of governance. Instead of overseeing the Sangleys directly, the Spanish assigned Chinese governors to rule over them. They of course appointed their most reliable Sangley friends (always Christian converts) to fulfill this post; and Juan Baptista de Vera served as the Philippines' Chinese Governor multiple times. Even as their trust waned in the Sangley population in general, the Spaniards continued to attribute positive attributes to him at least. He had, after all, been contributing to the making of the Philippine colony for most of his adult life. As long as relationships like these successfully managed tensions and ensured mutual security, the Philippines and its economic foundation could continue.

     Then came 1603. In April, an accidental fire spread through Manila and wiped out over half the city. Then in May, the colony was surprised again by an envoy from the Ming emperor. A group of Chinese officials, whom the Spaniards called mandarins, came to the city with one of the Sangleys, a man named Zhang Yi, searching for a mountain of silver. Apparently, Zhang had told the emperor that this mountain supplied all of the Philippines' silver exports, and that it was unclaimed. If the report was true, the mandarins of course wanted to claim said mountain. If not, they would punish the lying Sangley. The Spaniards knew that no such mountain existed in the Philippines, and they didn't understand why Zhang would bet his life on it.33 The whole story seemed like a ruse, and the Spaniards feared that the Ming government was using it as a means to gather information for an invasion.

     After the mandarins left, the threat of a Ming attack added terrible urgency to the already warm tensions between the Spaniards and the Sangleys. Some Spaniards assumed that the Sangleys had agreed to help the Ming conquer the colony, and many concluded that Chinese immigrants could no longer be trusted. The bishop of the Philippines, Miguel de Benavides, preached that the presence of the sinful Sangleys in Manila would provoke God to "consume us all with fire someday,"34 while the governor began to prepare for the invasion. He ordered that Chinese houses near the Spanish wall be demolished; he requested a list (probably from Juan Baptista de Vera) of all the Sangleys who owned weapons and which of those could be trusted; he confiscated any weapons being made in Sangley blacksmith shops; he stored provisions; and he hired the Sangleys to build a canal around the Spanish quarter of Manila.35 Most importantly, he started gathering troops. He made alliances with the Japanese merchants in the city, and he set Philippine chieftains on alert, telling them to have soldiers ready, just in case.

     These preparations heightened tensions even further. The bishop's anti-Chinese rhetoric became more inflammatory. He warned that "the Chinese were about to rebel."36 Rumors spread among the Sangleys that the Spaniards were preparing to wipe them out in advance. Then in October, a few thousand Sangleys gathered with weapons opposite the river from the Spanish quarter. The governor, still trusting Juan Baptista de Vera, sent him to try to make peace with this faction. But the attempt failed. The Sangleys attacked the colony. They started with a few indigenous villages, and an isolated Spanish estate. Then they moved on to the walls of the Spanish center. This outbreak of violence narrowed the Spanish image of the Chinese. Before it occurred, the Spaniards continued to trust at least some of their Sangley friends. But afterward, everyone became their enemy. The entire Sangley population was a confirmed threat.

     The Spaniards called upon their Japanese and Filipino allies to create a multiethnic anti-Chinese army. The army attacked the Sangley rebels on the opposite side of the river. But it didn't stop there. Thousands of Sangleys had not been part of the initial uprising and these remained in the city's Chinese quarter, called the Parian, where they had been promised protection. If they stayed, the Spanish swore they would not be harmed. That's not what happened though. The Spaniards opened the gates to the Parian, and gave their Japanese and Filipino allies free rein over the Sangleys inside. The soldiers looted, burned, and ultimately killed all who remained. Many Sangleys outside the Parian continued to fight, even though theirs was a losing battle. In the end, more than twenty thousand Chinese men were killed in the conflict.37

     This incident had profound effects on the Philippines. Remarkably, it did not end the galleon trade or stop the flow of Chinese immigrants to the islands. Within a few short years, tens of thousands had resettled there, drawn again to the colony by silver. What they didn't know was that 1603 had established a terrible precedent, one that would be repeated two more times during the seventeenth century. In 1639, mounting economic hardships led to another Chinese uprising, and once again, anti-Chinese fears overwhelmed the colony. Tens of thousands were killed. Then in 1662, a new Chinese sea lord, Zheng Chenggong (aka Koxinga) threatened to conquer the Philippines from his base on Taiwan. Fearful that the Sangleys would side with Zheng, the colony again demonized and massacred thousands. 

     Though these events sometimes appear to have been mainly about the Spaniards and the Sangleys, their effects were no doubt much larger. They helped to create and define all of colonial society. Histories frequently refer to violent episodes, but they generally talk around violence: causes are described, winners and losers are named, and reasons for victory are given.38 This approach skips over the most direct and powerful properties of violence. Violence creates an "us" and "them," and it crystalizes our feelings about who belongs in these two categories. Clearly, after 1603, the Sangleys were a perpetual "them" in colonial society. They were what some historians have called "essential outsiders."39 Though necessary to the survival of the colony, they were also targets during times of distress. Need and mutual interests made them part of the colonial system; fear and violence kept them out of the colonial community.

     As threatening outsiders, the Sangleys broadened and deepened the colonial definition of "us." Tracing anti-Chinese violence over time shows the formation of a bond between Spanish and local Philippine peoples. In 1574, an indigenous rebellion accompanied the Limahong attack, but that didn't happen in 1603. In that year, the entire native Philippine community came out in support of the colony. With Spanish and Philippine peoples fighting together against a common enemy, the imagined multiethnic colonial community became a reality. As the Spanish governor summarized, the Filipinos were

very proud of being soldiers and of serving your Majesty in military affairs, and therefore they have proved to be excellent troops. I have made much of them, given them presents, and thanked them for what they have done…In every way it has been of the greatest importance that these natives have lost their fear for the Sangleys, and have declared against them.40

The pride, presents, and gratitude he described shaped the multiethnic story that came after the violence. The governor recognized and "made much" of the local people's contributions, and he conceded that their help had been essential. Through their terrible alchemy, the violence and the story created a multiethnic unity.

     And this process continued throughout the seventeenth century. In 1639, Philippine peoples again rallied to the colonial cause. When called upon to put down that year's Sangley uprising, "all showed their fidelity to the king, their affection for the Spaniards, [and] their hatred to the Chinese," and many indigenous women even offered to fight.41 Love for the Spaniards was the flip-side to hatred of the Chinese. The colony's third anti-Chinese massacre was even more illustrative of how violence created colonial unity. In 1661, the Philippines' Kapampangan people had revolted and been subdued. The Spanish then used Zheng Chenggong's 1662 threat as a "trial of [their] fidelity."42 The governor mustered a Kapampangan army and sent that army to fight against the Sangleys unsupervised. Their willingness to violently oppose the Chinese ultimately proved their renewed loyalty.

     Anti-Chinese violence was even embedded into everyday colonial vocabulary. When Spanish and Philippine peoples tried to learn one another's languages they were reminded of these violent episodes. Dictionaries and other learning aids often contained sentences in both a Philippine language and Spanish. In one seventeenth century Spanish-Tagalog dictionary, the sample sentence that accompanied the word "stab" was "when the Sangleys rebelled, I stabbed one of them," and in the entry for war, the practice phrase reads "the Sangleys were defeated in the previous war."43 These short phrases were primers for storytelling about violence. As Spanish and Philippine peoples discussed these tragic episodes among themselves and with each other, they were keeping their combined anti-Sangley legacy alive. The two groups were imagining and making themselves into a more united colony.

     The man on the gallows knew better than anyone that he was at the climactic moment in two conflicting stories. He had certainly heard various Chinese witnesses describe his supposed plot. They swore that he had asked each of the Sangleys to give him a needle as a sign that they were enlisting in his army. He allegedly gathered 22,150 needles in all. They said that he had originally planned to start the uprising on November 30th, the anniversary if his and Limahong's arrival in the Philippines. By attacking on that date, during the festival of San Andres, the Sangleys would thus not only overthrow the Spaniards, but also symbolically overturn the capital's sacred founding story. Hoping to turn the story back in his favor—either before his mortal witnesses or before God—the man on the gallows approached death "as a faithful Christian, offering to die for his past sins," but still denying the accusations of treachery.44

     For twenty-nine years, he had helped create the Philippines. Born in Fujian, Eng Kang became a little brother to Limahong, arriving in his youth as part of an attack on Manila. He had been there as Rada and Sande hatched contradictory images of who the Chinese were. In the 1580s, he was caught up in the enthusiasms for Chinese conversions and conquests when he was baptized. He helped open up and normalize trade between China and the Spanish Empire, and he was able to maintain a relationship of trust during the tumultuous 1590s. All of this made his death particularly meaningful. He was hanged, quartered, and decapitated, his head put in a small cage and on display for all to see. Colonial officials weren't simply enforcing justice on the man, they were actively trying to create a memory. This was the purpose of public executions everywhere during this era, especially ones like this where the body was mutilated after death. It was violence designed to provoke the imagination.

Ethan Hawkley is an Assistant Professor at Wesley College. He can be contacted at


1 I would like to thank the late Professor Christina Gilmartin for helping me during this article's early stages of research and writing. I am honored to publish something that shows the ongoing influence of her generosity, encouragement, and depth. I am also grateful for the help and suggestions of others who have read various drafts of this paper, including those who peer reviewed it for this publication.

2 Santiago de Vera, et al., "Memorial to the Council by Citizens of the Filipinas Islands" (26 Jul 1586), in The Philippine Islands, 14931898, ed. and trans. Emma Blair and James Robinson (Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1903–7), vol. 6, 219. Hereafter BR.

3 See "Chinese: Mental (negative)," BR, vol. 54, 195.

4 Pedro de Acuña, et al., "The Sangley Insurrection" (December 1603), BR, vol. 12, 147.

5 Bartolome Leonardo Argensola, Conquista de las Islas Malucas (Madrid: Alonso Martin, 1609), 315.

6 Shen Defu quoted in Sophie Volpp, "Classifying Lust: The Seventeenth-Century Vogue for Male Love," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 61, vol. 1 (June 2001): 77–78. 

7 Arturo Giraldez, The Age of Trade: The Manila Galleons and the Dawn of the Global Economy (Lanham: Rowan and Littlefield, 2015), 154.

8 Francisco de Sande, "Relation of the Filipinas Islands" (7 Jun 1576), BR, vol. 4, 25.

9 Juan Gonzalez de Mendoza, "History of the great kingdom of China (extracts relating to the Philippines)" (1586), BR, vol. 6, 104–105, emphasis mine.

10 "en memoria de ser el dia en que se ganaron estas yslas," Diego Vázquez de Mercado (1615) "Información sobre acudir el Cabildo a fiesta de San Andrés," Archivo General de Indias, Seville, Spain (AGI), FILIPINAS,74, N.81,F.551V.

11 Alonso de Mentrida, Ritual para administrar los sanctos sacramentos sacado casi todo del Ritual romano (Manila: Colegio de Sancto Thomas, 1630), John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, v.

12 See Vicente Rafael, Contracting Colonialism : Translation and Christian Conversion in Tagalog Society under Early Spanish Rule, (Durham: Duke University Press, 1992), 2.

13 Upon arrival he became "aware of the greater advantages possessed by the Chinese . . . in comparison with [the] islanders. . . [and] immediately conceived a great desire to go to preach the gospel to those people, so capable of receiving it." See Mendoza (1586), 91.

14 Martin de Rada in C.R. Boxer, ed., South China in the Sixteenth Century (Nendeln, Germany: Hakluyt Society, 1953), 244, 255–256.   

15 Quoted in C. R. Boxer, South China in the Sixteenth Century (Nendeln, Germany: Hakluyt Society, 1953), lxiii.

16 Francisco de Sande, "Relation of the Filipinas Islands" (7 Jun 1576), BR, vol. 4, 51 and 59.

17 Donald F. Lach, Asia in the Making of Europe: Volume I The Century of Discovery, Book Two (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965), 746–747.

18 Lach, 744.

19 Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa, "Ordinance restricting departure from the islands" (1582), BR, vol. 4, 308–309.

20 Santiago de Vera, et al, (1586), 197.

21 Santiago de Vera, et al, (1586), 194–197.

22 Santiago de Vera, et al, (1586), 197.

23 Santiago de Vera, et al, (1586), 201.

24 Santiago de Vera, et al, (1586), 210.

25 Santiago de Vera, et al, (1586), 214.

26 Santiago de Vera, et al, (1586), 219–220.

27 Santiago de Vera, et al, (1586), 204. His given names, "Juan Baptista," likely came from the Augustinian missionary by that name then living in the Philippines who sometimes spoke on behalf of the Chinese see Fray Juan Bautista, "Carta de fray Juan Bautista, vicario del pueblo de Miton, al Obispo de Filipinas, sobre los agravios que reciben los sangleyes por loque se vuelven sin querar poblar alli" (1582), AGI, FILIPINAS,84,N.26.

28 Argensola (1609), 315.

29 Birgit Tremml-Werner, Spain, China, and Japan in Manila, 15711644: Local Comparisons and Global Connections (Amersterdam: University of Amsterdam Press, 2015), 120.

30 William H. Scott, Looking for the Prehispanic Filipino and Other Essays in Philippine History (Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1992), 70.

31 "Carta de los chinos infieles de Luzón a S.M., pidiendo remedio de los agravios y cohechos que sufrían en su comercio" (1598), AGI, MP-Escritura_Cifra, 28.

32 Francisco de Ortega, "Report Concerning the Filipinas Islands, and other papers" (1594), BR, vol. 9, 107.

33 It is possible that he mistakenly thought Potosi was actually somewhere in the Philippine islands.

34 Miguel de Benavides, "Letters to Felipe III" (1603), BR, vol. 12, 107.

35 Jose Eugenio Barao, "The Massacre of 1603: Chinese Perception of the Spaniards in the Philippines," National Taiwan University (1998), accessed August 9, 2017, 4–7,

36 Pedro de Acuña, et al., "Complaints against the archbishop" (1605), BR, vol. 14, 32.

37 It has been suggested that the Spaniards inflated the number of dead Sangleys to boast of their prowess and that the number could not have reached 20,000. It must have been far less, it is said, because that number exceeded the legal limit and official count of Sangleys in Manila, and also because so few Spaniards could not have possibly defeated such a large Sangley army. There are, however, at least five problems with this conclusion. First, nearly every account—both Chinese and Spanish—gives a number between twenty and thirty thousand. Second, Spanish sources all agree that colonial authorities greedily allowed the Sangleys to far exceed the legal limit as they were paid for residential licenses. Third, the Spaniards had no reason in 1603 to exaggerate these numbers. Their accounts were not written to prove their military superiority but rather to seek mercy and justify their actions. If anything, they would have been more likely underestimate the number of dead. Fifth, this assertion downplays the role of Asian soldiers in the anti-Sangley army by assuming that the Spaniards were the ones who did most of the fighting. Eye witness accounts suggest that the bulk of the colonial army was made up of Philippine and Japanese peoples and that the Spaniards exercised only lose control over these other groups. See Birgit Tremml, "The Global and the Local: Problematic Dynamics of the Triangular Trade in Early Modern Manila," Journal of World History 23, no. 3 (2012): 570–571.

38 Gyanendra Pandey, Routine Violence: Nations, Fragments, Histories (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), 17.

39 See Anthony Reid and Daniel Chirot, eds., Essential Outsiders: Chinese and Jews in the Modern Transformation of Southeast Asia and Central Europe (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997).

40 Pedro de Acuña, et al. "The Sangley Insurrection" (1603), BR, vol. 12, 160.

41"Relation of the insurrection of the Chinese" (1640), BR, vol. 29, 229–230.

42"Events in Manila, 1662–1663" (1663), BR, vol. 36, 238.

43 Pedro de Buenaventura, Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala [1613] (San Antonio de Padua College Foundation Inc., 2017), see entries for "Cuchillada" and "Guerra", accessed August 29, 2017.

44 Gregorio Lopez, "Copia de la carta del P. Gregorio Lopez de Abril de 1604 al Pror Gral, en que se hace la relacion del alzamiento de los Sangleyes," Ventura del Arco, vol 1., Newberry Library, Chicago, 137.

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