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Journey of the Barong Tagalog, Spanish Colonial Philippines Part 4: Chinese Influence on Trade, Culture and the Philippine Textile Industry

Chinese people are believed to have visited the Philippines and traded with the native people as early as the 9th and 10th centuries based on Chinese porcelain and ceramic wares found around archaeological sites around the country. Trade relationships were built between barangays (municipal governments) and the Ming Dynasty, and Chinese men settled in the Philippines and married local women.

Chinese settlers and traders brought and shared their manufactured goods, culture and trade skills. Amongst their many skills, their weaving and embroidery skills spread widely around the islands.

When Spain arrived in the Philippines in 1521, there was already a significant Chinese male population from the Ming dynasty trade relationship. After Spain established its government in Manila in 1574, there were unsuccessful attacks from Chinese pirates, revolts from Chinese settlers and suspicious but peaceful visits from Chinese officials. Spanish authorities restricted Chinese activities in Manila to prevent future hostility.

To avoid violence and deportation back to China, most Chinese settlers in Manila focused on trade and service industries. Many opened small businesses, trading manufactured goods, or worked as skilled artisans for Spanish authorities.

Trade boomed and opportunity greatly increased in Manila for Chinese traders and skilled tradesmen, and many new Chinese settlers came to Manila to take part in the economy. The Chinese population there jumped from 40 married Chinese men in 1570 to 4,000 Chinese men in 1589.

Chinese traders created a demand for luxury goods, like silk, porcelain and spices. It is this demand that inspired the Spanish government’s international trade ideas and their ambitions to develop Filipino goods to compete with Chinese goods. This led to the large scale teaching of weaving and embroidery to native Filipinos and the creation of the Philippine textile industry. Piña and embroidered goods will be developed and produced, and piña and embroidery will find their way onto the Barong Tagalog.

Chinese Sangley (mixed ancestry with Arab and Iranian) couple living in Manila. This painting is from the Boxer Codex circa 1590. They wear Hanfu clothing from the Ming Dynasty.

This image is of a Chinese Sangley (mixed ancestry with Arab and Iranian) couple living in Manila. This painting is from the Boxer Codex circa 1590. They wear Hanfu clothing from the Ming Dynasty.