at the heart of Manila, Philippines is the humble yet progressively evolving
district called Binondo - also known to many as the world’s oldest Chinatown.
comes as no surprise that this quintessential town of culture and nostalgia is
on the list of must-see places when visiting Manila. A trip to Binondo is a
journey back in time; an opportunity for travellers to not only get a glimpse
of Manila’s past, but also the long and enduring relationship between China and
used to be Manila’s center of business and finance. Today, remnants of its past
still remain standing and thriving. The streets of Binondo are still lined with
a plethora of Chinese family-owned businesses, ranging from hardware stores and
electronic shops to restaurants and traditional apothecaries. Buildings sit
tightly next to each other, frequently giving room only to small alleyways. But
even so, bits and pieces of Chinese influence still have their place within its
heavily crowded space.
modern businesses, one can also find temples and feng shui specialty shops. And
yet, a popular Catholic Church also shares the same address. Binondo also has a
good number of Chinese schools with a curriculum that includes Chinese language
and calligraphy, but without forgetting to add Filipino language as a required
subject as well.
amazing how both cultures managed to keep their identities, while also
harmoniously coexisting side by side throughout so many years. Binondo is more
than 400 years old and it is more than just a tourist attraction or an
ancestral heritage to many Filipinos. It is evidence of some Chinese roots in
the Filipino culture but more importantly, it is a representation of two
cultures coming together and learning from one another.
Chinese Influence On Filipino Culture
was founded in the year 1594 and it served as a settlement for Chinese
immigrants also known as the sangleys at the time. But even before Spanish
colonization, ties between China and the Philippines have long been established
through trade. And with a history that started many centuries ago, it’s not
surprising to discover bits of China in Philippine history and culture.
Chinese influence still remain engrained in Philippine modern culture, withstanding
the 333-year long reign of Spanish power in the country. Take a peek at the
everyday lives of Filipinos today and you are sure to find evidence of China’s
say that one of the best ways to experience a country’s culture is through its
local cuisine. Philippine cuisine is undoubtedly diverse and symbolic of the
rich culture of the Filipinos. But believe it or not, evidence of Chinese
influence on Filipino cuisine isn’t that hard to find.
hopia, for example, is a delicious flaky puff pastry introduced by Chinese
immigrants from Fujian. It won’t take long to realize its resemblance to the
desserts and pastries of neighboring countries Hong Kong and Taiwan. The hopia
is traditionally filled with a sweet Mung bean filling but Filipinos made it
their own by creating their original choice of filling. There’s the ube hopia
which has a native purple yam (ube) filling instead of the typical Mung bean
(monggo). A quick research of traditional Filipino desserts and you’ll find
that the ube is a local favorite.
from the hopia, the tikoy is also another perfect example of Chinese influence
not only on food, but also on Philippine tradition. The Philippines celebrates
Chinese New Year every year with tikoy, also known as the Chinese Nian Gao. As
its name suggests, this rice cake is the centerpiece during Chinese New Year.
Filipinos and Chinese believe that the tikoy will bring money and good luck.
Just like the hopia, Filipinos have also made their original versions of the
tikoy. During Chinese New Year, you can find purple yam flavored tikoy as well
as pandan - both flavors being very Filipino.
Siopao and siomai
love sweets which is probably the reason why the hopia and the tikoy were such
a big hit. But that does not mean that Filipinos do not enjoy more savory
foods. Siopao and siomai are your typical Chinese meat buns and dumplings. But
ask any Filipino around and they will tell you that they are a Filipino staple
and that they are totally different from the Chinese version. But judging from
the names themselves, it’s undeniable that these local favorites were inspired
by Chinese dimsum.
to its name, Birthday Noodles are served during someone’s birthday. This dish
is also called Longevity Noodles or Long Life Noodles. And according to Chinese
superstition, the right way to eat this dish is to avoid cutting the longer
strands as it symbolizes cutting off one’s luck. Despite the majority of
Filipinos being very religious, many still follow the tradition of including
Birthday Noodles in birthday party menus. And yes, they also try to eat it the
“proper” way with hopes and wishes of good luck to the birthday celebrant.
Chinese are known for their culture of filial piety. They take the hierarchical
structure of their families very seriously by honoring ancestors and obeying
the wishes of those older than them. This belief complements Filipino beliefs
about family as well. Filipinos put their family above everything else and they
have high respect for their elders.
hierarchy in Chinese families may have influenced Filipinos to obey not only
the wishes of their parents and grandparents but to also show equal amount of
respect towards their older brothers and sisters. Until today, Filipinos have
the habit of calling their brothers and sisters “ate” or “kuya” instead of
calling them by name as proof of their respect and humility towards their
to statistics, the Philippines is 82.9% Catholic so it is very interesting to
discover their very superstitious culture. While most of their superstitious
beliefs have unknown sources, quite a handful of them are actually a result of
Chinese influence. As mentioned above, plenty of Filipinos practice Chinese
superstitious beliefs through food such as eating Birthday Noodles or tikoy for
good luck and prosperity.
interesting tradition inspired by Chinese superstitious belief is the Filipino’s
preference for the color red. The Chinese believe that the color red symbolizes
good fortune. With that in mind, Filipinos started to wear red on their
birthday as well to reinforce their chances of good luck on their special day.
number 8 is a lucky number according to many Chinese and Filipinos. This is the
reason why most Filipinos would prefer to have their car plate numbers or
mobile numbers with as many 8’s as possible - but that does not end there…
of Filipinos today also incorporate principles of Feng Shui in their home. They
also regularly check their yearly horoscope during Chinese New Year. In
relation to Feng Shui, they try to style their home or make changes according
to the forecast of their yearly horoscope. Of course, following these
superstitions does not represent of dictate the Catholic faith of Filipinos but
rather, it is viewed as a fun and enjoyable way to celebrate culture and
said all this, the cultural history and relationship shared between the
Philippines and China runs deep in the veins of Filipino culture. Despite the
political riffs and tensions between both countries in recent years, their past
is too much entangled with one another that it cannot be undone. Perhaps tracing
back the Chinese roots in Filipino culture can ignite the ancestral brotherhood
between both countries once again, hopefully proving to the world that cultural
identity is not lost or given away, but shared. After all, there’s 400 years
worth of evidence sitting in the heart of Manila and it’s not going anywhere