According to The History of the Sung Dynasty or Sung Shi, published in 1343-1374, China already had trade relations with the people in the Philippines as early as the tenth century (AD 982) (Miclat, 2000). By the time of the Sung Dynasty (860-1127), Chinese colonies were already founded in some towns by the coast. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) , colonies were already found in the hinterlands (Agoncillo, 1990). When the Spanish arrived in Manila in 1571 the resident population of Chinese in the area was around one hundred and fifty.
Many of them were traders in Chinese merchant ships. The Chinese said they were seng-li (or xang lai), which meant “we are traders” (Gardner). The Spanish eventually called them Sangley, which is derived from the Hokkien word seng-di or seng-li meaning “business” (Mempin, 2009). The Chinese established themselves near Spanish communities, taking on important roles as food providers, retail traders and artisans. The Spanish soon became dependent on the Chinese economically; after all, they provided many of the goods shipped to Europe through Mexico by the Manila galleon trade .
However, because of cultural differences, there were also mutual feelings of distrust. There came a time when the population of Chinese outnumbered the Spanish, who were afraid that they would revolt (Wickberg, 1964). Because of this, in 1582, the Spanish required the Chinese to live in a walled compound called the Parian, which soon became the commercial center of the area (Gardner). By the sixteenth century, there was a royal order for all Chinese to be expelled from the Philippines and the Parian , evacuated.
However, Governor Dasmarinas knew that the City of Manila, which was the largest Spanish settlement, were dependent on the Chinese for economic services. Governor Dasmarinas bought some land across the river from the walled city of Intramuros and turned it over to a group of known Chinese merchants and artisans, for the purpose of creating a new Chinese settlement. The intention was to formally obey the royal order, while at the same time, making sure that the Chinese would continue to provide good and services for the Spanish.
The land grant was tax-free and given in perpetuity. This settlement came to be known as Binondo. In the beginning, there were no religious or cultural issues involved, but when the Spanish Dominican priests were assigned to Binondo, they turned it into a community of married Catholic Chinese and their. By the year 1600, the population was around five hundred or more, and the first generation of mestizos (mixed Chinese-native ancestry) had appeared (Wickberg, 1964).
In time, Binondo came to be known as the community of Chinese and Chinese mestizos who had been baptized and converted to Catholicism, and Parian was where the n0n-Catholic Chinese lived. In the nineteenth century, there was a mass emigration of Chinese into other parts of the world as a result of wars, starvation, corruption and civil unrest in mainland China. This was called the “Chinese Diaspora”. Most of these Chinese who went overseas came from maritime provinces like Fujian, Guangdong and Hainan (Overseas Chinese, 2008).
In the Philippines, most of the Chinese who immigrated in the second half of the nineteenth century came from Fujian on the southeastern coast of China (Dolan, 1991). One of these sub-provinces of Fujian is Xiamen, also commonly known as Amoy. The term Amoy became known when Xiamen became a treaty port after the 1st Opium War (1839-42), and is thought to have come from the island’s name “Ah Mo” in the local dialect (Brown, 2007).
In those days, it was common for newly baptized Chinese immigrants to incorporate his baptismal sponsor’s name after his own. Let us take, for instance, the case of Don Pedro Gotiaco who is the ancestor of today’s wealthy Gokongwei clan. When he was baptized, Don Pedro’s baptismal sponsor was Don Mariano Singson, from a well-known mestizo family. Don Pedro incorporated his sponsor’s name into his own, which was commonly done those days. The sponsor or “padrino” was considered a necessary protector for a new immigrant like Don Pedro.