Tiempo Muerto: A Novel

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A Lauriat of Chinese-Filipino Dishes

The publication of My Angkong’s Noodles is a milestone in Chinese-Filipino culinary history.

Written by Clinton Huang Palanca (one of the most gifted Filipino writers of his generation and a talented cook himself), photographed by Neal Oshima, styled by Ginny Roces de Guzman, and published by Elizabeth Yu Gokongwei, this beautiful, lavishly illustrated book contains more than a hundred recipes for rice, noodle, seafood, pork, beef, chicken, and vegetable dishes, plus desserts, for everyday eating as well as festive occasions. Thoughtful essays by Mara Coson, the late Doreen Fernandez, Rafael Ongpin, and Jeffrey Yap leaven this cookbook, and sixteen recipe authors and five establishments (including Ling Nam, Mann Hann, and Hai Kang) contributed to the creative team endeavor.

“Angkong” in the title means “grandfather” in Hokkien or Minnanhua (literally, “the speech south of the Min River”), the lingua franca of the Chinese community in the Philippines and a topolect (nay, language) that is spoken by more than forty-six million people in China (mainly southern Fujian), Singapore, Malaysia (especially Melaka and Penang), Taiwan, and parts of Indonesia (including Medan in North Sumatra) and Thailand.

Although the kitchen is often assumed to be the domain of women, Palanca invokes his own father’s love of cooking to show that the lived experience and history of the Chinese in the Philippines complicate this “tradition” and its stereotype of the “dutiful daughter-in-law.”

For most of the nearly four centuries during which the Philippines was a colony of Spain, Chinese migrants were overwhelmingly male. They were either bachelors or married men who left their wives and children behind in Fujian. Some of these migrants founded their own families in the Philippines through marriage or informal unions involving Filipino women. It was not unusual for Chinese men—the more prosperous ones, at least—to have families in China as well as the Philippines.

These Chinese-Filipino unions in turn produced the so-called “mestizos,” who were granted their own legal classification between 1760 and the 1880s, and from whose ranks descended some of the country’s most illustrious (and some notorious) sons and daughters: Tomas Pinpin, Lorenzo Ruiz, Jose Rizal, Emilio Aguinaldo, Sergio Osmeña, Ferdinand Marcos, Jaime Cardinal Sin, and Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, to name a few. Only in the early twentieth century did sufficient numbers of Chinese women migrate to the Philippines, a trend that accelerated in the 1930s because of the chaos and devastation of the Sino-Japanese War but tapered off once China went Communist and Hong Kong replaced Amoy/Xiamen as the embarkation point of emigration for far smaller numbers of Chinese. In recent decades, new migrants (xinqiao) have kept the community institutions such as Chinese-language newspapers and organizations afloat, even as second- and third-generation Chinese Filipinos have integrated into Philippine society in the wake of the landmark relaxation of naturalization requirements in 1975.

As Doreen Fernandez  pointed out, the word pansit that we now use to refer to the popular Filipino dish of noodles cooked with seafood, meat, or vegetables originated in the Hokkien word pien sit, meaning “something that is conveniently cooked: usually fried,” proof enough that “fast food” cooked and peddled by Chinese men but thoroughly adapted to Filipino taste and sensibility was already inventing its own tradition in colonial Manila and other urban areas.

Included in the cookbook are recipes for such Chinese-Filipino staples as Han Zhi Be (lugaw with cubes of sweet potato), Kiam Peng (savory rice with toppings of chicken, pork, Chinese sausage, and roasted peanuts), Ma Tsang (tetrahedral dragon-boat parcels of glutinous rice flavored with five-spice powder, packed with bits of pork belly, chestnuts, black mushrooms, and dried shrimp, and wrapped in bamboo leaf), Ngo Hiong (kikiam, seasoned pork encased sausage-like in crisp bean curd sheets), Gulam (short-rib beef stew), Mi Sua Teng (Misua Medley, featuring patola and fresh oysters), O Ah Jien (oyster cake), Chai Tao Que (radish cake), Sai Zhi Tao (Lion’s Head meatballs, eaten with Chinese pechay), Diong Kwei Teng  (medicinal black chicken soup, boiled with goji berries/kam kee, bamboo pith, and red dates), and Lo Han Zhai (vegetarian stir-fry with wood-ear fungus, “fa cai” vegetables, bamboo shoots, baby corn, snowpeas, and Chinese cabbage). For the more adventurous cooks planning a lauriat (from the Hokkien term, lau-diat, “merry-making”) banquet, there are recipes for Po Pia (Chinese lumpia), a simpler, more ecologically friendly version of the Put Tiao Chiu (Buddha Jumps Over the Wall, the original of which is made of melted sweet potato and taro, prepared over two days, and served in porcelain wine jars), and Pao Hi Hiu Ko (abalone with mushrooms).

These dishes have as their base the chicken stock (preferably home-made) that distinguishes the food culture of the Chinese from that of the Japanese, who normally use fish stock, and Koreans, who use seaweed. The coastal origins of Chinese-Filipino cuisine can be seen in the liberal use of oysters and seafood. While the Southeast Asian (Nanyang) influence is evident in the Philippine version of shrimp toasts (He Pia), Chinese cuisine has also been shaped by China’s interaction with the Philippines. Sweet potato, a major supplement to the Fujianese diet, and chili pepper, without which Sichuan mala sauce is unimaginable, first entered mainland China from South America via Manila, a key port in the galleon trade.

At the same time, Chinese cooking has made a home for itself in the Philippines, with siopao and siomai, maki (made of pork shoulder, pork fat, and camote flour), fishballs (Hi Wan), boiled peanuts (Sah To Tao), pata tim (Hong Ti Ka, braised pork trotter), and humba (Hong Ba, roasted pork belly) becoming part of the Filipino repertoire. In turn, the Chinese-Filipino table has incorporated Pinoy favorites such as pochero, which used to be served by mestizos on Sundays, and the delicious Philippine mango. A number of dishes are mestizo in themselves: bean sprout and tofu cake (Tao Hu Que), beef and tripe curry (Kali Guba Guto), and chicken taro in coconut sauce (Iya Chiu Kwei). Others offer clever improvisations on old standbys: using Haw flakes, for example, for sweet and sour pork (Cho Ba).

Palanca rightly states that Cantonese cuisine has long set the benchmark for the globalization of Chinese food, owing to Cantonese immigration to America and to the rise of Hong Kong as one of the Four Dragon economies in East Asia and Guangdong province as a special economic zone in post-Maoist China in the 1980s and 1990s.

In the Philippines, the Cantonese who form a minority of the Chinese population had tended to cluster in the restaurant business, a fact that is borne out in Jose Rizal’s second novel, El filibusterismo (1891), which includes a chapter in which “fourteen young men from the principal islands of the archipelago, from the pure indio (if there be pure ones) to the Peninsular Spaniard” decide to “celebrate” the defeat of their efforts to set up a Spanish-language school by throwing a party at the Panciteria Macanista de Buen Gusto. (Macanista is derived from the proper noun “Macao”; the Chinese in the Philippines still refer to Cantonese speakers as “Macao-a”–a reference to the port city from which Cantonese originally sailed in the early centuries of the Spanish era–much as they call people from India “Bombay-a,” regardless of place of origin.)

As shirtless Chinese waiters bring in the dishes for the four-course meal, the students laughingly dedicate the first course, soupy “pancit langlang”–made of “mushrooms, crabs or shrimp, egg noodles, sotanghun, pieces of chicken, and I don’t know what else,” the student Makaraig helpfully explains–to the sneaky, noncommittal Don Custodio. (“Langlang” in Tagalog means ingredient or spice, but “Langlang”/”Lanlang”/”Lannang” is also what the Hokkien call themselves, literally “our people”; the late historian William Henry Scott tells us that in the sixteenth century, Tagalog elders referred to pirates as “langlang.”) The other three courses are: “lumpia de chino” made of pork, crab cake, and pansit guisado. One wall of the restaurant is festooned with this versicle: “Glory be to Custodio for his cleverness and pansit on earth to the youths of good will!” If the effort to nationalize Spanish, the colonial language, is doomed to failure, a form of “national” solidarity may yet be engendered among “ilustrados” of different ethnicities and backgrounds by the simple act of eating comfort food together. It is Rizal who tells us that while the pancit is supposed to have a “Chinese or Japanese” provenance, the kind that Filipinos eat is to be found only in the Philippines.

The relative invisibility of Fujianese cuisine owes something to the mercantile profile of its emigrants and to the rugged, mountainous terrain that kept the province isolated. Ironically, this isolation has ensured that Hokkien and the other Min languages would retain vestiges of Middle Chinese (and perhaps even Old Chinese), which accounts for why Hokkien reading of Tang poetry rhymes while Mandarin Chinese does not.

Viewed in terms of the long durée, however, isolation is relative to some parts of Fujian but not to others. The Fujianese city of Quanzhou, where many of the ancestors of modern-day Chinese-Filipinos originate (Zhangzhou is the other major source of immigration to the Philippines in the early Spanish period), stands out for its long, cosmopolitan history and its cultural diversity as a contact zone between east and west and between near east and far east. Established in the 8th century as a port-city of Tang China, Quanzhou surpassed Guangdong to become the largest seaport in China during the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) Dynasties, serving as the starting point of the fabled maritime Silk Road, meriting mention by Marco Polo, and acting as a springboard for Kubilai Khan’s attempted invasion of Java.

Fujian was noted in the Ming and Qing Dynasties for two important cultural achievements.  The first is Fujian’s singular success in providing the highest number—2,436—of people who attained the highest degree, jinshi, in the 276-year history of the imperial examination system that supplied the bulk of the empire’s civil bureaucracy during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The two counties of Putian near Fuzhou and Jinjiang in Quanzhou (Jinjiang happens to be the ancestral home-county of many Chinese-Filipino families) alone accounted for 493 and 368 jinshi degrees respectively, and had the largest and third largest number of jinshi degrees per capita in China. The reason for this scholastic success was that Fujian merchants could afford to hire tutors for their scions; indeed, there were Philippine Chinese like Lim Tua Co (of the Destileria Limtuaco), who attained jinshi status in the nineteenth century, and there was a Fujianese family that produced seven generations of jinshi over 200 years.   The second achievement is Fujian’s native son, Lin Shu (1852-1924), born in Fuzhou, who enjoyed a long, distinguished career in the late nineteenth century (late Qing [1644-1912] period) as China’s foremost translator who introduced Western literature into China. Although Lin Shu did not know any foreign language, he worked with bilingual collaborators to translate more than 170 literary works, many of them novels in English and to a lesser extent French, into literary Chinese, and in so doing, helped modernize Chinese thought and culture.

The coastal cities of Xiamen, Zhangzhou, and Quanzhou have thrived historically on the remittances and investment of their sojourning sons in Southeast Asia and, now, in the Anglophone Pacific countries that include the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Neglected by the socialist government, which did not bother with infrastructure-building in the 1940s to 1970s, Fujian’s Xiamen/Amoy was one of the first cities to be designated a special economic zone in 1980, followed by the capital city of Fuzhou in 1984. Close contact with Taiwan across the straits and major investment by the Hokkien diaspora since the economic reform and opening up of China in 1978 have made Fujian the ninth richest province in terms of GDP per capita in 2013.

For too long now, Chinese Filipinos have had to rely on their own family recipes, handed down from generation to generation, as well as popular Taiwanese author and television personality Fu Pei Mei’s bestselling three-volume cookbooks and special cooking classes in Southeast Asia, for their comfort food. My Angkong’s Noodles not only offers a lauriat of classic dishes from one of the oldest Chinatowns in the world, but also restores to Philippine and Southeast Asian history the Chinese Filipinos’ place in it.



This essay originally appeared in “Letters to Narcissus.”

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Coming Soon: “Demigods and Monsters: Stories”


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On F. Sionil Jose’s Antiquated Racial Nationalism

Some people never learn from their mistakes. The National Artist F. Sionil Jose is evidently one of them. On ne transforme pas un bourrin en cheval de course.  Or as the Americans prefer to put it: you can’t teach old dogs new tricks.

In his latest Star column, Jose has decided to drop all pretense, ditch all qualifiers–hedging adjectives like “some,” “many,” and “most”–and go all out in his sweeping, lazy generalizations about “the Chinese”:

“Realize that 80 percent of the Philippine economy is now in the hands of ethnic Chinese. They came to the Philippines with nothing, and became wealthy through exploitation of the land and the people. The priority, therefore, is for us now to see to it that the economic power of these ethnic Chinese, whose loyalty to the Philippines is in doubt, should be emasculated. The silence of our Filipino Chinese on this crucial issue is deafening. Vietnam is a very good model.

“Vietnam has not hesitated to fight the Chinese frontally and yet maintains a close relationship with China. Its economy had been dominated by ethnic Chinese. Cholon, then Saigon’s busiest district, was actually a Chinese enclave. After the triumph of the Revolution in 1975, Vietnam applied a simple solution to its China problem. The Chinese were simply expelled and their properties were confiscated. Several Chinese establishments were set up through the following years, but during the riots some three years ago, when China set up an oil rig in Vietnamese waters, to which the Vietnamese objected furiously, the Chinese factories in Vietnam were burned.”

Jose decries the “silence of our Filipino Chinese on this crucial issue.” If Filipino Chinese are silent on the issue, it’s because they have no idea what Jose is talking about.

Where, for instance, did Jose get the statistics showing that “80% of the Philippine economy is now in the hands of the ethnic Chinese”? Where is his proof that these ethnic Chinese became wealthy “through exploitation of the land and the people” and how would he know that these ethnic Chinese are disloyal? Judging by the responses of Teresita Ang-See and Leloy Claudio to similar racist remarks made by Solita “Winnie” Monsod in her Inquirer columns last December, such blanket generalizations about the “ethnic Chinese”–even the “wealthy” ones–are indefensible, both intellectually and morally.

I cannot think of any intellectually rigorous research vetted by, and published in, reputable international journals and presses that makes a case for the ethnic Chinese controlling 80% of the Philippine economy.

In fact, we don’t even know how big the ethnic Chinese community is–or if we can even call it a community at all. There are plenty of Filipinos of Chinese ancestry, bearing Chinese surnames like Lim or Tan, who do not identify as ethnic Chinese. Are they to be subject to expulsion and seizure of property as well?

Moreover, the “1.5%-of-population” rough estimate is based on projections from postwar statistics that do not factor in the all-important criteria of self-identification, changes in citizenship, outmigration, among others. Most of the academic studies that cite this figure are careful to point out the problems with such an estimate.

Instead of Indonesia, Jose now cites the Vietnamese expulsion and confiscation of property of the Chinese as a worthy model for the Philippines. Jose may look to Southeast Asian racial nationalism for inspiration, but Filipinos who know their history are quick to realize that Jose is merely plagiarizing from the playbook of our Spanish colonizers, who periodically engaged in expulsion and confiscation of properties.

Should we be thankful at least that, in this particular column, Jose is not actively inciting and justifying violence against the ethnic Chinese, as he did in 1999?

I have argued before in my book, The Chinese Question: Ethnicity, Nation, and Region in and beyond the Philippines, that what is interesting and important about Filipino citizenship is the fact that, unlike our neighbors in Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia, our state does not continue to tabulate and track the ethnicity of foreigners once they have acquired Filipino citizenship.

This is the reason we do not have accurate statistics on our so-called ethnic Chinese. This lack of accuracy, far from being an impediment, is actually a blessing, because it frees us Filipinos to imagine our nation–and what it means to be Filipino–in ways that avoid the racism and exclusionary impulses of a narrow kind of nationalist dogma.

Because in the eyes of the law, our citizens are counted and treated as Filipinos, because our country refuses to define Filipino in racial terms, our people have avoided the large-scale racial discrimination and violence that have marred the histories of our neighboring countries. (Tragically, however, this doesn’t mean that Filipinos aren’t capable of discriminating and going to war against fellow Filipinos.) Refusing a nationalism built on racist exclusion is not something we ought to be ashamed of, but something we should take pride in.

We do not need the likes of Jose–with his stubbornly held racial prejudices,  antiquated views of nationalism, and armchair-commando machismo (“emasculated,” anyone?)– to tell us how to be Filipino and what kind of country we deserve.

We deserve National Artists who are far wiser and more knowledgeable than F. Sionil Jose.


P.S. For those who want an introduction to the complicated history of Vietnam-China relations beyond Jose’s glib, imprecise summary of a paragraph, I recommend Keith Taylor’s A History of the Vietnamese; Christopher Goscha’s Vietnam; Alexander Woodside’s Vietnam and the Chinese Model; Brantly Womack’s China and Vietnam; and Qiang Zhai’s China and the Vietnam Wars, 1950-1975.

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The Zealotry of Racists Like Vergel Santos

One Vergel Santos has added his (racist) two centavos to the recent controversy generated by Solita Monsod’s racist comments. He commends  Monsod for her “rigor of inquiry” and for being a “highly regarded academic.” Monsod may be all that when it comes to commenting on issues she actually knows something about, but unfortunately, none of these qualities is on display in her two columns on the China/Chinese/Chinese-Filipino issues, about which she appears not to know much.

Not to be outdone by his idol, Santos floats his own lazy generalization with an empty sentence like “Zealotry is a virtue promoted and cultivated by the Chinese autocracy,” which he pins on my critique.

Looks like Santos needs to take a refresher course in freshman English I/Communication I, as he lacks the basic reading comprehension skills to glean from my critiques the obvious fact that I am neither a supporter nor defender of “Chinese autocracy.”

If Santos is insinuating that anyone who is critical of anti-Tsinoy racism must be a pro-China “zealot”, then he is just as guilty as Monsod of conflating China, Chinese, and Chinese Filipinos.

Santos, like Monsod, is sloppy at reading and sloppy at arguing. If anything, his article serves only to underscore his zealotry in defending his own, and Monsod’s, racist views.  Tsk, tsk, tsk, mahina talaga ang kalaban.

As for the China discussion, Santos merely regurgitates what is already well-known and -reported out there, and adds no fresh insight or even new data of his own. Yawn.  There are nuanced analyses out there of the debt issue, for example, but these are written by people who actually do research and know what they’re talking about.

It’s a sad day for Philippine journalism when our so-called columnists pontificate on things they don’t know much about, and think that they are doing people a favor by peddling their racist views as argumentum ad populum and doing no more than regurgitate news reports. Santos is not practising responsible journalism; he’s running a press-clipping agency.

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Solita Monsod is a Racist Enabler

Solita Monsod has seen fit to respond to my critique of her Inquirer article “Why Filipinos Distrust China” with yet another article, which essentially regurgitates her assertions without really addressing the points I raise about her basing her generalizations on her personal experience. Like I said, her circle of “Chinese-Filipino” friends must be quite limited–a fact that makes her personal observation blinkered and limited, as I pointed out–if all she can come up with is a sentence like “Actually, I have often observed, Reader, that a Chinese-Filipino will never ever state unequivocally that he/she is a Filipino first, and a Chinese second (meaning, his loyalty is to the Philippines).” When I say that she has blinkered and limited powers of observation, I am not resorting to ad hominems, I am merely pointing out a fact.

Monsod claims in her article that she is merely reporting the results of surveys showing that Filipinos “trust the United States, Japan, Malaysia, Israel, but on the whole, they don’t trust China.” She goes on to say, in her own defense, “Don’t kill the messenger.”

As far as I’m concerned, Monsod, by uncritically retailing the stereotypes and assumptions of the alien Chinese as people “taking away what is ours” and failing to call out the racism of such a statement, is not just a messenger, but a racist enabler who condones racism and even seeks to justify and rationalize it.

She  then goes on to say: “Chinese-Filipinos comprise less than 2 percent of our population, but they comprise at least 50 percent of our richest listed in Forbes magazine. You don’t think that causes resentment, and even distrust? Perhaps because of their conspicuous consumption? It is Ms Hau that generalizes; she jumps from distrust of the richest Chinese-Filipinos to ALL of them. Excuse me.”

There are historical reasons why Chinese-Filipinos are disproportionately represented in the Philippine economy but Monsod is not interested in discussing them. Reader, I suggest you read Edgar Wickberg, Richard Chu, Teresita Ang-See, Ellen Palanca, Antonio Tan, John Omohundro, and Wong Kwok-Chu, since you’re not likely to learn anything about the Chinese in the Philippines from Monsod. All Monsod has done is to confirm that anti-Chinese racism is alive and well in the Philippines.

Monsod accuses me of generalizing and “jump[ing] from distrust of the richest Filipinos to ALL of them.”  Excuse me, Mareng Winnie, didn’t you just resort to yet another generalization in that last paragraph you wrote, when you try to rationalize the resentment against “Chinese-Filipinos [who] comprise  less than 2 percent of our population, but they comprise at least 50 percent of our richest listed in Forbes magazine” by attributing the resentment to “their conspicuous consumption”? You think that using the word “perhaps” dilutes the racism of your argument that Chinese-Filipinos engage in conspicuous consumption?

By the way, it’s not clear from your sentence whether you are saying that the Chinese-Filipinos who constitute “less than two percent” of the population are the ones who engage in conspicuous consumption, or you are saying that billionaire Chinese-Filipinos engage in conspicuous consumption. Either way, you are still generalizing. Even if you are referring only to the Tsinoy billionaires, are you saying that all these Chinese-Filipino billionaires engage in conspicuous consumption? Are you then implying that the billionaire Filipinos and non-Chinese Filipinos are thoroughly immune to conspicuous consumption? The fact that you don’t see fit to point out the class resentment stoked by the conspicuous consumption of some of our oligarchs and politicians clearly indicates that the Chinese ethnicity of these Chinese-Filipino billionaires (or do you mean the “less than two percent” Chinese-Filipinos?) is an issue for you because their ethnicity makes them aliens who “take away what is ours.”

Reader, who is generalizing now? Tsk, tsk, tsk, mahina ang kalaban.

Your essay says “To be continued.” Bring it on.

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Why I Distrust Solita Monsod’s “Why Filipinos Distrust China”

In her Inquirer article, Solita “Mareng Winnie” Monsod makes the same mistake as F. Sionil Jose of conflating “Chinese people” with “Chinese government,” and worse, conflating “Chinese people” with “Chinese in the Philippines,” which is further subdivided into three categories: Filipinos of Chinese ancestry who self-identify as Chinese Filipinos, Chinese nationals who hold Republic of China passports (note that Taiwan should not be equated with Mainland China; majority of Taiwanese certainly do not think they are the same as the Chinese in the mainland), and Chinese nationals who hold People’s Republic of China passports.

Conflating such diverse groups of people is not only intellectually lazy, but leads to all sorts of unfounded generalizations. Take, for example, her statement that “there seems to be no distinction between the Chinese people and the Chinese government.” She conveniently forgets that China is an authoritarian state with far greater capability than the Marcos government ever had of quelling dissent and exercising state surveillance over its citizens. If you live in a country that ruthlessly and efficiently practises censorship, that ranks its citizens according to a social credit system with its attendant rewards and punishments, that uses cameras and other devices to monitor its citizens’ movements on ground and online and outside the country (to the extent that it can kidnap former citizens who are now citizens of other countries and “extradite” them to China to be detained), and that routinely violates the human rights of its citizens with impunity, you would expect its citizens to be reticent if not circumspect when they speak to outsiders (including the press, which is where presumably Monsod gets her information about China from) about their real thoughts about China.

I have colleagues and friends from Mainland China with whom I have had frank, private conversations over the years, and I can testify, at least based on fieldwork I have conducted over the years in China and talking to Chinese colleagues and informants and reading books on Chinese politics and culture, that it is not true that there is no dissent, or that people are not critical of their government. Chinese people’s distrust of their government is evident in the outcry resulting from the tainted milk and drugs scandals, in the fact that citizens from the countryside have made the long trek to Beijing to lodge complaints against the corruption and injustice of government officials.   Monsod should do more fieldwork, but then what do you expect from newspaper columnists these days who don’t bother to do on-the-ground research, or even read scholarly works (of which there are plenty that argue that the concept of “China” is problematic because it is not necessarily conflated with the mainland state) that give a more nuanced picture of what is happening inside China?

As for her so-called observation that “a Chinese-Filipino will never ever state unequivocally that he/she is a Filipino first, and a Chinese second (meaning, his loyalty is to the Philippines),” well, “never ever” is such a blanket term! Really, never??  I would have offered myself as an example of someone with unequivocal loyalty to Pinas, and also with a brother and two out of two male cousins married to Filipinos who do not identify as Chinese-Filipinos (but maybe Monsod wants to discriminate against Pinoys of Indian ancestry, as well? so that would leave me with one out of two male cousins married to “Filipino women,” plus two out of three female cousins married to non-Chinese Filipinos). But unfortunately, I don’t move in the rarefied circles that Monsod swans around in. Some of us are too busy earning a living, OFW-style, and remitting money home (and by home I mean Pinas, not China).

I’m not saying there are no Chinese-Filipinos who may hold conservative views about marrying non-Chinese Filipinos, but such attitudes have in fact become much more relaxed since the integration of the Chinese into Filipino society and more Tsinoys are marrying Pinoys. There are studies that show that younger generations of Tsinoys are more open to marrying non-Chinese Filipinos, and have done so.  Moreover, if Monsod stops to analyze the reason for such an attitude in the first place, she would find that behind the stereotypical invocation of racial/cultural difference lie the historically fraught issues of “class” and “social status”, the fear of marrying below one’s station. This explains why historically Chinese mestizos tended to marry among themselves or else marry “up” by taking Spaniards or Spanish mestizos as brides or husbands. (The fact that Doña Victorina takes the lame Spaniard Tiburcio as her husband in Rizal’s novels shows that this was a common practice among elite Filipinos.) You think if a Zobel de Ayala or a Villar or Binay asked for the hand of one of these Fil-Chis’ daughters, the Fil-Chis would object to the marriage? (Well, maybe some Fil-Chis would object to their children marrying Villars or Binays, not because they are Filipinos, but because they are trapos.) More, Fil-Chis who are poor or of modest means, as Wickberg argues, tend to “disappear” into the Filipino community, and they have always freely married Pinoys. I know plenty of Tsinoys married to Pinoys, but like I said, I don’t move in the same circles as our so-called Pinoy elites, so I’m in no position to disabuse Monsod of her rather blinkered and limited powers of observation.

As for the statement that “most of our billionaires are Chinese-Filipinos” and that “they are some of the country’s most hated employers,” Monsod should have the guts to come out and name names, so that we have an exact idea of who she is referring to and why their companies’ practices make them such “hated employers” and do something about it. (Did SWS do a survey about Pinas’ “most hated employers”? I’d like to see the statistics.)  This kind of blanket statement, however, raises a number of questions, none of which the article sees fit to address: is Monsod saying that “Filipino”, whether billionaire or non-billionaire, employers are not purveyors of unfair/bad labor practices (the historical record shows otherwise)? What does ethnicity have to do with being a bad employer? Does being Fil-Chi make one a bad employer? Or is it the case that these billionaires and employers’  Fil-Chi ethnicity makes them objects/targets of racist resentment? It is easier to give vent to racist hatred rather than give serious thought to the exploitative nature of capitalism per se and ask why our laws and employment practices allow big companies to get away with unfair labor practices. And, finally, what do unfair labor practices have to do with distrust of China?  I’ve had my wallet snatched, been mugged and pickpocketed, while I was a student and a U.P. Instructor taking jeepneys and buses in Pinas, but I would never use my personal experience and “observations” to make a blanket generalization like “I don’t trust the Philippines” or “Filipinos are thieves.” This doesn’t make any sense.

Monsod ends with this argument: “So does it boil down to: We don’t trust China because we don’t trust Chinese and Chinese-Filipinos? On the face of it, no. So let’s go back to the SWS survey. We don’t trust them because we see that they are taking away what is ours (including what has been ruled to be ours by an international court). Because they treat our fishermen like dirt.”  I understand (and fully sympathize and side with) my fellow Filipinos’ feelings about China’s militancy on the territorial disputes and ill-treatment of our fisherman, but the SWS surveys do not tell us anything about how Filipinos perceive the Chinese in the Philippines, let alone distinguish among the sub-categories of Philippine Chinese, let alone provide any analysis of why such sentiments exist. Is Monsod, then, saying, that Filipino resentment of China is fed by Filipino resentment of Chinese Filipinos “because we see that they are taking away what is ours” (and here, she is not just referring any more to territory, but to something far broader–patrimony, perhaps?). And here is where Monsod’ s own unexamined racism rears its ugly head. If Monsod accepts the fact that Chinese Filipinos are already Filipinos, then their ethnicity should not be an issue at all. “Most of our billionaires are Chinese Filipinos” and “they are some of this country’s most hated employers” only become issues if you think that: 1) Chinese Filipinos don’t have the right to become billionaires or to run big companies; and 2) the fact that they do means they are “taking away what is ours.” That, Reader, is racism plain and simple.

Now Monsod might say in her own defence that she is merely explaining Filipino “distrust”, but I don’t see how retailing the age-old stereotypes and assumptions about the alien Chinese does anything to clarify matters. In fact, it only muddies the issue.  I began reading “Why Filipinos Distrust China” thinking I might learn something from it, and came away with the despairing thought that what the Monsod essay “boils down to” is this: “We don’t trust China because we don’t trust Chinese and Chinese-Filipinos” because, after all this time, and alas, we are still racists.

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2019 EuroSEAS Conference Berlin: Call for Papers


The next EuroSEAS conference will be held in Berlin from 10-13 September 2019 and will be hosted by the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

Keynote speakers
We are pleased to announce that Professor Caroline Hau, professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, Japan and Dr. Khin Zaw Win,  director of the Tampadipa Institute, Yangon, Myanmar, will deliver the keynote speeches at the EuroSEAS conference 2019 in Berlin!

Call for Panels
The European Association for Southeast Asian Studies (EuroSEAS) will hold its 10th conference from 10 to 13 September 2019 at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. As an international and multi-disciplinary organisation, EuroSEAS invites scholars and PhD students from all academic disciplines with an interest in Southeast Asia to submit panels that explore relevant research topics from an interdisciplinary perspective as well as discuss theoretical and methodological aspects of research generated in the field of Southeast Asian Studies.

Proposals are also invited for a limited number of roundtable discussions about recent developments in Southeast Asia and for a limited number of laboratories that would develop cross-disciplinary collaboration. Proposals for panels, roundtables and laboratories do not need a list of participants yet, just an abstract and a convener will do!

Panels consist of a convener, 3-4 presenters, and if possible, a discussant. Double sessions of max 6 presentations are allowed. We invite panels on a wide range of topics in the social sciences, humanities, economics and law of Southeast Asia. We prefer panels with a geographical comparative approach and panels that cross disciplinary boundaries. We also invite panels on climate change, literature, performing arts, and archaeology – fields that were underrepresented in previous conferences.
Submission format: (1) title, (2) convener, (3) brief description of panel, max ½ page, (4) single session (1 x 90 min.): 3-4 presenters; double session (2 x 90 min.): 6 presenters, (5) optional: discussant.

Roundtables address current issues and new developments, and consist of a convener and max. 6 participants who prepare brief statements followed by audience discussion.
Submission format: (1) title, (2) convener, (3) explain in ½ page urgency of topic, (4) max 6 presenters.

Laboratories are closed meetings for young scholars to develop innovative cross-disciplinary plans. Laboratories run for half a day and consist of a convener and max 8 participants. Towards the end of the conference conveners will present the results of these meetings to a larger audience.
Submission format: (1) title, (2) convener, (3) explain in ½ page plans for discussion and collaboration, (4) max 8 participants.

Please send your proposals to euroseas@kitlv.nl by 1 December 2018.

For inquiries, please send an email to: euroseas@kitlv.nl.


Conference fees
Regular fee: 240,00 Euros
Low income fee: 140,00 Euros

Plus EuroSEAS membership fee (to be paid by all participants) 30,00 Euros.

General conditions and terms
Click here to read the general conditions and terms for participants of the EuroSEAS conference…>> (information will follow soon).

Previous conferences
Oxford 2017
Vienna 2015
Lisbon 2013
Gothenburg 2010
Naples 2007
Paris 2004
London 2001
Hamburg 1998
Leiden 1995

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